Ravishingly shot (by Nestor Almendros, who was actually going blind during production and won an Academy Award for his work here), Days of Heaven tells the story of itinerant harvest workers in the Texas Panhandle in 1916.
Bill (Richard Gere) and Abby (Brooke Adams) – a pair of young lovers living and working in Chicago who pretend to be brother and sister – try to escape the poverty and hard labour of the city by travelling south.
Along with Bill’s real little sister Linda (Linda Manz) – who acts as the narrator – they find employment on a farm. When the wheat harvest is over, the young, rich and handsome farmer (Sam Shepard) invites them to stay because he has fallen in love with Abby.
When Bill and Abby discover that the farmer is seriously ill and only has a year left to live, they decide that Abby will accept his wedding proposal to make some benefit from the situation.
When the expected death fails to eventuate, jealousy and impatience begin to set in, and accidents become inevitable as murder, greed, love and fate all combine.
John Travolta auditioned for and won the lead role of Bill, but ABC-TV wouldn’t let him out of his contract for his series Welcome Back, Kotter, and the part was eventually given to Richard Gere. Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman both turned down the role.
Director Terrence Malick really captures the feeling of time and place with a vivid and poetic eye. He spent two years editing this film, eventually discarding much of the dialogue and replacing it with a voice-over by Linda Manz to achieve a more coherent story. He was so exhausted after making the film that it would be 20 years before he made another.
Ennio Morricone received his first-ever Academy Award nomination for his score to the film.