Set in the Texas panhandle, but filmed in Alberta, DoH reworks Henry James’ Wings of the Dove. In that novel a poor young couple hit upon a scheme wherein the man marries a terminally ill woman so that they can inherit her wealth after her death. DoH turns it around, as Bill (Richard Gere) sets his girl Abby (Brooke Adams) on to the wealthy Farmer (Sam Shepard), only to have her actually fall in love with him.
Critics writing about this film will invariably talk about how flat and dry the romances are. It’s true that there isn’t even a hint of passion between Abby and either one of the men, but I can’t really get too worked up about it. There’s too much other stuff that I DO get worked up about.
First, there’s the images. As I said above, DoH is filmed in Alberta on the bountiful land near Lethbridge, and rarely has a movie created such a sense of wide-open space. The cinematographer was Spaniard Nestor Almendros, who was at that time was likely best known for his work with Francois Truffault. (Haskell Wexler contributed part of the photography, as well.) A good portion of the action is shot at or dawn or dusk, and the low sun gives the film an ethereal, golden look. There is a scene where a crew prepares to begin a harvest early in the morning (below), and the sky is absolutely magnificent.
The other thing that makes DoH resonate so strongly with me is the presence of Linda Manz, who plays Bill’s kid sister Linda and narrates the film. I normally regard narration as lazy filmmaking and a distraction, but in this case, it’s central to the mood of weary hopelessness. Linda is supposed to be a child of 10 or 12, but the narrative reveals a much older soul. Consider this clip of the three traveling on a river after the scheme has gone bad. (Music by the great Leo Kottke)
“Bury somebody or something”
Her observations are child-like, all right, but they also are laced with a morbid, beaten-down quality that is strangely compelling.