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Movie Review
by Editor, Rick Cabral

As a boy growing up in the ‘50s, I recall watching the black-and-white movie “The Jackie Robinson Story,” starring the man himself. Shot just three years after Robinson “broke the color barrier,” even as a child two things were immediately clear: Robinson clearly was not an actor, but he was one helluva ballplayer.

In the new release “42 – The Jackie Robinson Movie” directed by Brian Helgeland for Legendary Pictures in conjunction with Warner Bros. Pictures we see just the opposite: Chadwick Boseman, cast as Jackie Robinson, is an accomplished actor, but certainly nowhere near the talented ballplayer Robinson was.

That said, this movie sparkles from the beginning, telling essentially the same story as the original movie, but this one’s in color—and set on a much grander scale.

Much like Billy Crystal’s film “61*” this bio-pic features wide, panoramic shots of the grandstands and ballfields that are so accurately and vibrantly depicted you can smell the hot, roasted peanuts from your seats. It captures the raw life and times of the mid-to-late ‘40s, showcasing the vicious racism that permeated much of American society during that period following World War II. As the film suggests, it was for that reason—and because money knows only one color: green—that Dodgers president/general manager Branch Rickey defied the establishment and brought in a Negro to play on his Brooklyn Dodgers.

Branch_Rickey
Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey. Chadwick Boseman (middle) plays Jackie Robinson

Rickey is played brilliantly by the irascible Harrison Ford. Unlike the two-dimensional character portrayals given in the Indiana Jones’ movies, Ford clearly enjoyed crawling into Rickey’s character by way of mannerisms and prosthetics that could earn him best supporting acting awards next season.

The role of Jackie Robinson is portrayed by Chadwick Boseman, a veteran actor, who also played running back Floyd Little in the Ernie Davis bio-pic, “The Express.” Boseman tackled a tough assignment: capture the essence of Jackie Robinson, the man, while attempting to accurately depict the athlete's unusual playing style: the fleet-footed, darting baserunning and the batter with the unorthodox stance: hands pulled far back and high above his head. Boseman merits a mere passing grade on this score.

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To read the reaction of Branch Rickey III to Ford's portrayal of his grandfather, and Boseman's depiction of Robinson, and several more topics related to the movie '42', 
read this exclusive interview.

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Robinson, by nature, was not a flamboyant personality, which was the principal reason Rickey hired him for the pioneering role. He saved his flash for the field. Away from the ballpark, by all accounts, Robinson was an adoring husband and father to his family. In these scenes, Boseman excels, especially when paired with the lovely and talented Nicole Beharie playing the part of Rachel Robinson, his wife. They’re a great team on the big screen and evoke the true love affair that sustained Robinson throughout his intense ordeal.

It is on the ballfield, however, where Boseman falls flat. Through archival footage and old kinescopes, we are familiar with the vibrant, dashing yet unorthodox Robinson style that matured during his time with the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues. Despite months of intense training under baseball experts, Boseman looks like just another talented actor attempting to recreate the onfield magic of a great athlete. Thomas Jane and Barry Pepper both wrestled with the same issue in their depictions of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris in 61*. His running style, for instance, is somewhat awkward and reflects only a hint of the panache Robinson packed on the basepaths. In truth, we're quibbling here, as the baseball action overall is first rate, especially by the secondary players.

We also discovered one historical distortion. Dodgers manager Leo Durocher, played wonderfully by actor Christopher Meloni, is seen cavorting in bed with a married woman, (Laraine Day, whom he would later wed). In the film, news about his philandering reaches baseball commissioner “Happy” Chandler, who notifies Rickey one week before the season ’47 season begins that he is suspending Durocher for the entire season for his transgression. The timeframe and penalty are historically consistent. But in truth Chandler offered other reasons, which he publicly detailed in the newspapers, for his suspension of Durocher (See Sidebar).

Despite these criticisms, there are many delightful moments in this film and loads of laughter.

One scene of a 10-year-old African American boy watching Robinson in his first spring training game in Florida in 1946 is precious. After Robinson was issued a walk, he stole second, then escaped from a rundown between second and third and wind up safe at the hot corner. While prowling the third base line, he teases the pitcher into inadvertently dropping the ball, allowing Robinson to score on the balk. The boy's mother wonders how the runner scored. The boy explains, “He discombulated them.” This lad (reportedly future major leaguer Ed Charles) who appears throughout the film represents the African American community which desperately wanted to see Robinson succeed.

