Places in the Heart
Written and directed by Robert Benton, during the Depression a housewife’s husband dies, and a black man helps her grow cotton so that she can keep the farm.
In 1935 at Waxahachie, Texas in their home Edna Spalding (Sally Field) carries a bowl of okra to the table and tells her little daughter Possum Spalding (Gennie James) to put away her doll. The boy Frank Spalding (Yankton Hatten) is there, and her husband Royce Spalding (Ray Baker) says grace and prays. Edna says they got a letter from Aunt Gladys who has invited them to visit her in Oklahoma. They hear a knock and Edna goes to the door. The deputy Jack shouts to Frank that they need the sheriff for a drunk patron down by the tracks. Frank puts two rolls in his pockets, gets his pistol, tells Edna he won’t be long, kisses her, and goes out.
Frank and Jack drive to the railroad tracks and get out of the car. Frank tells black Wylie that he is drunk. Wylie shoots wildly and then shoots Frank in the chest.
Edna at home sees Jack come in, followed by men carrying the body of her husband Frank. She goes outside and tells her son Frank and Possum to come to her. She tells them about their pa.
In the front yard two trucks with many men arrive, and the first one dragged the body of Wylie on the dirt road. Another car arrives, and Margaret Lomax (Lindsay Crouse) carries her little girl and tells Glen, the driver of the first truck, to get out of there. He drives away. Margaret comforts Edna and goes inside with her.
Edna and Margaret are washing Frank’s body on the table.
Viola Kelsey (Amy Madigan) parks her car in front of a house and goes in. Wayne Lomax (Ed Harris) says he was afraid she was not going to come. She walks to him, and they kiss.
The body of Wylie is hanging from a tree, and six black men come and take the body down.
At night Wayne arrives in a car and goes in the Spalding house where people have gathered. He tells his wife Margaret that he just heard and came as soon as he could. They go into a room and embrace. She says she thought of what she would do if it was him. He says he is too ornery for something to happen to him. She says she loves him so much, and he says he loves her. They kiss.
The church tolls eight at night. Viola asks Wayne where Edna is, and he says in the kitchen with Margaret. Wayne talks to Buddy. Margaret takes a piece of cake outside and gives it to Edna, and they sit on a swing. Edna says she can’t support this family and does not know how. She feels she has never done anything but raise kids and take care of the house. She says Royce paid all the bills. She asks what is going to happen to them.
Black people attend the burial of a wooden box in rough country.
At a cemetery white people attend the burial of Royce Spalding.
At night in the Spalding house Edna closes the door. Margaret is washing dishes in the kitchen and says she thought people would never leave. She goes to the door, and Moze (Danny Glover) asks if they have any work they need doing around there. Margaret says no and tells him to go. Edna asks what he wants, and he repeats his request. She says there is no work around there. Edna offers him a plate of food, and he thanks her. Margaret tells him to wait by the gate.
At dawn Edna wakes up in a chair, hears a sound, and sees Moze chopping wood. She says she told him he could not stay around there. He says he saw he could chop wood for her. She offers him breakfast and says then he has to go. Moze brings in wood and says the henhouse and milk cow need taking care of. He says she has about forty acres, and she could make a handsome living farming cotton with his know-how and help. He asks if he could work around there for food and a place to stay. She says no; he has to leave after breakfast. He says there are no jobs now. She says she will bring it out. He reaches in and takes a handful of silver and puts it in his pocket. He says he could mend a fence after breakfast, and she says that would be fine.
Albert Denby (Lane Smith) knocks on the door, and she lets him in. He is from the bank and says his bank will help her in her time of need. He says that her balance is now $116.72, but her husband borrowed money to buy the house. When he died he still owed $3,681 to be paid twice a year. That means that on October 15 she will owe the bank $240. He asks if she knows how she is going to make that payment. Edna says she thinks she could sell things like her friend’s gift shop. He says no one is going to come out there to buy things. Denby suggests that she sell the property, and she could get enough to pay off the loan with a little left over. She asks where they would live, and he says she has a sister. She says Margaret could not afford to take them in, and she does not have the room. He says sometimes we have to face up to hard things. Sometimes a family has to split up. She says she can’t talk about this now and asks him to leave.
Edna and her children visit Margaret who offers the children cokes, and they go into the kitchen to get them. Edna asks Margaret if she could come and work for her there. Margaret says she barely has enough customers for herself. She tries to give her $28, but Edna refuses to accept it and leaves.
