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Desire Under the Elms

Desire Under the Elms(1958)

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In 1840, New England farmer Ephraim Cabot constantly harangues his three sons, Peter, Simeon and their younger half-brother Eben, to work harder and be more religious. The three sons all despise their father, who worked their mothers to death, especially Eben, whose mother once showed him where Ephraim hides his gold and made him promise to claim the farm one day, as most of it had been hers when she married Ephraim. One day, Ephraim declares that he needs to ride out to learn God's message for him and urges the younger men to keep working while he is gone. As six weeks pass, the brothers hope that Ephraim, who is seventy-six years old, has died, and Peter and Simeon contemplate their plan to search for gold in California. One night, Eben gets drunk in town and then visits Min, an older widow who often entertains young male visitors. Min welcomes Eben, but he tells her that he is through with "leftovers" and rushes home, where he digs up $600 of Ephraim's buried money. Eben then wakes up Peter and Simeon to tell them the latest gossip, that Ephraim has married a twenty-five-year-old Italian immigrant. The men are infuriated, as they believe that she will now inherit the farm instead of them. Eben offers his brothers the money if they sign over their shares in the farm to him and, believing that he will never inherit it anyway, Simeon and Peter do so. The next day, Ephraim brings Anna, his new wife, to the farm, and she is thrilled to have a home and land of her own. Peter and Simeon rudely laugh at their father and his new bride before leaving, while Eben reacts hostilely to Anna's offer of friendship. Anna responds that she has worked hard all her life for a place to call her own, and that she will do anything to hang onto it now that she has found it. Later, as Anna cleans the filthy house, Ephraim yells at her for airing out the parlor in which Eben's mother used to sit and orders her never to go there, for it was where Eben and his mother used to hide from him. As time passes, Anna flaunts her earthy sensuality at Eben, who responds by avoiding her. One Sunday, Eben is preparing to visit Min, and Anna laughs at him. They become involved in a violent quarrel, declaring that they hate each other, and Eben insinuates that Anna is a whore for marrying Ephraim in order to get the farm. After Eben storms off, Ephraim questions Anna about the argument, and she states that Eben was propositioning her. Ephraim immediately wants to kill Eben, but Anna, who is attracted to Eben, as he is to her, stops him, telling him that they need Eben to work the farm. Quieting down, Ephraim admits that Eben is the only one remaining to whom he can leave the farm, and Anna demands that he leave it to her instead. Ephraim cruelly dismisses her, stating that she is a woman, and that only blood counts. When Anna states that the two of them could have a son of their own, Ephraim, who is besotted with her, promises to give her anything she wants if she will bear him another heir. Soon after, Eben lies awake in his attic room, tortured by the sound of Ephraim and Anna talking. When Ephraim leaves to tend the livestock, Anna goes to Eben's room, and the couple cannot help engaging in a passionate kiss. Eben pushes her away, again proclaiming that he hates her, but Anna taunts him with the knowledge that he desires her. Having entranced him, Anna easily seduces Eben, although as they spend time together, she discovers that she genuinely loves him. One morning, as they relax in the hayloft, Anna tells Eben about her difficult life, and how she has always had to work in the homes of others. Eben's happiness grows when Anna becomes pregnant, but when the baby, a boy, is born, he is heartbroken upon realizing that they must pretend that Ephraim is the infant's father. On the day of the baby's christening, Simeon and Peter, now rich from their gold prospecting, return to the farm to introduce Ephraim to their wives, Florence and Lucinda. Ephraim, overjoyed by his new son, dismisses his daughters-in-law as "flashy," but invites them to join the party anyway. The neighbors and villagers enjoy Ephraim's food and drink but gossip behind his back about Eben being the baby's father. Angry and confused, Ephraim demonstrates his virility by engaging in a wild dance, then orders Simeon and Peter to leave when they also laugh at him. Eben is in the barn avoiding the party when Ephraim finds him and taunts him that he is going to leave the farm to his new son. Ephraim also tells him that Anna had urged him to keep Eben on as a laborer and had promised him a child. Believing that Anna merely used him to father her son, thereby gaining the farm, Eben is enraged. When Anna finds him soon after, Eben lashes out at her, but she swears that she has fallen in love with him and would do anything for him. Eben declares that everything between them was ruined by the baby's arrival, and that he is going to leave for California in the morning. Torn between her love for Eben and her son, Anna extracts a promise from Eben that he will love her again if she can make their life as it once was. Early the next morning, Eben is leaving when Anna tearfully informs him that she has proven her love for him by smothering their son. Horrified, Eben denounces her and runs off to get the sheriff. Anna then returns to the house, where she is sitting forlornly when Ephraim awakens. Anna tells him that she has killed the baby, and also the truth about his parentage. Although he bitterly declares that he is glad the infant is dead, Ephraim is saddened that Anna never loved him. After Ephraim wanders from the house, Eben rushes in and finds Anna in the parlor. There, he tells her that he realizes that he still loves her, and that he is just as responsible for their child's death as she is. Assuring her that there is still time, Eben urges her to run away with him, but Anna insists that she must pay for her crime. Buoyed by Eben's love, Anna faces the sheriff with grace, and Eben declares that he must be arrested also. As Anna and Eben slowly ride off with the sheriff, Ephraim watches from the hilltop of his farm, which is his alone at last.