Terrific performances also were turned in by Andre Holland who portrays Wendell Smith, the African American journalist from the black-owned Pittsburgh Courier who serves as Robinson’s transitional emissary while recording history from the typewriter perched on his knees in the stands (black journalists were not allowed in the press box); John C. McGinley—one of this generation’s great character actors— who recreates broadcaster Red Barber's southern bromides to a T; and Max Gail of “Barney Miller” fame, who plays Dodgers replacement manager Burt Shotton by adding a nice quiet contrast to the turbulence surrounding Robinson’s experience.

“42” is a magical film that places the viewer front and center in revered historical moments much like Spielberg's "Lincoln" accomplished last year. It triumphs in the end as it tells the story of how two men together broke a significant social barrier, sewed seeds for the future civil rights movement, and rallied a team of individuals into a “band of brothers” that went on to win the 1947 National League pennant.

We highly recommend you get out to the theatres to watch 42: The Jackie Robinson Story. The movie opens in Sacramento on Friday, April 12.

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NICOLE BEHARIE

 All photos by D. Stevens ©  2013 Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures

Sidebar

Opening Day 1947, Durocher's Suspension and Robinson's First Hit


The date April 15, 1947 is commemorated as the day when Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to break “the color line” in major league baseball. The National League schedule called for Opening Day to be held in Brooklyn at the Dodgers’ Ebbets Field. 

Attendance that Tuesday for the game against the Boston Braves was 26,623; Ebbets Field capacity was 31,092. 

Jackie Robinson batted second behind Eddie Stanky and played first base, a position he tried for the first time that spring. Robinson had played second base with the Dodgers’ Triple-A Montreal Royals, where he led the International League in hitting with a .349 average. 

In his first three trips to the plate, Robinson grounded out to third, flew out to left field and grounded into a 6-4-3 double play in the fifth inning.  

In the bottom of the seventh with Brooklyn trailing 3-2, leadoff hitter Stanky walked. Robinson laid down a sacrifice bunt, but Braves’ rookie first baseman Earl Torgeson threw wildly to first base, and Stanky and Robinson advanced to third and second base respectively. Pete Reiser then greeted pitcher Johnny Sain with a double to right field, scoring both runners and giving Brooklyn a 4-3 lead. Reiser later scored on a sacrifice fly to make it 5-3 and Brooklyn held on for the win. 

Interestingly, the day’s report in the New York Times failed to mentioned the event’s historic milestone, (although it had been mentioned in previous days’ reporting). Instead, the focus that day was on the absence of Dodgers manager, Leo Durocher, who had been suspended for the season just one week earlier. 

On April 9, the Dodgers’ brass, including Durocher, had gathered in Branch Rickey’s office to discuss the consequential impact of buying Robinson’s contract from Montreal for the 1947 season. Commissioner A. B. “Happy” Chandler phoned Rickey and notified him that he was suspending Leo Durocher for the season.  

“For what,” an annoyed Leo the Lip is reported to have asked his boss, Rickey. 

It all started one month earlier when Brooklyn and New York Yankees met in Havana for a series of exhibition games that started in Venezuela. In an article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Durocher wrote (through his ghostwriter Harrold Parrott) that two known gamblers had been sitting in the Yankees’ box seats with New York president, Larry MacPhail. In the piece, Durocher made other accusations against the Yankees executive.

Shortly after, MacPhail countered by asking the commissioner to look into the matter. Chandler did and found that Durocher had been involved in “unpleasant incidents” that were “detrimental to baseball.” 

Wrote the commissioner in announcing his decision: 

“The incident in Havana, which brought considerable unfavorable comment to baseball generally, was one of a series of publicity-producing affairs in which Manager Durocher has been involved in the last few months.” 

So, Durocher was not sitting in the dugout at Ebbets Field on that historic day. And in fact missed the entire 1947 season. 

Two ballplayers with Sacramento ties who witnessed the game firsthand were Dodgers catcher, Bruce Edwards of Sacramento High School and infielder John "Spider" Jorgensen of Folsom.  

Playing in just his second year in the big leagues, Edwards* would posted superb offensive numbers in 1947 (.295 with 80 RBI), earning him an All-Star selection. Jorgensen, who had signed with Brooklyn in 1941, won the starting job at third base that spring and played his first day in the big leagues alongside #42. 

As for Robinson, he would get his first major league hit in the following game at Ebbets Field (April 17). In the bottom of the fifth inning, with one out and no one on base, Robinson dropped a bunt down the third base line and beat out the throw.  

The Jackie Robinson era officially was underway.  


* Edwards was voted #17 in the All-Time Top 50 Players from Sacramento

 Uploaded 04/09/13
All Content © Rick Cabral
(except where others hold the copyright)

 

 

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