- Movie Rating -

Places in the Heart (1984)

| September 21, 1984

Places in the Heart is a one of those farmer’s wife vs. the bank movies in which a woman of resolve and determination battles not only the bank, but also the weather, the land, the local townsfolk and ultimately the movie’s script for seniority.  The wife is played by Sally Field in a performance that seems tailor-made for her.  Since the movie takes place in the 1930s, I imagined that perhaps Edna Spaulding, her character, might easily have been Norma Rae’s grandmother.  They have very much the same grit and determination.

The time is 1935 during the bitterest storm of The Great Depression.  The place is Waxahachie, Texas where Edna has just experienced a tragedy – her husband Royce (Ray Baker), the local sheriff has been accidentally killed by a young black man leaving her to maintain the family farm all by herself.  Things are made worse by the bank which has a note on the farm, and even worse, the price of cotton is falling fast.  If she can’t afford the payments, her home will be collected on and her children will be sent to families that can better afford to raise them.

Out of the blue one night a drifter and handyman comes to her asking for work.  He is Moze Hadner (Danny Glover) who is experienced at picking cotton.  She tells him no, but after he is brought to back to her door after stealing silverware, she relents and makes a deal with him.  Also, into the picture comes Will (John Malkovich) a veteran who was blinded in The Great War and has been thrust upon Edna by the local banker Mr. Denby (Lane Smith) as a paid boarder.  Slowly, and very uneasily, the three form a bond as Edna determines to bring in enough cotton to save the farm by winning a contest over in Ellis County, a $100 cash prize for the first person to produce a bail of cotton.

The story here is compelling and later takes on a sort of Biblical proportion as Edna and Moze and Will fight against time and the elements to bring a bale of cotton in on time.  All three performances from Field, Glover and Malkovich are wonderful as they manage to create three distinct characters who are shown as people, not just fixtures of the story.  They’re all very good, particularly Field who shows not only the determination but also some of the vulnerability that she brought to Norma Rae.


At the opening of this review I mentioned that Edna fights a losing battle against the movie’s script and I meant it.  While the core story works, the movie keeps losing its way as it moves over to other smaller roles for the townsfolk that have nothing to do with Edna’s plight.  I didn’t, for example, care at all about the relationship between Edna’s sister Margaret (Lindsey Crouse) or her husband Willie (Ed Harris) or Viola, the woman that he has on the side.  These are characters who seem to occupy another movie.  Their drama is a speedbump in Edna’s story which is seen with a strong narrative drive.  Every time the extra characters came on screen I kept wishing I had a TV remote with a fast-forward button.

The movie’s ending is not what I expected, a gathering in a church that takes on a spiritual resonance.  Most movies of this kind end with a small victory with storm clouds still overhead, but there’s something unusual about the closing moments here, something special in the community of these characters.  I just wish the director Robert Benton would have pruned the unnecessary characters so that I could appreciate it even more.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1984) View IMDB Filed in: Drama