JACKSON COUNTY JAIL—-at face value, just another sleazy exploitation number, pushed with the angle that you’ll get to see pretty Yvette Mimieux brutalized and degraded. But this little 1976 item is so swiftly paced and skillfully handled that you really do get caught up in the kind of nightmare situation that could happen to anyone.
After being dumped on by her employers and her man, Yvette embarks on a cross-country jaunt from L.A. to New York. She makes the mistake of picking up some freaked-out hitchhikers. They steal her car. When she reports the theft, she ends up in the title slammer as a vagrant, where she is assaulted by the night jailer. She makes a break with a fellow inmate, and events compound as the law chases them down.
Sensational, tawdry, hysterical? Actually, there were just enough of those elements to ensure the film (dinky, costing $445,000) would build a cult following, after raking in substantial grosses of $2,500,000 on the drive-in circuit. Mimieux gives it her all, and newcomer Tommy Lee Jones. as the escapee partner, makes the most of what lesser actors would have ruined. This was his first substantial role, at a ripe age of 30. Robert Carradine, one of the hitchers, is fine as well.
Unlike too many films where moviemakers encourage the torment of women with a sadism that is nothing but offal disguised as ‘drama’, in this one you are asked to root for the victim instead of drool over what’ll befall her next. The rape scene is presented for the spineless savagery it is, rather than as some sickly, vicarious, got-her-desserts thrill. The movie wraps up with a finale that’s the most blatant and outrageous display of Message since Easy Rider.