Places in the Heart

Places in the Heart

Theatrical film poster
Directed by Robert Benton
Produced by Arlene Donovan
Written by Robert Benton
Music by John Kander
Cinematography Néstor Almendros
Edited by Carol Littleton
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release dates
September 21, 1984
Running time
102 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $9.5 million
Box office $34,901,614

Places in the Heart is a 1984 American drama film written and directed by Robert Benton about a U.S. Depression-era Texas widow who tries to save the family farm with the help of a blind white man and a poor black man. It stars Sally Field, Lindsay Crouse, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, John Malkovich, Danny Glover and Terry O'Quinn. It was filmed in Waxahachie, Texas.


It is the year 1935 and Waxahachie, Texas is a small, segregated town in the midst of a depression. One evening the local sheriff, Royce Spalding, leaves the family dinner table to investigate trouble at the rail yards. He dies after being accidentally shot by a young black boy, Wylie. Local white vigilantes tie Wylie to a truck and drag his body through town, for all the community to see, before hanging him from a tree.

The sheriff's widow, Edna Spalding, is left to raise her children alone and maintain the family farm. The bank has a note on the farm and money is scarce; the price for cotton is plummeting and many farms are going under. The local banker, Mr. Denby, pays her a visit. He begins to pressure her to sell the farm as he doesn't see how she can afford to make the loan payments on her own let alone run the farm.

A drifter and handyman, a black man by the name of Moses, appears at her door one night, asking for work. He offers to plant cotton on all her acres and cites his experience. Edna declines to hire him but offers him a meal instead and sends him on his way. In desperation, Moses steals some of her silver spoons before he leaves. Similarly desperate, Edna finally resolves to keep her family together on the farm no matter what. When the police capture Moses with her stolen silver, and bring him back to confirm the theft, Edna seizes the opportunity. She lies to the police and says he is her hired man. She sees there is more to gain from the situation because of what he knows about growing and marketing cotton, so she chooses not to prosecute him but to hire him instead.

The next day, Edna visits the banker, Mr. Denby, to relay her decision not to sell the farm but to work the land and raise cotton. He is frustrated by Edna and her decision but ultimately manipulates the situation when he unloads his blind brother-in-law, Will, on Edna, compelling her to take him in as a lodger. Will lost his sight in the war, but has remained fiercely independent and somewhat marginalized since. He begins to soften, however, as he and the others living at the farm become more and more like family while they weather life's storms together.

Edna visits Mr. Denby once more to negotiate and save her farm from foreclosure. She realizes she cannot make the next payment in full even if she sells all her cotton. The bank declines Edna's request for relief, but during her visit she learns of the Ellis County contest; a $100 cash prize is awarded to the farmer who produces the first bale of cotton for market each season. Edna realizes the prize money plus the proceeds from the sale of her cotton would be enough to allow her to pay the bank and keep the farm. Edna knows she will need more pickers though and despite his initial protests, Moses agrees to help her find the help so they can harvest the cotton on time. Soon the farm is teeming with people and everyone has an important job to do—even Will who prepares the meals and feeds all the workers. Everyone is busy with the business of survival.

Their efforts pay off as Edna and Moses eventually find themselves first in line at the wholesaler with the season's very first bale of cotton. Moses carefully coaches Edna on how to negotiate with the buyer and as a result he is unable to cheat her on a price for her cotton. She lets the buyer know that if he does not pay her a fair price, she will go to another wholesaler who will. The buyer does not want to lose the distinction of purchasing the first crop of the season to a competitor, so he agrees to pay Edna's asking price. It becomes clear to the buyer that Moses is Edna's partner and has helped her throughout. That night Moses is accosted by Ku Klux Klan members and savagely beaten. Will, who recognizes all the assailant's voices as local white men, confronts and identifies them one by one; they all run off and Moses' life is saved. Moses realizes he will have to leave the farm permanently, however, under threat of future attacks.

The story ends, as it began, with community and in the midst of prayer. In a highly symbolic and imaginary scene, communion is passed among the assembled congregants at the church, hand to hand and mouth to mouth, between both the living and the deceased. The last line of the film is spoken by Wylie to Royce Spalding, "Peace of God”. The film closes with all the characters gathered together in church singing in unison.



Places in the Heart was met with critical acclaim, earning a Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of 96% based on 26 reviews with the consensus: "Places in the Heart is a quiet character piece with grand ambitions that it more than fulfills, thanks to absorbing work from writer-director Robert Benton and a tremendous cast."


In 1985, when Sally Field reached the lectern to accept her second Oscar (the first was for Norma Rae), she uttered the memorable (and much-mocked) line, "I can't deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!" It is often erroneously recalled as, "You like me—you really like me!"

Award Category Subject Result
57th Academy Awards Best Picture Arlene Donovan Nominated
Best Director Robert Benton Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Won
Best Actress Sally Field Won
Best Supporting Actor John Malkovich Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Lindsay Crouse Nominated
Best Costume Design Ann Roth Nominated
Golden Globe Award Best Motion Picture – Drama Arlene Donovan Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Sally Field Won
Best Screenplay Robert Benton Nominated
Silver Bear Best Director Won

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


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