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Heartland 1979
Description: Disarmingly realistic in its depiction of the realities of frontier life, Heartland is a powerful antidote to the cliches of traditional Westerns. This semi-documentary slice of life is based on the diaries of Elmore Randall Stewart about her days on the Wyoming frontier in the early 20th century. It's a strongly feminist statement about a girl raising her tiny daughter alone and scrapping for a living by working for a shy Scottish rancher. Director Richard Pearce brings an endearing touch to a movie that is helped greatly by the dazzling cinematography of Fred Murphy. Conchata Ferrell and Rip Torn star in this tiny movie that substitutes veracity for a high-powered plot.
Released: 22 Sep 1979 Director: Richard Pearce Writers: Beth Ferris (screenplay), William Kittredge (additional scenes and dialogue) Actors: Rip Torn, Conchata Ferrell, Barry Primus, Megan Folsom Genres: Western, Drama
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See When She Was Bad... (TV 1979) on youtube.

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Heartland Reviews:

This is a pretty film, reminiscent of Terence Malick's DAYS OF HEAVEN. Conchatta Ferrell (a sadly underrated actress) plays a widow with a young daughter who moves to Wyoming for a job as a rancher's housekeeper. The house is tiny more than a two-room shack, and the rancher gotta work his fingers to the bone in order to survive. There's no massive drama here, despite the fact that the two receive married and test to survive a devastating winter. All the action and dialogue is subtle and honest. Yet the characterizations are more strong than any movie with a dozen writers, mainly because Ferrell and Rip Torn (an nice actor) are so naturally earthy and mature. You never receive a sense that their dialogue was written for them (maybe it wasn't!). Each shot seems natural, and each feature is brought to life with genuine care. And there are photos of landscapes, folks and animals (particularly a starving horse, and an wonderful finale on the farm, which I will not give away) that I will remember forever. Find this one out!!


I saw Heartland when it was first released in 1980 and I have just seen it again. It improves with age. Heartland is not just for lovers of "indie" films. At a time when most American movies are tiny more than cynical attempts to create cash with CGI, pyrotechnics, and/or vulgarity, Heartland holds up as a slice of American history. It is also a reminder of how spoiled most of us modern, urbanized Americans are.Nothing in this movie is overstated or stagey. No one declaims any Hollywood film speeches. The actors really inhabit their roles. This really feels like a "small" movie but really it is bigger than most multizillion-dollar Hollywood productions.The movie is based on the lives of true people. In 1910, Elinore Randall (Conchata Ferrell, who has never done anything better than this), a widow with a 7-year-old daughter Jerrine (Megan Folsom), is living in Denver but wants more opportunities. She advertises for a position as housekeeper. The advertisement is answered by Clyde Stewart (Rip Torn, one of our most under-appreciated actors), a Scots-born rancher, himself a widower, with a homestead outside of Burnt Fork, Wyoming. Elinore accepts the position (seven dollars a week!) and moves up to Wyoming with her daughter. She and her daughter transport into Stewart's small house on the property. It is rolling, treeless rangeland, a zone of unlimited vistas where the silence is broken only by the sounds made by these folks and their animals. It's guaranteed to create a person feel small. The three characters go for long periods without seeing other human soul. What is worse, Stewart turns out to be taciturn to the mission of being almost silent. "I can't talk to the man," Elinore complains to Grandma Landauer. "You'd better learn before winter," replies Grandma. Grandma (Lilia Skala) is one of the only two another characters who are seen more than fleetingly. She came out to Wyoming from Germany with her husband many years before and runs her ranch alone actually that she is also widowed. Grandma is their nearest neighbor (and the local midwife) and still she lives ten miles away! The another helping hero is Jack the hired hand (Barry Primus).Elinore's routine (and her employer's) is one of endless, backbreaking labor, where there are no modern conveniences and where everything gotta be made, fixed or done by hand. This is the true meat of the film: Watching the ordinary life of these ranchers as they struggle vs nature to wrest a living from the land. But despite the constant toil and fatigue, Elinore is everytime looking for another opportunities. She learns that the tract adjacent to Stewart's is unclaimed. Impulsively, she files a claim on the property (twelve dollars, or almost two weeks' pay!), meaning that if she lives on it (and she gotta now live there) and works it for ten years, she will receive the deed to it. Naturally, Stewart learns what she has done. With merciless logic, he points out that with no money, no livestock, no credit, and no assets, she has no possibility of succeeding. He then offers a solution: He proposes marriage. The stunned Elinore realizes that this is the only true alternative, and accepts.We think that Stewart's proposal is purely Machiavellian---he wants the land and the gratis labor---but we see that, in fact, he is genuinely fond of Elinore, and they grow together as a couple. She becomes pregnant; she goes into labor in the middle of a midwinter blizzard; Clyde travels for hours on horseback through the storm the ten miles to Grandma's and the ten miles back, only to announce that Grandma wasn't there. This is more like true life than is pleasant, folks. Elinore has the baby all by herself, with no support whatsoever. Their son is still an infant when he gets sick and dies. They lose half their livestock to the vicious winter. They struggle on. The last sequence in the movie is supposed to be optimistic: The birth of a calf. Clyde calls Elinore urgently to support him deliver the calf. Instead of being head first, the calf is in a footling breech presentation. He and Elinore gotta physically pull the calf out of the birth canal. There is no CGI, animatronics, trickery, fakery or unique effects: What you see is what happened, folks: A calf is born on a bed of straw in a wooden barn by lamplight. With that, the movie does not so much end as simply stop, leaving the viewer unsatisfied, but after a while you appreciate the movie as a whole, not just for its ending.This tiny gem rewards patience and thoughtfulness. It will be watchable long after most of the movies of the last generation have long been forgotten.


Director Richard Pearce has a knack for finding tiny tightly- crafted stories and keeping them confined to their natural surroundings and letting smart casting choices take over the work and make something magical. He's done it with "Country" and "Family Thing" and maybe never better than with "Heartland." Of course, Rip Torn is a fine actor and well-suited to the role of a farmer, but the nice turn by Farrell in the lead is not any simple part. She is quite remarkable in this film, and it's maddening why she wasn't utilized more by another directors. (She shows up often in stereotypical parts, like the secretary in "Erin Brokovich") A shame this commanding actress isn't recognized more for this wonderful performance.



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