Rambling Reviewer, “Places in the Heart”

Cast: Sally Fields (won the Best Actress Oscar) Danny Glover, John Malkovich, Lindsay Crouse, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Yankton Hatten, Gennie James

Rating  PG (adult situations/language, violence)
Genre   Drama
Directed By Robert Benton
Written By  Robert Benton
Runtime  113 minutes

Studio   Twentieth Century Fox Home EntertainmentPerseverance and redemption, love and forgiveness, are themes of great literature, and of great movies. In Robert Benton’s Places in the Heart, they all come together during the hardest of times in Depression era Waxahachee, Texas. Oscar winner Sally Field plays Edna Spalding, the wife of the town’s just-murdered sheriff. She has two children, Frank and Possum, and a mortgage to pay without income. When an itinerant black man, Mose (played by Danny Glover) stops by her house for water, she feeds him. Hearing her problems, he tells her she could grow cotton on her farm. She declines, but tells him he can sleep in the barn. The next day she leaves early and Mose leaves later with some of her silver. She had gone to see the banker, whose solution is to sell the house and the land and split up her family, which she’ll have no part of. When the deputy sheriff comes over later with Mose and the silver, Edna covers for him by saying he’s her new farm-hand. And yes, she is now going to plant cotton, and Mose becomes her farm-hand and guide. When Mr. Denby the banker hears of her plan, he is pessimistic so he convinces her to take on a boarder, his blind brother-in-law Mr. Will played by John Malkovich, who canes chairs for income. But affairs in the household become difficult as Mr. Will is a prickly tenant not used to children. Planting cotton sounds simple but needs good cottonseed and Edna has no experience. Having Mose openly guide her in the cotton marketplace of the segregated South stirs resentment and hostility, and worse. When the cotton is ready for picking, more challenges arise as pickers are needed in a hurry. And getting a bidder willing to give her a good price. Will any of this happen with so many obstacles facing a team composed of a housewife, a former black hobo, two children and a blind man? You’ll find out in this emotional story and under-appreciated movie from the 1980s. Director Robert Benton was encouraged to do a movie about his family by fellow director Arthur Penn. Benton’s great grand-father had been the sheriff of Waxahachee and was murdered on the job leaving his great-grandmother to raise four children on a small cotton farm. His great-uncle was blind and caned chairs and made brooms. To cast the parts of Edna’s children thousands of Texas children were auditioned and Yankton Hatten and Gennie James were picked. All of the female actors had to wear corsets in order to maintain the authentic posture and walk appropriate to the period. The movie received seven Oscar nominations, winning Best Actress for Sally Field, and Best Writing, Screenplay for the Screen for Robert Banton. Often misquoted, at the Academy Awards ceremony where Sally Field accepted her Oscar, she said (in part), “The first time I didn’t feel it, but this time I feel it. And I can’t deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me!” Sally Field was talking about respect, and in this movie she more than earned it. 
Christian Esquevin is a member of the Coronado Island Film Festival Board of Directors, an avid film aficionado, and the creator of the blog Silver Screen Modes which focuses on the fashions and films of classic Hollywood. He is also the author and researcher for a stunning tabletop book Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Labelon fashion designer and icon, Gilbert Adrian, the chief fashion designer for MGM studios from 1928 to 1941.

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