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The Odd Case of “Outside Chance”

by Cary O'Dell

Far, far better than many of the grindhouses it might have originally played in is the 1976 theatrical film “Jackson County Jail.” Though not directed by Roger Corman (he only produced), the film certainly bears all of his movie signatures. It was shot quick (in 26 days) and cheap and, upon its release, few were probably expecting great cinema.

But, for “JCJ,” directed by Michael Miller, the original film is, now, considered something of a cult classic and, to some, even a minor masterpiece. Actually, even upon its original release back in ’76, some critics celebrated the film as both an action film and as a, surprisingly pointed, social and feminist statement. In its initial review, the “New York Times” called “Jackson County,” “filmmaking of relentless energy and harrowing excitement that recalls the agitprop melodrama of the 1930’s.”

For the uninitiated, “JCJ” tells the story of a smart, professional woman, Dinah Hunter (played by Yvette Mimieux), who, after catching her live-in boyfriend cheating (again), decides to decamp from her home in LA and start her life over in NYC. Driving cross country, Dinah makes the (almost) fatal mistake of crossing into the middle-American hell of Jackson Country (exact location unknown but possibly Texas) where she’s first carjacked and then jailed and then sexually assaulted. After Dinah kills her rapist—the night jailer—she and a fellow inmate (played with intensity by a young Tommy Lee Jones) flee.

The remainder of the film tracks this unlikely duo’s breakneck-paced run to escape the so-called “justice” of this small southern town.

As it screams from the original VHS video box, “The cops are there to protect her….but who will from the cops?”

Today, the film (supposedly inspired by the real-life Joan Little case of 1974) does bear some similarities to the iconic “Thelma & Louise” made 15 years later.

Tautly directed and vividly acted, “JCJ” is a rewarding and, at times, very thought-provoking viewing experience.

“Jackson County Jail” is also a film with one of the most interesting after-life’s of just about any film ever made.


Two years after “JCJ” played the theaters and the drive-ins, it got reinvented. In December of 1978, CBS aired a Saturday night movie—back when Saturday nights still mattered to the networks and back when the networks still produced TV movies. This movie was titled “Outside Chance” and it, too, was the story of a woman on the run from the law and, again, it starred Yvette Mimieux.

What “Outside Chance” WAS was actually “Jackson County Jail,” or, more accurately, this “new” movie’s first third was “Jackson County Jail.” Though CBS,, swapped out the title card at the start of the movie, excised some scenes and edited out some of the rougher language and a flash of nudity from the original film, everything in the first 20 minutes or so of “Outside Chance” is “Jackson Country Jail.”

So then… What is this? Is this a sequel? A reimagining? A cost-cutting device disguised as a TV movie?

Technically, “Outside Chance” only STARTS at the point of the original film’s jail break.
But in “OC,” while the Tommy Lee Jones character runs off—sent off with an after-the-fact sound byte bit of dialogue, “See you around”--Dinah (Mimieux’s character) remains.


For “OC,” Yvette Mimieux returned in her role as Dinah. NOT returning was Tommy Lee Jones whose career had rapidly gone on the accent after “JCJ.” Great care was taken in the reused footage of “JCJ” to make sure the Jones was hardly seen and only barely heard.

For “OC,” jettisoning the remainder of “JCJ” is unfortunate—not only do we miss out on the wonderful, climatic scene at the end of the original film, we also lose the rest of Jones’s great performance and the entire performances of Mary Woronov and Hal Needham who only appeared in the later part of “Jackson County.”

One is left to wonder, then, why the film was divided there. Or, for that matter, why this new film was crafted at all.

“JCJ” was written by Donald E. Stewart. “Outside’s” script is credited to “Jackson’s” original director Michael Miller and to a Ralph Gaby Wilson.

“Outside” was fortunate to retain/rehire Mimieux for the lead, though she was, by this time, sporting a then fashionable but now rather unflattering perm (she would also have it for her appearance in Disney’s big screen sci-fi epic “The Black Hole” a year later). And this film was lucky to have the same director; Michael Miller returned to the helm.

Mimieux and Miller were not the only talents to return from the original film. Also recreating their roles from “Jackson County” were Severn Darden as the Jackson County sheriff and Nancy (Lee) Noble as a crazy hitchhiker. Then to confuse everyone even more: Betty Thomas, who appeared in “Jackson” as a waitress in a diner, and whose “JCJ” scenes were omitted from “OC,” returns in “Outside Chance” as a completely different character! Additionally, John Lawlor, who appears in “JCJ” as a deputy is only seen in “Outside” as Dinah’s late-in-film love interest! (Howard Hesseman and Robert Carradine are seen in the reused “JCJ” footage but do not appear, per se, in “OC.”)

As mentioned, in “Jackson,” Dinah and Jones’s character, Coley, go on the run after the jail break. But in “Outside Chance,” after the killing of the night jailer, Dinah remains in jail. In fact, “OC” basically begins its new tale with Dinah being transferred, via paddy wagon, from Jackson County to a new, larger prison and briefly, “OC” looks a bit like “Orang is the New Black,” as the innocent Hunter, originally lacking in “street smarts,” learns the ways of life “on the inside” and adjusts to her new notoriety as a “cop killer.”

In the slammer, Dinah makes friends with two other female prisoners and also finds herself caught up in a court system more concerned with political posturing than with justice.

Spoiler: A fire at the prison finally allows for Dinah to make her escape and, as in the original “JCJ,” she goes on the lam. Though not a “street tough,” Dinah is a smart woman and she adapts to life on the run well—pulling new clothes from a good-will donation box, successfully stealing a truck and siphoning gas.

The finished “Outside Chance” movie is 92 minutes long. The last hour (the “new” hour), documenting Dinah’s first days as a fugitive, are crowded and a bit convoluted and includes a late-night escape, a trudge through a violent snow storm, a bar room brawl/hold-up, an emergency, at-home delivery of a baby, and a few random (and not totally convincing) car explosions.

If “Jackson County Jail” was created as a film meant for the matinees and for the drive-ins, “Outside Chance” does seems to be meant for a made-for-TV audience, with a serious slant toward female viewers. Though obviously not quite as the level of, say, a Hallmark Channel movie, “OC” includes equal parts female struggle and resolve and even a little touch of romance due to the John Lawlor character—a concert pianist taking a break at his scenic cabin in the woods--that Dinah bonds with during her run from the law.

Though not without interest, especially in how “OC” was cleverly retrofitted into “JCJ,” and via “OC’s” additional comments about how the legal system treats women, there’s no denying that the big screen’s “Jackson County” is a far superior film than the small screen’s “Outside Chance.”

“JCJ” is enthralling and almost non-stop action but “OC” buckles under a few too many talky scenes and rather radical shifts in tone. And, personally, I miss the dusty, grittiness of “Jackson County.” The world that Dinah escapes into in “OC,” is rather scenic and pristine; even the penitentiary that Dinah finds herself in looks pretty clean!

Hence, “Outside Chance” mainly stands today as an interesting broadcasting footnote, a curio. Though sometimes a few additional, originally deleted scenes are added when a feature film makes its transfer from the big screen to the small screen, the peculiar situation of “Outside Chance,” this unique hybrid of a movie, seems be the only one of its kind in this history of American television.


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