Places in the Heart

Places in the Heart Information

Places in the Heart is a 1984 drama film that tells the story of a Texas widow who tries to keep her farm together with the help of a blind white man and a black man during the Great Depression. It stars Sally Field, Lindsay Crouse, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, John Malkovich, Danny Glover, and Terry O'Quinn.

The film was written and directed by Robert Benton and filmed in Waxahachie, near Dallas, Texas.


  • Sally Field as Edna Spalding
  • Lindsay Crouse as Margaret Lomax
  • Danny Glover as Moze
  • John Malkovich as Mr. Will
  • Ed Harris as Wayne Lomax
  • Ray Baker as Sheriff Royce Spalding
  • Amy Madigan as Viola Kelsey
  • Yankton Hatten as Frank Spalding
  • Gennie James as Possum Spalding
  • Lane Smith as Albert Denby
  • Terry O'Quinn as Buddy Kelsey
  • Bert Remsen as Tee Tot Hightower
  • Jay Patterson as W.E. Simmons
  • Toni Hudson as Ermine
  • De'voreaux White as Wylie

Plot summary

Places in the Heart opens in Waxahachie, Texas in 1935 to scenes of the town and the sounds of a church choir singing "Blessed Assurance". Edna Spalding (Sally Field), places the final dish at the table. As the dinner begins there are reactions to gunshots in the distance. Sheriff Royce Spalding has a chance to eat a few bites before deputies come calling.

At the railway yards a young black boy is staggering around obviously drunk, firing off a revolver. The Sheriff approaches cautiously and calls him by name, "Wylie". The boy tosses up his bottle and tries to shoot it, then fires off two more rounds before the gun missfires. Impulsively the boy points the gun at the Sheriff and pulls the trigger. Spalding, shot in the stomach, falls to the tracks. He is taken back to his home and his lifeless body is laid on the kitchen table. The scenes change to Wylie being dragged down the streets coming to rest at the Spalding home in view of Edna and her two small children Frank and Possum. Edna's sister Margaret (Lindsay Crouse), and her husband Wayne (Ed Harris), arrive. Margaret runs off the two trucks of fully armed white men dragging Wylie's body. Eventually his body is hung from a tree and his family and friends come to cut him down. In the aftermath Edna is in a daze over her husband's death.

A black drifter, Moses, or "Moze" for short (Danny Glover), comes by her house looking for work. He chops some wood and lobbies for more work. He suggests planting cotton on the fallow land and offers his expertise in that regard. As he drops the wood off in the kitchen, he asks her to hire him for room and board. He explains her that there's no way to get a job anywhere in those days, and begs her one last time to let him stay. After her refusal, he pockets some of her silver spoons.

Later, the banker appears at Mrs. Spalding's door. He notes that she will soon owe the bank $240 to keep her house and reminds her of the reality of the Depression. He offers to help sell her house so that she can pay the debt and keep the small cash left. He tells her to realize that she must divide up her family to live on charity of other family members : she and the girl should go with her sister and her son with her husband's family. She rejects his offer and the thought of splitting up her family.

At night, Moze appears at the door in the custody of the deputy. He has been caught with the stolen silver, but Edna sees an opportunity and covers for him. With new-found assertiveness she gathers information from Moze about the cotton market, hires him, and warns him to keep clear of any trouble. He is to stay in the shed outside.

Edna goes to the bank and tells her plan to pay for the house debt with the proceeds from her new cotton farm. The banker expresses his doubts about the soundness of her plan and warns her, but she insists.

At the cotton gin Edna negotiates her first deal but the owner tries to sell her poor quality cotton seed. Moze quietly advises her to refuse the offer and to ask for the seed of good quality. The seller agrees but is not happy with Moze. Upon the return home Moze vents his frustration at sticking his neck out by pounding nails and hanging up various "protective charms" over and around his door (garlic, peppers, chicken bones, horseshoe). He meets Frank, who informs him that his father was killed by a black man. Moze reacts to the news. He proceeds to introduce Frank to some of his superstitions.

The banker makes a call to the Spalding house with his brother-in-law, Will (John Malkovich), who has been blinded in the war and is living with him. The banker deposits Will at the doorstep and negotiates with Edna to take him in as a boarder. He pretends to do it out of charity, mentioning tht he is a dean of the local church, but when she politely refuses, he then reminds her about the bank loan. He is obviously eager to unburden himself of his handicapped brother-in-law.

Across town Edna's brother-in-law Wayne returns home from his affair with the local schoolteacher, Viola (Amy Madigan). They share an intimate moment, and not long after they have dressed, Wayne appears with Margaret at the local dance hall. Viola observes their approach and their obvious intimacy and is not pleased. This does not prevent her from a rapid shift into best friend mode with Margaret, who confides in her about her earlier intimacies with her husband. Wayne tries again to steal a moment with Viola at the dance. Viola can no longer handle the infidelity to her husband Buddy Kelsey (Terry O'Quinn)and her betrayal of her friend Margaret and she breaks free from Wayne's dance. Her actions are observed by others in the dance hall.

Edna's children invade Will's privacy, enter his bedroom, and play one of his records. They hear him coming and burst out of his room, scratching the record. Will is outraged, stumbles down the stairs, and bursts into the kitchen. Edna has set up a bathtub in the kitchen and is enjoying a brief moment alone in a hot bath. Will does not know she is in the bath until, in his anger, he slams his finger into the water of the tub. She helps him recover his composure and his direction and he bids her good night.

The eventful night concludes with the musicians cruising the long night miles back to their home places to the tune of Cotton-Eyed Joe. The scene blends into Moze and Edna plowing and planting cotton.

