Saturday, April 13, 2013
We spent this afternoon at the movies seeing the just released "42", the story of Jackie Robinson's first season in the major leagues. I have long felt that the story of Jackie Robinson is one of the most important pieces of American social history in the 20th century, and Robinson himself one of the most important persons, not just an important ballplayer, but important persons of the 20th century, so it is significant and perhaps long past due that an important film maker, Oscar winner Brian Helgeland, who directed and wrote the screenplay, made a movie of this story.
It is a terrific movie. In fact, I can say that it ranks right up there with the best of all of the baseball movies such as "Pride of the Yankees", "Field of Dreams", and "Eight Men Out" (my personal favorites). Like the first two of those movies, it weaves a love story, in this case the story of Jack and Rachel Robinson, in among the baseball. Like the third of those movies, it focuses on a major event in the game's history. In this one, it is the story of Branch Rickey's breaking baseball's unwritten code of "whites only" in major league baseball. It is Harrison Ford's Rickey and Chadwick Boseman's Robinson that are the fulcrum and the heroes of the story. Boseman, with whom I was not familiar, does a great job as Robinson. Unlike Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig, he actually looks like a ballplayer, he carries off the baseball scenes, and he hits all the right notes in his portraying the anger, frustration, and heroic stoicism required of Robinson in that first season. Harrison Ford also pulls off playing the larger than life Branch Rickey, right down to the bushy eyebrows. in her review the Post-Gazette's Barb Vancheri called this Ford's best performance in years.
Baseball fans who know the Robinson story will see that the movie picks up on all of the pivotal moments....being told by Rickey "not to fight back", the petition of some Dodger players to refuse to play with him, Leo Durocher laying down the law to the team that they WILL play with Robinson, the rampant racism in the south, and the north, during the period, being targeted by opposing pitchers, the vile racial baiting by Phillies manage Ben Chapman, and Pee Wee Reese putting his arm around Jackie on the field in Cincinnati. Familiar stories to the avid baseball fan, but expertly told and depicted in the movie.
Now, a word about the baseball in the movie. I thought that the baseball action in the movie was done well and was believable, but I know that the militant seamheads will no doubt find fault with it. I have already heard people pointing out that Dodgers road uniforms had "Brooklyn" across the front, not "Dodgers" as shown in the movie, and, yes, I know that the scoreboard was not in left centerfield at Forbes Field, nor were there advertising signs along the outfield walls at Forbes, but, please, as our friend Dan Bonk has pointed out, the film makers were "making a movie, not a documentary", and, hey, they did get the Cathedral of Learning right, didn't they? In any event, the essence of the story is there, and it is told brilliantly, I think, and who cares if occasionally they don't get the exact pitch count correct.
"42" will move you, will anger you, will bring you to tears, and in the end, it is an uplifting story. Be sure you watch the end of the movie when a sort of "Whatever became of...." montage is shown before the credits. It is a movie that I plan on owning and will watch regularly in the years ahead.
When I do tours of the Sports Museum, I always highlight the Negro Leagues in Pittsburgh, and I always start with the question "How many of you know who Jackie Robinson was?" I am always pleasantly surprised by how many kids, even grade school kids, know who Robinson was, and what he did. It proves that Robinson's story is not just a sports story, but an important American story. "42" does a terrific job in telling that story. Everyone should see it.
"A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."
- Jackie Robinson