Maggie (Jaclyn Smith) flees her husband, small town political despot Ambler Bowman (Mitch Ryan) who controls everything in Bogen County from its police department to the courthouse. She files allegations of corruption with the state department but recants after Ambler persuades her to come home, wrongly thinking she can change him for the better. Abe Rand (Henry Gibson), the only man who dares oppose Ambler in this town, fails to persuade her otherwise. When Maggie finds Ambler sleeping with another woman, she runs away again, only this time her husband gets Judge Henry Martin (Pat Hingle) to trump up some bogus charges that land her in Bogen County jail. However, affable Texas Ranger Jack Kern (Michael Parks) has taken a shine to Maggie and resolves to get her some help.
American pop culture seemingly went redneck crazy during the late Seventies what with a huge upswing in the popularity of country music, plus all those good ol’ boy car chase movies starring Burt Reynolds and of course, The Dukes of Hazzard. Maybe it was because Jimmy Carter was in the White House or more likely all those Down South rural action movies Roger Corman produced at New World finally filtered through to the mainstream. Escape from Bogen County catches some of that flavour, going so far as to shoehorn a helicopter vs. car chase where crazed Bowman pursues Maggie and ranger Jack down the highway, while the small town tyrant comes across like a less overtly comedic Boss Hogg. Ambler is a man who blithely steals money due for the local school and fire department and counters any accusations with rants like: “They’re ain’t nothing I can’t do in this county!”
With future queen of the mini-series Jaclyn Smith on board, the accent is firmly on soap opera rather than action. Then testing the waters following the first season of Charlie’s Angels, Smith stays glamorous even while sobbing miserably, but this TV movie stays stuck in first gear. Things take a fair while to get going and even thereafter drawl leisurely past scenes of local colour while treacly country ballads serve as a kind of Greek chorus. Smith stands out amidst the supporting cast of fat sweaty guys in cowboy hats but while Henry Gibson’s weedy lawyer errs close to parody, future Twin Peaks and Quentin Tarantino regular Michael Parks is really quite endearing as guitar-playing ranger Jack, who serenades Maggie in her jail cell (“Good thing I have a captive audience”).
Written by Christopher Knopf, who scripted Emperor of the North Pole (1973) and The Choirboys (1977), there is a weakly expressed social statement when Rand cites Northern indifference as the reason men like Bowman can seize control of small Southern towns, buried amidst standard soap opera emoting that reaches a really rather limp conclusion. Still, caught at the height of her beauty, Jaclyn rocks that sexy southern accent.