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RetrievedReformation

Carl Betz as Jimmy Valentine in the prologue of the 1952 anthology film O. Henry’s Full House.[1]

"A Retrieved Reformation" is a classic short story by the American author William Sydney Porter, who wrote under the pseudonym of O. Henry. It was first published in The Cosmopolitan Magazine in April 1903 and was republished in the 1909 anthology The Roads of Destiny.

The story concerns a young safecracker named Jimmy Valentine. Having been released early from prison, Jimmy is back in business cracking safes when he meets and falls in love with a bank owner's daughter. He changes his name and decides to makes an honest living. By the end of a year, he is a respected member of the community and happily engaged to be married. Shortly before the wedding, however, a disaster strikes which forces Jimmy to choose between his newfound happiness and a child's life.

"A Retrieved Reformation" is one of the most popular stories by O. Henry. It was adapted for the stage in 1910 as Alias Jimmy Valentine, and was also filmed three times (1915, 1920, and 1928) under the same title. A television adaptation titled "Valentine’s Second Choice" aired on January 29, 1977, as the first episode of a youth anthology series ABC Weekend Specials.

Plot

Jimmy Valentine, a young expert safecracker, is released from prison after serving only ten months of a four-year sentence. The warden, aware that Jimmy is not a bad man at heart, advises him to stop cracking safes and live straight. The next day, Jimmy returns to his old room above a friend's cafe in a little town. The room has been kept exactly as it was when he was arrested by detective Ben Price. Jimmy slides back a wall panel and takes out a suitcase filled with the finest set of burglar's tools, all specifically made for him.

A week later, there is a neat safe-burglary job, followed in two weeks by a bigger job involving a patented burglar-proof safe. Next a bank safe is broken into and a large amount stolen. The cases come to the attention of Ben Price. Investigating the scenes of the robberies, Price realizes that Jimmy Valentine is back in business.

One afternoon, Jimmy arrives in Elmore, a small town in Arkansas, looking smart like a young man just home from college. A young lady passes him in the street on the way to the Elmore Bank. Jimmy looks into her eyes, and instantly becomes a changed man. The girl sees him, blushes, and lowers her eyes as she enters the bank. Jimmy asks a boy on the bank steps about the young woman and learns that she is Annabel Adams, the bank owner's daughter.

Jimmy registers at a hotel as Ralph D. Spencer. He tells the desk clerk that he is looking for a location to open a shoe business. The clerk, impressed by Jimmy's clothes and manners, praises the town and tells him there are no exclusive shoe stores there. "Ralph Spencer" stays and prospers in Elmore. At the end of a year, his store is doing good business and he has won the respect of the community. He has also won Annabel's heart, and they are engaged to be married in two weeks.

With the wedding approaching, Jimmy writes a letter to an old friend to arrange a meeting in Little Rock. In the letter, he offers his old tools to his friend and explains how he quit the old business and is making an honest living. He is about to marry the finest girl on earth who believes in him.

The day before Jimmy's trip to Little Rock, Ben Price arrives in Elmore. He goes about town and finds the information he wanted. He gets a good look at the man who is to marry the banker's daughter and confirms for himself that "Ralph Spencer" is indeed Jimmy Valentine.

The following morning, before going to Little Rock to buy a wedding suit and a gift for Annabel, Jimmy has breakfast with Mr. Adams, Annabel, and her sister with two small daughters. They all go to the bank afterwards where there is a horse and buggy waiting to take Jimmy and his suitcase to the railroad station. The bank has just had a new vault installed, and Mr. Adams insists on showing it to everyone. The vault has a new, patented door with a time lock, and Mr. Adams proudly explains its workings to Ralph. Meanwhile, Ben Price enters the bank unseen by the family, takes a look around, and decides to wait.

Suddenly, the women begin to scream. While the adults were occupied, the two girls were playing around the vault - and the younger one has gotten locked inside. Mr. Adams groans that the door cannot be opened. The clock has not been wound and the combination has not yet been set. There is no one nearer than Little Rock who can open it. The child will suffocate, if she does not die from fright first. As the mother frantically bangs on the door of the vault, Annabel turns to Ralph and begs him to do something.

Ralph looks at Annabel with a strange soft smile. He asks for the rose she is wearing and puts it into his vest pocket. Then, as he throws off his coat, Ralph Spencer disappears and Jimmy Valentine takes his place. Jimmy tells everyone to get away from the vault door. He takes out his tools from the suitcase and gets to work. In ten minutes, he manages to open the vault.

As soon as the girl is safely in her mother's arms, Jimmy puts on his coat and walks off, ignoring the voice calling after him. At the front door, still wearing the same strange smile, he says hello to Ben Price. Jimmy is ready to surrender himself. Ben Price, however, addresses him as "Mr. Spencer" and, pretending not to have recognized him, turns and walks away.

Footnotes

  1. Although the story is not included in the film, a short uncredited clip based on "A Retrieved Reformation" is included in its prologue, accompanied by a narration by John Steinbeck; "Remember O. Henry's safecracker Jimmy Valentine?" The five segments in O. Henry’s Full House are based on "The Cop and the Anthem", "The Clarion Call", "The Last Leaf", "The Ransom of Red Chief" and "The Gift of the Magi".

See also

External links

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