Release Date: April 20, 1990
Starring: Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper,
Frances McDormand, Pamela
Reed, M. Emmet Walsh, & Ned
Genre: Prison Drama
Runtime: 97 minutes
Director: Mick Jackson
Producer: Aaron Schwab
Writer: James Hicks
Address Comments To:
Profanity and obscenity; violence; rear male nudity; and, crude sexual references
To the music of a children's choir singing "Jesus loves me", this true-life story opens in a quiet, small rural Florida town on Sunday, St. Valentines Day, February 14, 1955. The camera pans past a needlepoint "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth," lingers on a purple heart, reveals a Korean War photograph, ends up on a box of bullets and a gun. Carefully, Emmett Foley, an impoverished Korean War Veteran, begins shooting up the town, taunting the police to kill him. When the police won't oblige, Emmett shoots himself where he thinks his heart is, only his knowledge of anatomy proves to be as deficient as his wealth.
Emmett tells the police psychiatrist his rampage was staged as a Valentine's gift in order to secure an insurance payoff so his beloved wife could go to acting school. To fulfill the requirements of the insurance policy, he needed to be shot, rather than commit suicide, so he staged the entire event. Emmett is thrown into the state mental hospital at Chattahoochee for the criminally insane, which terrorizes rather than treats its inmates. Slowly, his compassion for the other inmates causes him to start an eight-year fight against a brutal and archaic system. In his Bible, he records the persecution of inmates, then during visiting hours he exchanges Bibles with his sister so she can transcribe the information to letters appealing to the state legislature for justice. It becomes evident that Emmett is a Christ figure willing to lay down his life to save others. One scene is a close allegorical parallel to the mocking and crucifixion of Jesus. "Jesus loves me" is heard frequently in the background, and Emmett's recovery from heavy sedation in order to testify is nothing less than miraculous.
However, the religious theme is placed in a very earthen vessel. Florida prisons for the insane were very squalid, crude and rude in the 1950s. There are wash-downs, beatings, hosings, and other horrors which are not meant to shock, but to show the sinfulness of man. There is also cursing and a mockery of Christianity, though this is only to highlight the allegorical biblical story being unfolded.
The titles at the end of the film say that Emmett's experiences caused a complete overhaul of the criminal justice system in Florida. Most Christians will find CHATTAHOOCHEE too earthy and crude, but should pray nonetheless that pagans will come to understand the Gospel better from seeing this allegory. CHATTAHOOCHEE is far too intellectual to be a hit, but it should have film students debating for years about the meaning of sacramental scenes they don't understand. Stills from the movie should appear in the next book on religion and film.