One of the two spy "martyrs" of the American Revolution
There are two films of note dealing with Benedict Arnold's treason, and one (THE SCARLET COAT) dignifies the memory of the unfortunate Major John Andre, the British go-between agent caught when the scheme fell apart. Major Andre (unlike Arnold) did not betray his country or his cause - he actually was performing his service for his King and country, and felt he was in the right. A witty and likable man, nobody (from Washington down) wanted him hanged - but Sir Henry Clinton would not agree to the terms for Andre's release: Clinton would have to return Arnold for court-martial and execution. So Andre died, mourned by both countries. Clinton got Arnold's services as a British Brigadier General, and he committed atrocities in Connecticut and Virginia until 1781, when he was sent to Britain. But neither the U.S. nor Great Britain (nor Canada, where he tried his luck for awhile) had any use for him. Arnold's later years were full of dark regrets.
The other spy martyr is, of course, Nathan Hale. Except for some now obscure silent movies Hale's career never got into a film. This episode of THE GREAT ADVENUTURE is one of the few television versions of the story.
Hale, a Connecticut school teacher and graduate of Yale University, served as a spy for Washington in the campaigns around New York City and Long Island in 1776. He was supposed to be finding out troop strength and locate British installations. However, he was caught. Legend has it a Tory cousin of his (now a British officer) spotted him, and caused his arrest. He was hanged in lower Manhattan, near the present City hall. A statue in his honor is on the spot. He is supposed to have said, "I only regret I have but one life to give to my country." Possibly he did say it - if he did, George Washington would have recognized the line as a quote from Sir Richard Steele's drama CATO, which was a favorite play of Washington's.
Jeremy Slate is Hale in this episode of The GREAT ADVENTURE, and played the role well. The business about the cousin betraying him is also in the episode. I also recall Torin Thatcher as Sir William Howe, the British Commander who sentenced Hale to death, played the role with an ease that I enjoyed - only turning quizzical at the end, after Hale is hanged, wondering if he had heard the last of the spy. Van Heflin ends the episode, as we watch the shadow of Hale's body dangling from the rope, saying that Hale's memory and final words helped unite the Americans in their determination to defeat the British.
I might add this: in recent years it has been pointed out that much of New York City was destroyed in September 1776 by a massive fire, supposedly caused by arsonists. Historians now believe that Hale may have been one of the incendiaries, burning down the city to make it less habitable for the British. If so, it didn't work. New York City remained under British control until their last troops were pulled out in 1783, two years after Yorktown.
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