Let me start by saying that I am certainly no movie critic … I don’t even go to a lot of movies at the theater. In addition, I rarely read movie reviews because I like to see what I want to see and form my own opinion on what I do or do not enjoy. So now that the disclaimers are out of the way, I want to share my thoughts about the movie, “42” – the Jackie Robinson story.
Basic Plot Line
Naturally, the movie is a biopic of Jackie Robinson (portrayed by Chadwick Boseman) in 1946 & 1947 … important to note that this is a mere snippet of time – the making of Jackie as a Brooklyn Dodger (crossing the baseball color line) and not really his playing career. This may or may not disappoint some hard-core baseball fans. And even though I “knew” the story and the outcome walking into the theater, it certainly didn’t affect my ability to enjoy it and anticipate what might happen next – I was fairly riveted to the storyline … great acting certainly helped!
The General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey (wonderfully played by Harrison Ford) was truly a visionary in his desire to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier by signing a Negro player. Initially he talks about how it is good for winning, which is good to make more money; however, toward the end, he shares a story with Robinson from his past of how he didn’t feel he did enough for a Negro player and really wanted to make it right.
The movie chronicles the selection of Robinson to be “the” one – his signing – and then his move from the Kansas City Monarchs (part of the Negro Leagues) to the spring training camp of the Montreal Royals (a minor league affiliate of the Dodgers’ organization). Jackie’s first hope is to actually make the Montreal team, which he does. Now the movie doesn’t spend any time in Montreal but a friend of mine (who is Canadian) commented that he and his wife were loved there and shared a video with me (see links below). They were not so welcomed in the US where even on the minor league team he was boo’d and cursed for playing “white baseball.”
Of course, Jackie Robinson was called up to the majors and played for the Brooklyn Dodgers (for 10 years). The taunting and prejudice that Robinson received in the minor league system was just the beginning. In the majors, fans, league officials, players, even teammates were against him. Teams threatened to forfeit because they didn’t want to share a field with him. Teammates asked to be traded because they didn’t want to wear the same uniform or share a locker room with him. One of the most painful scenes in the movie is the constant taunting by the Phillies manager, Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) who threw an endless barrage of the N-word at him for every at bat. But humanity did come through as that also prompted teammates to start standing up for Jackie and this was a turning point in the clubhouse relationships.
My favorite Parts of the Movie “42”
The relationship with Rachel Robinson (Nicole Beharie) – Jackie’s wife – although there could have been more revealed, there was enough to demonstrate that she was loving, loyal, and supportive of Jackie and his desire to play Major League Baseball regardless of the incredible challenges they both faced.
Wonderful scenes at the old ballparks … now I must put those locations on my “must see” ballparks list. Many of the minor league game scenes were shot on location at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, AL. This ballpark has quite a history of its own and was highly appropriate for this movie. The other location was Engel Stadium in Chattanooga, TN – it received renovations for the movie and was used as the “Ebbets Field.”
I giggled every time there was a scene with Jackie taunting pitchers with the fear of stealing a base, which he did with ease! He just loved getting in their heads and pulling them off their game by worrying about him … and with good reason! Man, I sure would have loved to see him play!
I was also fascinated with the interplay between Jackie and Wendell Smith (Andre Holland). It was obvious he was a writer – likely a sports reporter – but I did not fully understand his role or who he worked for based on the movie. Thus, I had to do a bit of research when I got home. It seems he a sportswriter for the Pittsburgh Courier and was pretty influential in the selection of Jackie Robinson because he covered the Negro Leagues and knew he had the strong character needed to succeed in this difficult role. He was paid by both the Courier and Branch Rickey to assist Jackie and ensure he had a place to sleep and eat in safety – often a challenge during the “Whites Only” days of segregation. I would have liked to have seen this relationship a bit more fully explored in the movie.
Ultimately, it came down to baseball and the objective was to let the play on the field settle any question about who should or should not be playing in the major leagues! That was ultimately proved when Robinson made the game-winning – National League pennant-clinching – home run off of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher who previously beamed him in the head (obviously on purpose). Talk about settling it on the field – now that was perfect – and the look on that pitcher’s face was priceless!
My Favorite Quotes from the Movie “42”
Jackie Robinson: “You want a player who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?” Branch Rickey: “No. I want a player who’s got the guts not to fight back.” Jackie Robinson: “You give me a uniform, you give me a number on my back, I’ll give you the guts.”
Leo Durocher: “If Robinson can help us win, then he is gonna play on this ball club!“
Reporter: “What you gonna do if one of these pitchers throws for your head?” Jackie Robinson: “I’ll duck.”
Wendell Smith: “You are not the only one with something at stake here. Why do you think I sit on the 3rd base line with my typewriter in my lap? Negros aren’t allowed in the Press Box.”
Branch Rickey: “The world’s not so simple anymore, I guess it never was. We ignored it, now we can’t.”
Ralph Branca: “Maybe tomorrow we’ll all wear 42” (… and now they do on Jackie Robinson Day!)
The Baseball PHD Recommendation
The movie made me laugh … made me cry … made me think. Whether or not you like baseball, you should see this movie because it is part of history and the more we know the less likely we are to repeat mistakes. But if you love baseball, you HAVE to see this movie because it will give you a glimpse at history and a truly American Hero – and darn good baseball player!
Just the Facts
“42” runs 128 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including language.
Brian Helgeland – Director/Screenwriter
Thomas Tull – Producer
Dick Cook, Josh Jashni, & Jason Clark – Executive Producers
- Harrison Ford – as Branch Rickey
- Chadwick Boseman – as Jackie Robinson
- Nicole Beharie – as Rachel Robinson
- Christopher Meloni – as Leo Durocher
- Andre Holland – as Wendell Smith
- Lucas Black – as Pee Wee Reese
- Hamish Linklater – as Ralph Branca