The Pride of Jesse Hallam
Jesse Hallam is a coal miner in Muhlenberg, Kentucky, whose wife has recently died and who has also recently lost his job. His daughter Jenny is in need of an operation on her back, and the nearest hospital that can successfully perform the procedure is in Cincinnati, Ohio. He sells the family farm to his brother-in-law Charlie, receives $15,000 in cash, packs up Jenny and his son Ted, and piles their belongings high on a red pickup truck as they head to Cincinnati to start a new life.
Upon arrival in Cincinnati, Jesse checks Jenny into the hospital, paying the $14,000 for her operation in cash from the money he received from Charlie. After getting Ted registered at Harding High School, Jesse sets out to find work. However, his behavior is peculiar...as he is presented with a job application to fill out, he backs off and leaves. His efforts seem futile until he witnesses a vendor trying to cheat an elderly grocer by selling him inferior apples. Jesse intervenes and stops it. The grocer, an Italian immigrant named Sal Galucci (Eli Wallach), is impressed enough to offer Jesse a job immediately.
One day, as Jesse is helping Sal set up a stand at a farmer's market, Sal rebukes him for setting their wares on a spot marked with another name. In his anger, Sal says, "What's'a matter, don't you read good?" When Jesse turns away to hide his shame, Sal comes to realize the truth--that his employee, Jesse Hallam, is illiterate. He manages to convince Jesse to allow Sal to have his daughter Marian, who is also Ted's principal, teach him. Marian is reluctant at first, but gives in when Sal tells her how much he wants Jesse to continue working for him.
Throughout all this is a subplot that involves Jesse's son, Theodore "Ted" Hallam. Though his athletic abilities land him a spot on the track team, Ted is struggling academically, especially with reading--a parallel similar to his father. Because of this, he also struggles socially, leading him to hang out with a group of wild friends from school. This culminates in a police officer bringing Ted home to Jesse after Ted is found to be consuming alcohol.
Jesse sits Ted down and tells him not to "run away from words," as he did all his adult life. He tells Ted that the choice is his, but to know what he will be discarding. He offers to learn to read and write, and to help Ted improve his own skills, and Jesse pledges to get his G.E.D. while Ted works for his diploma. With some reluctance, Ted agrees.
- This movie was filmed entirely on location in Cincinnati, Ohio and rural Kentucky.
- The 1987 made-for-television film Bluffing It, which starred Dennis Weaver, also dealt with adult illiteracy, which was Jesse Hallam's main problem.