Dinah Hunter (Yvette Mimieux) is having a bad day. One seriously bad day. First off, her boss decides he doesn’t like the commercial she created to advertise sanitary towels and won’t air it because ‘it’s too erotic’ (the tagline sings ‘At Motex we turn your off days on’). Secondly, she comes home to find her husband with another woman and their marriage over. On her way to drive cross country, she gets short changed and has her car stolen by some drugged up youths. And it only gets worse; being assaulted, ID being stolen and ending up in Prison.
Coley Blake (a young and very gorgeous Tommy Lee Jones) is imprisoned for shooting a man and stealing his melons, whilst also being wanted for murder in Texas. The guy is facing spending more time in Prison than out of it. A man of few words, and even fewer facial expressions, he ends up in the cell opposite Dinah awaiting his fate.
In true sleazy-exploitation style narrative ‘shocker’, Dinah gets raped by the on-duty Night Guard. And then smashes his skull in with a stool the best way a violated woman would know how. Without wanting to give any more of the story away, the rest of the film involves your typical jail-set exploitation stereotypes including car explosions, prison breaks and incompetent cops. Not that you’d expect anything less from a Roger Corman production!
For a low budget B-movie, Jackson County Jail (1976) is surprisingly pretty good. Tommy Lee Jones, as the rest of his career has proven, is excellent as the convict with heart. Stoic yet brutal, with a tough exterior that masks a real emotional undercurrent in his performance. You can really see the pain, disgust and helplessness in his eyes as he lies in the cell next to Dinah’s hearing the extent of her assault. Yvette Mimieux is also brilliant as a woman completely out of her depth and struggling to come to terms with her actions and their consequences. The scenes between both Jones and Mimieux show some very good chemistry, with both characters coming across as wholly believable in their emotions and mannerisms.
And that’s the only real criticism I can find with the film. The two leads are so good that the film feels like a character piece as opposed to a film with a strong narrative. Anyone coming to the film thinking it was very narrative and story driven with B-movie action, like me, might be disappointed. As a whole it comes across as a few random events that haven’t quite been strung together well enough to make a solid story. Don’t get me wrong, there’s certainly a story at the heart of the film but upon watching it you can’t help but feel that it could be expanded upon in certain ways. The ‘climatic’ ending seems just a tad lacklustre, something is most definitely missing.