I continue to study the Western genre. I have now launched a podcast about the making of Western films. Listen here


Heartland should be included in every conversation of great Westerns. It may not be a masterpiece but more than any film I’ve seen, it captures the hardship of life on the frontier in a realistic way. It’s a Western with no gunfights. If that’s why you watch Westerns, you might want to skip this one. It’s certainly not the reason I watch them.

There’s actually only one shot fired in the film to my recollection. A pig is killed by lead actor Rip Torn. It’s a brutal moment that you wouldn’t see in films today but it’s a good representation of the film’s approach: straight forward and authentic. It’s quite possible that Torn was never better than he is in Heartland (I haven’t seen Payday yet). His gruff but heartfelt rancher is quite different from the characters my generation knows him for. His casting was a wise choice for the filmmakers, who also did well to stay away from Hollywood-looking people with Conchata Ferrell and Barry Primus.

The images are stunning but never stylized. They capture prairie life as well as the script from Beth Ferris and the direction from Richard Pearce. I wish every crew and cast member on our recent film, Terror on the Prairie, had been required to see this sadly forgotten yet (for me) unforgettable movie.

Watched on Tubi.