At the kitchen table Edna is reading. She answers the door at night, and sheriff Jack with Moze says they caught him with some of her things. Jack hands her the silver and says Moze claimed he was working for her, though it looked like he was trying to leave town. She says she hired him to do some chores, and he says his name is Moses Hadnot. The sheriff asks if she is sure. Edna says that Margaret wanted to borrow them and says he should have taken them straight to her. Jack leaves, and Moze thanks her. She asks how much she could make if they planted cotton. If he figures on thirty acres, she could make $307. She asks if he is sure she could do it. He says he has chopped cotton and could do it. She says he can stay in the shed beside the barn. He tells her again that he appreciates what she did; but she says if he ever steals from her again, she will shoot him herself.
Edna goes to the bank, and Denby says he is glad to see her again. She asks him how to write a check, and he explains it to her. She says she does not need to sell her farm if she planted cotton; but he says she doesn’t know anything about it. She says she knows a Negro who will help her, and he tries to discourage her. He shows her a pile of foreclosures for white cotton farmers who cannot make a go of it. He calls her ignorant, and she says she is not selling her land. She says she is going to buy $15 worth of cotton seeds.
W. E. Simmons (Jay Patterson) tells Edna that the cotton seed she ordered comes to $13.50, but Moze tells her he is giving her low-quality seed but charging her for grade-A seed. She asks Simmons for better seed, and he admits he made a mistake. He says she has a smart “nigger” there.
Moze is talking to himself while he hammers a horseshoe on his door. Little Frank asks his name and says his pa was killed by a “nigger.” Moze asks how old he is, and Frank says he is nine. He tells him to rock a rocking chair with no one in it is bad luck. Moze hands him a rabbit foot and puts him through a ritual to ward off the bad luck. He sends Frank to fetch him some nails.
Wayne and Viola are lying on a bed together. He touches her as he tells her how he used to sneak out of the house and sit. He kisses her.
Denby is leading the blind Mr. Will (John Malkovich) to the front door and calls Mrs. Spalding. He tells Will not to smoke and make a good impression. She comes to the screen door, and Denby introduces his brother-in-law Will to her. They come in, and Denby says Will was a war hero. Denby says Will was living with his mama and then with Denby and his wife. Denby says that as a Christian he wants to reach out in charity to her. He says if she took on a boarder, she would collect rent. He says that Will makes a living caning chairs and making brooms, and she does not have to worry. She says this is not a good time. Will stands up, and Denby tells him to sit down. Denby says the bank would take it kindly if she would do something to provide for her family. She asks when he would like to move in, and Denby goes out to get his things from the car. She asks Will what he likes to eat, and he says he does not want to be there any more than she wants him there. He says he does not need her help and does not want her pity.
Wayne comes home and tells Margaret about a man’s Studebaker he fixed. He sees her in the bathroom in her underwear and asks where Rosalie is. She says she is with his mother for the night. She tells him not to eat cake because he will get fat. She says so will you. He kisses her.
Many people have gathered, and some are dancing. Wayne and Margaret come in from their car. Wayne goes with Buddy outside, and Viola asks Margaret where they were.
Later Frank shows Possum a record playing with a story for the blind. They hear their mother, and he puts the record away.
Wayne dances with Viola and asks her to go away with him. She says she can’t see him anymore, says goodbye, and walks away.
Edna in the bathroom takes off her dress and gets in the bath.
In his room Will puts on a record.
Edna hears Will calling her, and he comes into the bathroom. He says he would gladly leave there, and he accuses her children of vandalizing his things. She tells him not to talk like that about her children. He says fine and tells her to keep them out of his room. He stumbles around the bathroom, and she tells him where the door is. He says goodnight and goes out.
At dawn Moze pushes the plow as Edna guides the two horses in front.
Wayne drives by slowly and looks at Viola outside the school with a student. She finds Frank and two boys smoking.
Possum tells Will that Frank got caught smoking. Viola leaves Frank with Edna and says she will see him at school tomorrow. Viola leaves, and Edna asks Frank what his pa would do. He says he would spank him, and she says that is what they have to do then. She gets a strap, and Possum asks if she is going to spank him and if she can watch. Edna tells Possum no and goes in the kitchen with Frank. She asks how his pa did it, and he tells her. He says pa for this would give him ten good licks. He says he is ready. Outside Will and Possum are listening and hold hands. Moze comes to the door and asks what is wrong. Possum tells him Frank is getting a licking. Frank comes out and goes upstairs. Moze picks up Possum and takes her outside.
