Days of Heaven is a 1978 American romantic drama film written and directed by Terrence Malick and starring Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard and Linda Manz. Set in the early 20th century, it tells the story of two poor lovers, Bill and Abby, as they travel to the Texas Panhandle to harvest crops for a wealthy farmer. Bill encourages Abby to claim the fortune of the dying farmer by tricking him into a false marriage. This results in an unstable love triangle and a series of unfortunate events.
Days of Heaven was Malick's second feature film, after the enthusiastically received Badlands (1973), and was produced on a budget of $3 million. Production was particularly troublesome, with a tight shooting schedule and significant budget restraints. Additionally, editing took Malick a lengthy 3 years, due to difficulty with achieving an overall flow and assembly of the scenes. This was eventually solved with an added narration by Linda Manz. The film was scored by Ennio Morricone and photographed by Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler.
The film was not warmly received on its original theatrical release, with many critics finding only the imagery worthy of praise. It was not a significant commercial success, although it did win an Academy Award for Best Cinematography with an additional three nominations for the score, costume design and sound. Malick himself won the Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival. Despite initially unfavorable reviews, Days of Heaven has since become one of the most acclaimed films of all time, particularly noted for the beauty of the cinematography. In 2007,Days of Heaven was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
The story is set in 1916. Bill (Gere), a Chicago manual laborer, knocks down and kills a boss in the steel mill where he works. He flees to the Texas Panhandle with his girlfriend Abby (Adams) and younger sister Linda (Manz), who provides the film's narration. Bill and Abby pretend to be siblings to prevent gossip.
The three hire on as part of a large group of seasonal workers with a rich, shy farmer (Shepard). The farmer learns that he is dying of an unspecified disease. When he falls in love with Abby, Bill encourages her to marry him so that they can inherit his money after he dies. The marriage takes place and Bill stays on the farm as Abby's "brother." The farmer's foreman suspects their scheme. The farmer's health unexpectedly remains stable, foiling Bill's plans.
Eventually, the farmer discovers Bill's true relationship with Abby. At the same time, Abby has begun to fall in love with her new husband. After a locust swarm and a fire destroy his wheat fields, the farmer goes after Bill with a gun, but Bill kills him. Bill then flees with Abby and Linda. The foreman and the police pursue and eventually find them, and the police kill Bill. Abby leaves Linda at a boarding school and goes off on her own.
- Richard Gere as Bill
- Brooke Adams as Abby
- Sam Shepard as The Farmer
- Linda Manz as Linda
- Robert J. Wilke as The Farm Foreman
- Jackie Shultis as Linda's Friend
- Stuart Margolin as Mill Foreman
- Timothy Scott as Harvest Hand
- Gene Bell as Dancer
- Doug Kershaw as Fiddler
- Richard Libertini as Vaudeville Leader