Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Heaven's Gate (1980)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Heaven's Gate (1980)

In Michael Cimino's expensive 'boondoggle' film and revisionistic western that bankrupted United Artists studio - it told about the Johnson County Wars between starving Eastern European immigrant farmers and mercenaries hired by the cattlemen in the 1890s:

  • the opening set-piece of the swirling couples dancing Strauss' Blue Danube waltz on the Harvard College lawn following graduation in 1870 - especially the couple of Jim Averill (Kris Kristofferson) and a beautiful admirer (Roseanne Vela)
  • the gorgeous cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond of the panoramic Wyoming frontier landscapes - including the scene of the train bringing Eastern European immigrants to the West, about twenty years later
  • the scene in which poor immigrant Michael Kovach (Aivars Smits) was brutally killed as a suspected rustler and illegal butcherer of cattle - leaving a round shotgun blast hole in a sheet - with the first view of bounty-hunter/killer Nathan Champion (Christopher Walken)
  • the roller-skating dance scene in the Heaven's Gate dance hall with a young skating fiddler boy stirring up the audience
The Love Triangle
Nathan Champion
with Ella
Ella Watson
(Isabelle Huppert)
Sheriff Jim Averill
  • tension developed in a love triangle between young Johnson County bordello madam Ella Watson (Isabelle Huppert) from Quebec, Harvard-educated Sheriff Jim Averill (now the US Federal marshal of Johnson County), and her other deadly lover Nathan Champion, who was a mercenary or "enforcer" working for various cattlemen (who suspected immigrants of rustling)
  • Averill first found romance on the Western frontier of Wyoming with Ella after he arrived and she served him pie for breakfast while stripping down at the table; she tempted him to hungrily follow her as she ran naked to the bedroom; he gave her a birthday present of a horse and rig; shortly after she received the gift, they rode to a beautiful mountain stream where she went skinny-dipping in the refreshing water before they picnicked together and she talked about their future
Bordello Madam Ella Watson Skinny-Dipping
  • the hunting of immigrants (the names of 125 small farmers on a death list) by a posse of hired mercenaries of the Association led by black-garbed and evil Frank Canton (Sam Waterston), including the shocking scene of the forced rape of Ella (she was on the 'death list' because she would ask for "cash or cattle" as payment for her prostitutes)
  • after Ella's rape, Averill sought revenge and shot and killed all but one of the rapists; shortly later, an angered Champion entered Canton's camp and shot the remaining rapist - defying Canton ("You'd better have a guaranteed warrant for every name on that list")
  • the fiery death scene of Champion who was killed in a barrage of gunfire and suffered death outside his wall-papered frontier cabin (on fire) by the hired killers of evil leader Frank Canton, the head of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (with support from the cattle barons); Champion had hastily written a farewell note to Ella knowing that he would die
  • the sequence of the final two-day bloody showdown between the immigrants (with Averill joining their side) and the mercenaries hired by Canton and the Association (including the use of a Roman offense) - interrupted by the arrival of the US Army (led by Canton) after the slaughter was essentially over
  • and the surprising shock ambush killings at Ella's cabin of both Ella and John L. Bridges (Jeff Bridges), a local entrepreneur who had built the roller skating rink known as "Heaven's Gate"; Sheriff Jim Averill shot back and killed Canton and his men, but his lost love Ella died in his arms (wearing a beautiful white dress)
Death of Nathan Champion by Canton's Men Outside His Torched Cabin
Before Ambush (l to r): Bridges, Ella, and Sheriff at Ella's Cabin
Ella Dead in Sheriff Averill's Arms
  • the final almost wordless, despairing coda or epilogue scene of Averill - now appearing miserable and unemotional about ten years later, quietly lost and adrift in his recollections as a rich yacht captain off Newport, Rhode Island in 1903 with his wife (his waltz partner in the opening scene, and the woman in the framed picture he kept with him)

The Harvard College Lawn Whirling Waltz - 1870

Immigrant Train

Killing of Immigrant by Nathan Champion

Roller-Skating Dance Scene in Heaven's Gate

Ella with Sheriff

The Johnson County Wars

Frank Canton (Sam Waterston)

The Rape of Ella

Epilogue in 1903: Sheriff Averill With Waltz Partner


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