Edna is lighting the stove and tells Will she will not do that again ever. He asks if she is all right. She cries and says she misses her husband.
On a windy day Margaret tells a beauty customer that it feels like rain.
Will is on the porch. Moze is working in the field planting seed, and Edna is plowing. Moze tells her they have to get inside, and he pulls his horse. She sees the clouds and lightning but cannot pull her horse. Moze tells her to let him go and run.
Viola looks at the sky and has the students go inside, but Frank runs off.
Wayne comes in and tells Margaret they have to open the windows to keep the house from blowing.
Will tries to leave the porch, goes inside, and up the stairs calling Possum.
Moze helps Edna get the other horse in the barn.
Will knocks over furniture and goes outside. He calls Possum, and she finds him. He tries to bring her down the stairs.
Frank is running home, and a woman says a tornado is coming, and he should get in her car. He says he has to get home and runs off.
Moze opens the doors to an underground shelter and helps Will find it. Edna carries Possum and puts her in, then helps Will, and goes in followed by Moze. He hears Frank calling and goes to get him followed by Edna. They both help Frank get to the shelter, and they go in. Moze closes the doors and lights the lamp. They hear the wind and the crashing sounds of the doors.
The tornado blows over a building by the school.
In town several houses have been demolished, and Buddy finds the schoolchildren and his wife Viola. He says everything will be all right and hugs her. She can see Wayne watching her, and Wayne runs off.
Moze opens the doors of the shelter. Edna comes out with Possum and Frank, and Moze guides Will.
Buddy helps Viola walk through the wreckage, and she asks him to leave this town. He embraces her.
Moze is working on putting shutters back outside a window.
Inside Will says good morning. Edna serves biscuits and listens to the radio reporting on the price of cotton.
Edna asks Denby if cotton prices may go back up. He asks how much she has left in her account. She says $24. She asks if she gives him what she gets from her cotton, if he could wait for the rest. He says that is up to the president of the bank. She tells him to ask, and he goes upstairs and consults with an older man. She sees pictures of cotton farmers who won a prize of $100 for the first bale.
In the kitchen Moze with Will says they could never pick their cotton in time to win the prize. She says they can start right away. Moze tells her what it does to your hands, your knees, and your back. He says they can’t do it. She says if they lose this place, they all will have to leave there. She says she will not give up.
Buddy and Viola visit Margaret and Wayne. They play rummy. Buddy announces that he and Viola are moving to Houston because he got a good job with an oil company. Viola says they will miss them, and Wayne says he will miss them more. Margaret and Wayne congratulate them.
After the Kelseys leave, Wayne helps Margaret clean up. Margaret says that whatever happened between him and Vi she does not want to know about it. She asks him if she is right, but he says nothing. She slaps him and says she is not the same dumb beauty operator he married eight years ago. He asks what she is going to do. She says she has the shop, and she and Rosalie can get along without him. He says he is never going to see Viola again. He says it is over, and she says he is too late for that. She could not live with him anymore because she does not love him anymore. He asks her not to say that.
Edna in a hat is picking cotton with Possum, Frank, and Moze in the large field. The sun gets hotter, and she cuts her finger. Possum cuts a finger too. Moze talks to himself that this is not going to work.
That night Moze comes to the house and tells Will to talk to Edna. Moze says they picked only two acres today, and that was when they were fresh. They should have picked four acres. Edna comes out on the porch and asks how many pickers they need to get the cotton in on time. Moze says nine or ten at least. She says they will have to hire them. Moze asks how she is going to pay them, and she says out of the money they get from the cotton. Will says she won’t have hardly any money left, and she says she will take that chance.
In the morning Edna serves cornbread and coffee. Outside she sees Moze with eight colored adults and two children. She asks if they have had breakfast, and he says he doubts it. They eat cornbread.
Will is making a broom and shuts off an alarm bell. He opens the oven and takes out more cornbread. He stirs a pot on the stove and tastes it and stirs it. He hears trucks and goes outside. He follows a line of rope to the field and calls for Moze. He tells him the pickers are there and says he heard several trucks coming to another cotton farm. Moze tells them all to work because they have no time to waste. While picking cotton Edna remembers dancing with her husband.
