The plot focuses on a guest at a Nevada ranch, Vivian Bell, an English Literature lecturer from New York, frozen stiff by middle class morality and inbred prejudices, and totally confused by the drastic step she is about to take at the age of 35. She is about to get divorced.
To make matters much worse for her, once on the ranch she catches the fancy of the owner’s adoptive daughter, who starts making advances, first timidly and then in a pressing fashion, until the prim, respectable East Coast intellectual has to drop her armour and face her own latent homosexuality.
Since the story [from the novel Desert of the Heart by Jane Rule] is placed in the 1950s, it is clear that what, by today’s standards, would have been an unconventional but by no means an exceptional case, becomes an act of defiance against the accepted rules of society.
Helen Shaver, playing the lead, does a most commendable job as a character who starts by being all tied up inside, and ends up by melting and opening up to emotions she couldn’t even conceive before.
Patricia Charbonneau, as the avowed lesbian desperate for true affection in female companionship, tends to look too much like the spoiled brat who will have her own way.