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Places in the Heart

    C.D. Workman
    Senior Member

  • Places in the Heart

    Released by: Twilight Time
    Released on: July 14, 2015
    Director: Robert Benton
    Cast: Sally Field, Ray Baker, Yankton Hatton, Gennie James, Lindsay Crouse, Ed Harris, Lane Smith, Danny Glover, Amy Madigan, John Malkovich, Terry O'Quinn
    Year: 1984
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    It's 1935, six years into the Great Depression. The Spalding family lives on a small, ordinary farm outside of Waxahachie, Texas. Patriarch Royce (Ray Baker) is the local sheriff and sole breadwinner for his family, which includes his wife Edna (Sally Field) and children Frank and Possum (Yankton Hatton and Gennie James). When Royce is accidentally shot and killed by a drunken young black man (who is then publicly dragged to death behind a pickup, to nobody's apparent consternation), Edna is left with an unpaid-for farm, no means of livelihood, and two young'uns to raise. The local banker (Lane Smith) advises her to throw in the towel, give up her home, and find a place to stick her children. When Edna makes it obvious that she plans to do no such thing, the banker arranges for his blind brother-in-law Mr. Will (John Malkovich), a WW I veteran, to move in as a paying border. This provides nowhere near the income that Edna needs, but a second ray of hope arrives in the form of a black drifter named Moses (Danny Glover) who, after being arrested for stealing her silverware, is given room and board in exchange for his cotton-raising expertise. This arrangement, as it turns out, does not set well with members of the local chapter of the KKK…

    In 1979, erstwhile flying nun and future osteoporosis activist Sally Field snagged a Best Actress Academy Award for her portrayal of feisty and resilient union organizer Norma Rae Webster in Martin Ritt's Norma Rae. (In what proved to be a remarkably myopic year for the Oscars, the film itself, along with Apocalypse Now, All That Jazz, and Breaking Away, was beaten out for Best Picture by—and no, this is not a joke—Kramer vs. Kramer.) Field also won the Best Actress Golden Globe for the same role that same year.

    She duplicated that twofer with 1984's Places in the Heart, taking home an Oscar and a Golden Globe in 1985 for her turn as a feisty and resilient Depression-era farm widow in this perfectly serviceable, if totally by-the-numbers, tale of bittersweet triumph in the face of adversity. Her Academy Award acceptance speech, while the stuff of legend, did not actually contain the oft-quoted line "You like me! You really like me!" however much we all wish that it did.

    Places as a film works just fine for anyone who would seek it out in the first place. The cornball quotient is substantial, granted, but grousing about it with this sort of film is like complaining that Grease wastes too much of its running time on musical sequences. That's not to say that the film is flawless on its own terms; it isn't. For one thing, the frequently awesome John Malkovich proves weirdly incapable of convincingly portraying a blind person. There's also a subplot concerning the inability of Edna's sister's (Lindsay Crouse) husband (Ed Harris) to keep his zipper up around the local schoolmarm (Amy Madigan), a plotline that adds little of significance to the proceedings. The film's single biggest misstep, however, is its jarringly ethereal conclusion, which plays precisely like something a studio would tack on to a film in reaction to test audiences who didn't like the original ending. Still, this should all prove easily forgivable for anyone who just wants to sit back and watch some good ol' homespun drama.

    Field again received twin (Oscar and Golden Globe) nominations in 2013 for her role as the feisty and resilient Mary Todd Lincoln in Spielberg's Lincoln. This time, however, she suffered twin defeats at the hands of Anne Hathaway's feisty and resilient Fantine in Tom Hooper's Les Miserables.


    Given its socio-historical setting in the dusty fields of Depression-era Texas, Places in the Heart sports an appropriately earthy look carefully orchestrated by writer/director Robert Benton and cinematographer Néstor Almendros. Twilight Time's new Blu-ray release is the perfect showcase for a barren landscape of dried fields and Tornado ruins, brought to life by a 1080p high definition presentation from a new 4K scan. The fairly lengthy film has been placed on a 50GB disc with an MPEG-4 AVC encode and a 1.78:1 aspect ratio that does justice to Benton and Almendros's rural vision. If there are scenes with a general lack of detail, Almendros's occasional use of soft photography can be blamed; more often than not, the image is surprisingly crisp, bringing out the minute detail in the characters' clothes, the homes' furnishings and wallpaper, and the landscape's fields of cotton. Colors are drab, with an emphasis on browns, greens, and light pinks, an intentional reflection of the Dust Bowl period in which the film is set. For the most part, Places in the Heart has a pleasingly organic grain structure, but there are occasions when the grain becomes a little too pronounced, particularly during nighttime sequences such as the one in which the KKK attacks the black farmhand. During these instances, there's mild crush, though it's far from problematic. Overall, the film offers an agreeable viewing experience, one made all the more pleasant by Twilight Time's superior presentation.

    For the film's soundtrack, Twilight Time has utilized an English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track. In general, the film is a relatively quiet one, and John Kander's musical score—which is also featured in an isolated DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track—is used to highlight scenes in quietly effective ways. That track really comes to life during the tornado sequence, which is dramatic and thrilling.

    The special features are limited to a theatrical trailer (2:30) and an audio commentary. The commentary is the real winner; it features TT historian Nick Redman hosting star Sally Field, who retains a terrific memory of her experiences shooting the film. She comes across exactly as one would expect: a kindhearted soul with a strong sense of humility. Field draws on her own family history and her deep understanding of the film's script and the director's intent to provide a well-rounded discussion of the production, the film's background, and its themes. For the most part, Redman remains in the background, allowing Field to reminisce, occasionally prompting her with a question or two to open up new avenues of exploration.

    Per Twilight Time's usual release plan, Places in the Heart is limited to 3,000 units. It contains an on-screen catalogue of the company's DVD and BD titles, noting which are still available and which have gone into moratorium. There's also an eight-page booklet containing liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo, as well as cast and crew credit information.

    The Final Word:

    Places in the Heart may be dripping equally with nostalgia and horror for a past America in which hard work and optimism sat uncomfortably alongside racism and oppression. It isn't a perfect trip down memory lane, but it offers insight into a period when the United States was just coming to grips with its tired and its poor, its women and its minorities. Benton's vision waxes between stark reflection and sentimental contemplation, but it never bores. Twilight Time's presentation of the film looks good, with solid detail, faithful color reproduction, and mostly organic grain. Extras are a little sparse, but it's hard to beat Field's commentary for educational value. All in all, Places in the Heart is a strong offering from a company on an upward trajectory

    Christopher D. Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror-film review series. Volume 2 of that series (covering the 1930s) is currently available from Midnight Marquee Press, Inc.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

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