Wayne Lomax buzzes the schoolyard in his speedster to once again woo Viola into returning to him while Frank gets caught smoking at school. Edna is forced into yet another male role previously performed by her husband, as she must punish Frank. Edna gathers instructions from Frank as to the way she should spank him; she hesitates, then delivers the punishment while Moze and Possum empathize from outside. Frank takes his spanking bravely, while Edna confides to Will that she will not do this again and that she dearly misses her husband.

A major Texas storm is gathering as people scurry about the town. The schoolchildren are herded into the school building, but Frank takes off for home. Will realizes that Possum is in the house somewhere and begins searching for her. Edna runs in and joins the hunt. As Will feels around for Possum upstairs, she reaches out and grabs his hand and they head downstairs as the house begins to shudder. All head to the storm shelter as the tornado approaches. Moze somehow hears Frank and gathers him in and all go underground as the wind rages around them. Windows explode as the schoolhouse goes down with the children screaming.

Moments later the winds die down and sunlight appears. The town is devastated, with buildings leveled. The schoolhouse is at the center of the devastation. Viola's husband reaches the school first. He comforts his wife, who is virtually catatonic. She has managed to herd the kids into the only room in the schoolhouse that is still standing. Wayne drives through the rubble to be with Viola, but Viola is already being comforted by her husband. Viola has had it and demands to move away. Moze and Edna look out over a changed landscape cluttered with galvanized corrugated metal.

At the bank, Edna is faced with the obvious facts: with cotton prices dropped to 3.5 cents a pound, this will only generate 175 dollars. This is not enough for the house payment and there is no chance of cotton prices increasing again. She leans on the banker to ask the bank president about making only part of the payment. During her wait in the bank, Edna sees pictures of the Ellis County prize of $100 for the first bale of cotton brought in to the gin. Edna shares her new bailout plan, but her "family" members note that her plan is impossible. Edna reminds them that her family is at stake and now asserts her will upon the others, taking the role of head of the family.

Viola and Buddy Kelsey make a last regular visit to Margaret and Wayne to play cards. Their gin rummy game is interrupted by the announcement that they are leaving Waxahachie for Houston. The recent exchanges between Viola and Wayne are enough to convince Margaret that something is up between Wayne and Viola. After the Kelseys depart, Margaret confronts him and slaps him, telling him that they are through as well. Wayne is devastated by the two losses in the same day.

Back on the cotton farm Edna's family all begin picking cotton but make little headway on the crop. The sweltering heat and the drone of the insects build to a fever pitch as the cotton bolls tear at fingers, arms, backs, and bodies. Moze turns to muttering. He discusses the lack of progress with Will, and Edna overhears their conversation. Edna orders him to hire extra pickers, but can pay them only if they win the prize for the first bale.

Will takes over the kitchen duties as all hands pick cotton. His hears 11 trucks of cotton pickers arriving from further south. He reports this to Moze, who calculates that they have three days left to pick the cotton. In Edna's exhaustion her mind escapes back to good times dancing with her husband and she wakes up in bed early in the morning still dressed. Edna is still in her dream as she moves through the kitchen, as the music and the dance come to an end and she is back in reality. She reorients to the day and then goes back to the field in the sweltering heat and the blistering cotton.

They work into the darkness of night, under lanterns. Wayne shows up to help but this is not yet enough to convince Margaret that their relationship is worth redeeming. As the morning arrives Moze gathers Edna from her daze. On the way to the cotton gin Moze instructs her on how to make the negotiations. The dealer arrives to see if he and Edna can do some "bidness." Edna drives a hard bargain and gets her price. She does well enough that Moze has dreams of a tractor and much more.

All are back at the dance hall again. Frank moves a step up toward manhood as he asks his mother for a dance and leads her stiffly but confidently. Wayne manages to convince Margaret to dance with him once again. The community responds by complimenting the two of them together. Margaret still has flashbacks of Wayne and Viola back together.

All is not right at the house while Edna is away. Moze goes outside to investigate a noise and is accosted by white-hooded Klan members. Will hears the disturbance and finds the Sheriff's revolver. He comes out shooting into the air to end the beating. The hooded figures are surprised by his ability. Will identifies all the hooded figures by their voices and they depart. Moze apologizes but packs up and moves on, leaving his best wishes and small gifts for Edna and the kids. Edna tells him that he must be proud of him, as black or white the fact is that he was the man who brought the first bale of cotton that year, and that he should never forget this.

Viola and her husband depart for Houston and a new life.

The movie ends as it began, on a Sunday with the sounds of a church choir singing "Blessed Assurance". The minister reads "the Love Chapter" or 1 Corinthians 13 where it is told that no matter what you do, if you don't love, everything is worthless. At the church Wayne and Margaret are together and she accepts him back, taking his hand. As the choir sings "In the Garden", Wayne passes communion to Margaret and communion is passed from person to person living and dead: the banker, the wealthy, the musician, Moze who has had to flee, Will, Possum, Frank, Edna, Royce, and the black boy who killed him sitting by his side. There is an implicit double message: that love could gather all together as we are taught at Church, but also that some of those who on Sundays go to Church and publicly pretend to love are the same ones that from Monday to Saturday belong to the Ku-Klux-Klan, killed the drunken black boy, got rid of their blind brother in law or intended to force a widowed mother to part from her children instead of helping her in her troubles. We see those persons while we hear the priest saying "If I don't have love, I am nothing". In contrast with this, Edna has done everything out of love : love for her husband, her children, her sister, his new family members. She has had a place in her heart for each of them. The last words are "Peace of God" spoken by the black boy Wylie to the Sheriff he had accidentally killed.


It won Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Field) and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. It was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Malkovich), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Crouse), Best Costume Design, Best Director, and Best Picture.

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 misremembered as, "You like me"?you really like me!"

At the 35th Berlin International Film Festival, Robert Benton won the Silver Bear for Best Director.

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