The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg (1980 TV Short)
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Because this was the first of the series it was short (only about forty minutes long), and it did not get positive reaction from the critics. It did have some well known performers in it, such as Robert Preston (as the prankster who sets up Hadleyburg for it's massive pratfall), and Fred Gwynn (as the local minister, who tries to save the town's pride but fails). Mary Sternhagen appeared as one of the townspeople who get entangled in the plot.
"Hadleyburg" was written in 1894, and is a fairly long short story. It is a large town in New England with a reputation for high morality and religiosity. Of course, Twain is aware that if you are known for these things you are likely not to have real morality and religious feelings after awhile, but are more likely to be smug, self-satisfied, and hypocritical. Preston's character, when in serious need, was in Hadleyburg and found nobody willing to assist or even give him the time of day. Some years have passed, and now he is rich, but burning to teach the town a lesson. He sets up an elaborate trick about a legacy left with the town's authorities for the person who once gave the legatee assistance. Then he arranges for anonymous letters to be sent to the leading members of the town's church, each letter explaining that the recipient was the man responsible for the act of generosity (and so the person who is meant to get the legacy). On a particular Sunday the Minister is to reveal who the winner of the legacy is, and so each of the town leaders send in their "proof" of being the person who did the act of generosity. And the high point of the comedy is when the hapless Minister is forced to read the "proofs" one after another after another, disgracing all the leading families of Hadleyburg.
If the story was as simple as that it would have been forgotten years ago. Twain is aware that people are human, and concentrates on the Wilson family. An elderly couple, they are among the leading families because of their family tree roots in the New England town. But unlike the other 19 families, the Wilson are an elderly, childless couple, and they are poor. They do send in the "proofs" the trickster sends to them, but they really feel conscience stricken (unlike the others) because they realize they are lying. The Wilsons turn the tale into a tragic one in the end.
The motto of Hadleyburg is the smug, "Lead Us Not Into Temptation" at the start of the story. At the end, after the results of the stranger's joke works itself out, the town changes it's name and the motto becomes what I wrote in the "Summary" line.
Preston was made to look like Twain in the television movie. From what I recall he and the cast gave good performances. Perhaps not the best of this series, but it was the first one and so they could only (hopefully) improve after awhile).
Preston sends 19 letters to different prominent citizens of Hadleyburg saying that their kindness to him plus a gift of $20.00 at a time he needed it with some advice turned his life around and in gratitude he was bestowing a sack containing $40,000.00 on some lucky citizen. Of course no one knows about the others and letters come to the Reverend Fred Gwynne as per instruction where he will open the bag and see if that piece of wisdom is written inside a note with the money.
Of course the lure of $40,000.00 in turn of the last century monetary value is too much, that would be maybe $200,000.00 today. Temptation brings out the worst in people, no need to go into details.
Nicely produced work of a beloved Mark Twain classic.
Like Twain's story it is an attack to the central core of our belief that we are above the rest, that we might be on a higher moral ground than the rest of the world.
I first saw this movie while I was in high school, and I found the story to be entertaining, the acting suitable, with Robert Preston playing his role with his usual charm and good humor.
I would consider this a good production of a Twain classic.