The Pride of Jesse Hallam (1981) starring Johnny Cash, Brenda Vaccaro, Ben Marley, Eli Wallach, Chrystal Smith directed by Gary Nelson Movie Review

The Pride of Jesse Hallam (1981)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Johnny Cash in The Pride of Jesse Hallam (1981)

Learning the Hard Way

25 million adult illiterates, that is the number given during "The Pride of Jesse Hallam", a movie made 30 years ago, I wonder what that number is now, I hope it is less. I mention that because "The Pride of Jesse Hallam" is the story of a man who due to his daughter needing surgery is forced to move to the city where his inability to read and write becomes a problem which he had been able to hide up until then. I'm not sure whether "The Pride of Jesse Hallam" is based on a true story or not and to be honest the movie plays out more like a gentle drama with a purpose but it is entertaining and charming.

With his daughter needing spinal surgery Jesse Hallam (Johnny Cash) sells up and moves from Kentucky to Cincinnati with his son Ted (Ben Marley) to be near her in hospital. But for Jesse moving to the city causes major problems as he is unable to read or write and has managed to get by in the country without the need to. With it impossible to get a decent job without the basic skills Jesse ends up doing manual labouring for Sal Galucci (Eli Wallach - The Hunter) who on finding out Jesse can't read encourages him to learn and tells him that his daughter Marion (Brenda Vaccaro - Capricorn One) will help. Unfortunately Jesse has already had a run in with Marion as she is the vice principal at Ted's new school and he had a row with her over Ted being allowed into High School. But realising that he needs to learn and through his friendship with Sal Jesse buckles down and actually grows to like Marion.

Eli Wallach in The Pride of Jesse Hallam (1981)

So as I said, I'm not sure whether "The Pride of Jesse Hallam" is based on a true story or not but it comes across to me like someone aware of the amount of adults who struggle to read and write has crafted a touching and amusing drama. And it is a good drama with Jesse being a proud man, embarrassed by his lack of the basic skills who forms this wonderful friendship with Sal, a kindred hard working spirit and his daughter who warms to him. But there is also more than just that as we also have Jesse's son Ted struggling with life in the city and also struggling with his own education failings. It all combines to create this charming, often amusing and just as often touching drama.

But at the same time it also has a message and highlights how hard it can be for a grown up to face difficulties with reading and writing. You see how pride and embarrassment always causes problems as well as negativity when it takes time to learn. It makes the movie gently inspiring and a lot of that comes from the friendship which forms between Sal and Jesse as Sal believes in him and encourages him. It also highlights how the education of adults is not a one system fits all as Jesse struggles with an adult learning class which borders on the patronising.

Now when it comes to acting it is hard not to like Johnny Cash, he acts with his heart on his sleeve and it makes him perfect for the role of an illiterate father. But Cash is aided by his co-stars with Eli Wallach working so brilliantly with Cash to make this fun, inspiring friendship as Jesse and Sal.

What this all boils down to is that "The Pride of Jesse Hallam" is a charming drama from the early 80s which as well as entertaining highlights the issues of being an adult illiterate.