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HEARTLAND(director: Richard Pearce; screenwriters: Beth Ferris/William Kittredge; cinematographer: Fred Murphy; editor: Bill Yahraus; music: Charles Gross; cast: Rip Torn (Clyde Stewart), Conchata Ferrell (Elinore Randall Stewart), Barry Primus (Jack), Lilia Skala (Mrs. Landauer), Megan Folsom (Jerrine), Amy Wright (Clara Jane); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Michael Hausman/Beth Ferris; PBS; 1979)
“A robust and authentic look at the everyday mundane struggles on the frontier.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A realistic low-budget Western that pays tribute in a semidocumentary style to the men and women who toughed it out during pioneering times. Former documentary filmmaker Richard Pearce (“Country”/”No Mercy”/”Plainsong”) shows the hardships of life in the harsh wilderness of Wyoming (shot in Montana) circa 1910. Writer Beth Ferris adapts it from the letters of frontier woman Elinore Randall Stewart, and allows it to be a terse and moving film.

Clyde Stewart (Rip Torn) is the Wyoming taciturn Scots rancher who pays the passage from Denver of the young widowed Elinore Stewart (Conchata Ferrell) and her seven-year-old daughter Jerrine (Megan Folsom), where she’s to be his housekeeper for a year. Elinore works hard and tells her boss I would like to own my own ranch: “all my life I’ve been working for somebody else.”

After going through the harsh winter and respecting his housekeeper’s work ethic and fierce independence, Clyde proposes and they have a simple wedding.

This Western makes it a point to show that the pioneer women deserve as much credit as the men for helping to build the West, as they work hard in unpleasant primitive conditions and held the family together during rough times. It’s a Western without villains or shoot-em up action, but is a robust and authentic look at the everyday mundane struggles on the frontier.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”