Heaven's Gate

Film details

Cast & Credits

Synopsis

Summer 1870. Two young graduates at Harvard University, Averill and Irvine, join a last celebration before they start to the Wyoming Territory to fulfill their ideals and find excitement in the new lands opening up to settlers. Johnson County, Wyoming, winter 1891. The two former classmates are now in their early forties. Averill, more restrained and visibly older, is a Federal Mashal, and Irvine, ravaged by drink, but still witty and sharp-tongues, is a member of the Stock Growers Association, which is deeply embroiled in a bitter conflict. Johnson County is experimenting an influx of settlers from Eastern Europe, and their presence is violently resented by the landowners who see the newcomers as a threat to their control of the land. The cattlemen have organized the Stock Growers Association, headed by the elitist Canton to protect their interests and counteract the growing population of 'foreigners'. To further exacerbate the situation, some of the settlers, facing starvation, have resorted to pilfering livestock belonging to members of the Association. To punish those who do so, the Association has hired Nate Champion, a hired enforcer skilled with a gun. Punishment is swift and any immigrant caught stealing a cow is killed. Canton, with unofficial government approval, has a master plan to wipe out the settlers. He has a list of 125 of them marked for death and hires a group of mercenaries who will receive a bounty of fifty dollars for each person they kill. Averill learns of the plan from Irvine and after a confrontation with Canton, relays the information to John Bridges, the owner of a saloon where the settles gather. Bridges is determined to prevent the slaughter. Averill also conveys the news to Ella, a young foreigner who runs the Hog Ranch, a local whorehouse. Averill is fond of Ella and suggests that she leaves the area before the bloodbath begins, but she refuses. Averill goes to the local amusement center, the Heaven's Gate Roller Skating Arena, which is being used as an impromptu courtroom. He stands before the settlers and warns them of the death list. Bridges organizes their defense, while Canton leads the mercenary charge, but not before he risks losing crucial time to settle a personal score with Champion. Although the mercenaries are outnumbered, they are skilful fighters and begin to run up a large toll of victims. After the first battle both sides fall back to regroup. During the night, Averill joins the side of the immigrants and devises an ingenious strategy for attacking the mercenaries. At dawn, he leads the charge against the hired guns. After a pitched battle and just as the tide is turning to victory for the immigrants, a group of soldiers from the Wyoming National Guard under orders from the Governor himself stops the fighting, thereby rescuing the remaining mercenaries. With the aid of Averill and Bridges, the settlers have staved off disaster. The Johnson County War is over and Averill and Ella prepare to move out of the county, but a revenge-seeking Canton has other plan in mind for them.

Latest from the BFI

  • Latest from the BFI

    Latest news, features and opinion.

More information

Films, TV and people

  • Films, TV and people

    Film lists and highlights from BFI Player.

More information

Sight & Sound magazine

  • Sight & Sound magazine

    Reviews, interviews and features from the international film magazine.

More information

Back to the top