Edna lies on her bed and slowly gets up as the cock crows. She finds Will in the kitchen trimming green beans. He says her sister is not much of a cook, and so he is fixing green beans like his mother made. He asks if she is okay, and she says she was remembering a dream. He says it is Friday, and she asks when they have to be at the gin. He says tomorrow morning.
People are picking cotton, and Edna’s fingers are bleeding.
Will puts on a record and listens to “Trent’s Last Case.”
Outside at night they are picking cotton by the light of lamps. Wayne and Margaret are picking too. Edna is exhausted and crawls on the ground.
At dawn Moze turns out the lamps. In daylight Moze tells Edna they are finished.
At Five Points Cotton Gin on a wagon Moze and Edna are waiting in line. Simmons arrives and tells Edna she should be real proud. She invites her into his office to do business and notices that Moze is there. He explains he gins the cotton for a fee and then may buy her cotton. Moze is listening by a window, and she asks if he will gin the cotton for the seed. He says he could do that. She asks if he keeps a third, but he says he won’t pay that. He sees Moze and closes the window. He says out of respect for her husband he will go 50-50 with her. He says she knows that the bottom has dropped out of the cotton market, and he is doing her a favor taking it off her hands. She says she wants four and a half cents a pound for her cotton; but he says she wants him to be Santa Claus. Her offers her 2.75 and no more. She asks for four, and he reminds her of the Depression. He says he will pay three cents, and she can take it or leave it. She shakes her head, and he calls her greedy and offers her 3.5. She says no, and he says that is the honest price. He tells her to go to the square to see how much she will get. She gets up and walks to the door. She turns around and says this would be the first year he was not first. She says she will take it to Wheeler so that he can win the prize for the first bale. Simmons tells her to come back.
Edna comes out, shakes hands with Simmons, and tells Moze that she got 3.75 cents a pound. He says that is more than the market price. She says if they had planted the other ten acres, they would have made even more; but he says they would have been dead. She says that Mr. Esters wants to sell twelve of his acres, and she says they could have sixty acres. Moze says he would like to have a tractor.
Will finds Edna in the kitchen and asks her for a cup of tea. He sits down, and she says she is fixing Frank’s shoe. Will asks her what she looks like. She says she has long hair tied up in the back. She has brown eyes and wanted blue ones, but Margaret got those. She says her teeth stick out in front because she sucked her thumb as a child. She says she is no real beauty, but she is all right. He thanks her, and she says his tea is ready.
Musicians are playing for another dance. Margaret pushes Frank toward Edna, and he asks his mother to dance. She says she is most grateful, and they dance and smile at each other.
Moze tells Will that Edna gave him $25. Will says he heard something, and he says someone is out there. Moze goes out and sees a light on in the barn. He says he will be right back.
Moze goes to the light switch and sees five men in white Ku Klux Klan robes and hoods. They grab him, and he fights back. Will calls to him and finds a pistol. Will follows the rope and tells them to leave him alone. He fires the gun, and some shots come close to them. They toss things aside, and he fires at them. After six shots the gun is empty, and a man grabs him. Will tells them their names because he recognizes their voices. A man warns Moze that he is not through with him yet, and they leave. Moze is crying, and Will kneels down next to him.
At the dance Wayne asks Margaret if she wants to go home. He asks her to dance, and she dances with him. A woman says they look nice together. He says her dress is pretty, and she says it is new. He asks what he has to do to tell her he is sorry. Viola is dancing with Buddy and looks at them.
Edna runs out of the house and finds Moze in the shed. He says he has to move along before that gang comes back. She asks what she will do without him. He asks her to say goodbye to Frank and Possum for him so they won’t see him like this. His face is beat up. He gives her the rabbit food for Frank and a handkerchief for her. He says he got more attached to this place than he intended. He says he will miss her, and he goes to the door. She says he took a no-account piece of land and farmed it very well and brought in the first bale of cotton this year. He acknowledges that he did that, and they smile. He leaves.
Buddy is driving with Viola, and they pass the church where people are singing.
Inside the church Wayne and Margaret are sitting in the first row with their girl Rosalie. The minister reads from the book of 1 Corinthians 13 about love. The choir of nine stands up, and they sing a hymn “He Walks with Me” as the eucharist is passed around. The minister recites the words. The face of Moze is not bruised, and Edna passes the wine to her husband Royce who passes it to Wylie.
This drama depicts the struggles of poor people during the Depression who manage to work together to survive. The ending symbolizes the eternal life beyond this physical existence.