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, Moze 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 Moze 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, Moze 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 Moze eventually find themselves first in line at the wholesaler with the season's very first bale of cotton. Moze 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 Moze is Edna's partner and has helped her throughout. That night Moze 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 Moze's life is saved. Moze 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.
- 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