Days of Heaven

Released:  1978

Cast:  Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard, Linda Manz

Oscar Wins:  Best Cinematography (Nestor Almendros)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Costume Design (Patricia Norris), Best Sound (John Wilkinson, Robert W. Glass Jr., John T. Reitz, Barry Thomas), Best Music, Original Score (Ennio Morricone)

SUMMARY:  In 1916, Bill (Richard Gere) is working in a Chicago steel mill when he gets into a disagreement with a boss.  Bill knocks the man down, and kills him.  To escape the law, Bill takes his younger sister, Linda (Linda Manz) and girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams), and heads to the Texas Panhandle.  Since they are not married, Bill and Abby tell people they are siblings so as not to arouse scorn and criticism.  Eventually, all three find work on the farm of a rich farmer (Sam Shepard), who is bringing in a wheat harvest.  The young farmer is dying of an undisclosed illness, and is told that he has less than a year to live.  Bill overhears this, and when he notices the farmer paying attention to Abby, he encourages her to return the attention.  Eventually, the farmer asks Abby to marry him.  Bill again encourages Abby to do this, thinking that when the farmer dies soon, the three of them will be rich.  Abby agrees to marry the farmer on the condition that Bill and Linda stay at the farm with them.  The farmer agrees, and while the couple go on their honeymoon, Bill and Linda move into the house.

For a time, the four of them are happy together.  However, the farmer’s foreman is suspicious of Bill and Abby, and thinks they are running a scheme to get hold of the money.  He tells the farmer of this opinion, but the man refuses to believe it.  After a few months, Bill starts to get antsy when the farmer doesn’t seem to be getting sicker.  The relationship between the three has also become uneasy:  Bill realizes that Abby has started to fall in love with the farmer, and the farmer comes to see that Bill and Abby are not siblings, but a couple.  This, along with the suspicions voiced by his foreman, starts to turn the farmer against Abby.  When a locust swarm strikes the farm, destroying the wheat crop; while trying to drive off the locusts, the workers accidentally ignite a fire in the fields as well.  The farmer snaps, and believes that the misfortune is Abby’s fault.  He goes after her, but is stopped by Bill:  in a struggle between the two men Bill stabs the farmer with a screwdriver and kills him.  Bill, Abby and Linda immediately leave the farm, but the foreman suspects Bill of the crime, and joins the police in a search for him.  Eventually, they catch up with the threesome; Bill tries to run, but is shot and killed by the police.  Abby inherits the farmer’s money, and puts Linda in an expensive boarding school.  She then heads off to an unknown location; Linda quickly joins a friend in running away from school.

MY TAKE:  This movie must be on the list because of the gorgeous cinematography, which deserved its Oscar.  There’s something beautiful about huge wheat fields, and the vast open spaces.  The story is not so amazing.  The main focus seems to be Bill and Abby’s attempt to get the money from the farmer, but the first big chunk of the movie doesn’t seem to have anything to do with this.  Basically, it’s really boring until the farmer and Abby get married.  I watched the whole movie, and I didn’t know Abby and Linda’s name.  The farmer doesn’t even have a name!  It would have been a lot better if less time had been spent on the scenery, and more on the characters and story – there’s a lot of useless scenes that could have been used to further the plot.  I never got a real handle on most of the characters, particularly Bill – is he some barely restrained killer, who snaps when provoked, or are the two murders more a heat-of-the-moment thing?  I just found myself with a lot more questions than answers, and I think most of this could have been solved by a more developed story.

RATING:  Vastly unfulfilling.



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