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DAYS OF HEAVEN (director/writer: Terrence Malick; cinematographer: Nestor Almendros; editor: Billy Weber; music: Ennio Morricone; cast: Richard Gere (Bill), Brooke Adams (Abby), Sam Shepard (The Farmer), Linda Manz (Linda), Robert Wilke (The Farm Foreman), Jackie Shultis (Linda’s Friend), Stuart Margolin (Mill Foreman), Tim Scott (Harvest Hand), Gene Bell (Dancer), Doug Kershaw (Fiddler), Richard Libertini (Vaudeville Leader), Frenchie Lemond (Vaudeville Wrestler); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Bert Schneider/Harold Schneider; Paramount; 1978)
“A truly beautiful photographed film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A truly beautiful photographed film (with Alberta, Canada standing in for Texas). French cinematographer Nestor Almendros took home a well-deserved Oscar. It’s set during President Wilson’s tenure, in the pre-World War I Texas panhandle. Writer/director Terrence Malick (“Badlands”/”The Thin Red Line”/”The New World”)superbly shoots it as an enthralling mood piece, that lets its romanticized story of the human condition be spelled out visually to overwhelm us with its deep emotional impact as a parable of love and the loss of innocence with biblical proportions.

It’s told through the eyes of jaded teenage drifter Linda (Linda Manz), who innocently reflects on her nomadic and chaotic life as lots of fun and has trouble understanding good and evil. It follows the drifter lovers, the cocky Bill (Richard Gere) and the sad-eyed Abby (Brooke Adams) and Bill’s wide-eyed 16-year-old sister Linda from the foundries of Chicago to the paradise-like wheat-fields of West Texas. Bill flees Chicago and the law after accidentally murdering the bullying foreman (Stuart Margolin)in the steel mill. The now harvest cropper trio settle in on the vast farm, when Bill observes the wealthy landowner’s interest in Abby and overhears that he’s ill and is only expected to live for a year. Bill convinces Abby to pose as his sister, and lets him marry her when he proposes so that within a year they’ll all be rich. The farmer lets wifey’s brother and sister stay on, while Bill stews in the juices of his own making as he impatiently waits for the landowner to die. The wily old foreman (Robert Wilke) smells a con job and flashes his hatred at Bill, warning him that he will not let his long-time friend be made a fool.

What follows is an Old Testament story that ends the drifters heavenly days on the farm, as the wheat-fields are taken over by a plague of locusts, a fire rampages through the prairie and a fight until death between the suspicious farmer and the hot-tempered Bill occurs after the hustler was observed touching the farmer’s wife in not such a brotherly way.

It reminds one of an arty silent film, as the dialogue is sparse and all the attention is poured into the visuals in a poetical way.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”