“42” – A Review


Hollywood has made a whole lot of sports movies over the years and it is almost criminal that “42” was only the second attempt ever to tell the all-important story of Jackie Robinson and his travails breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball. The first was in 1950 and Jackie Robinson played himself in “The Jackie Robinson Story”, and from most accounts, that wasn’t very good.

“42” is a must-see movie.

“42” was a good film about a great topic. It wasn’t the greatest movie ever made but it did what it set out to do, and what was to educate and highlight just some of the trials and tribulations through which Robinson and his wife Rachel had to suffer. Not only did Robinson’s signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers change baseball, it was really the first, big step in the Civil Rights Movement on a national level.

I wish the film had spent just a little more time in the Kansas City Monarchs and the Negro Baseball Leagues. The movie spent just two very brief scenes on Robinson prior to his signing but it would have been nice to see a little more. The film didn’t back away from some of the ugliness forced upon Robinson and his wife but again, the movie stopped just short of showing enough. A good chunk of this nastiness was centered on Philadelphia Philly manager Ben Chapman (portrayed by Alan Tudyk), who was probably the most vocal and intense of those who opposed to Robinson playing, as far as on-the-field personnel went. “42” tried to whittle down the general feeling in baseball to Chapman’s reaction but on film, it almost played out on screen as a big, cruel joke on Chapman’s part. I am sure it was much nastier in real life. The film really didn’t pound in the fact that Robinson not only had to deal with this a few games but really for most of two seasons, and, to a certain extent, probably his whole career, even when other African Americans joined him on the Dodgers and rosters throughout the major leagues.

The film barely touched on what Rachel Robinson had to suffer through in the stands each and every day. In her own right, Rachel was a strong and courageous as her husband, and they each gained strength through their love for each other. What she must have had to endure in the stands, listening to people yell the most cruel of insults at her husband, had to have been heart wrenching. It should be remembered that Jackie did not go through all of this alone.

The film did pay appropriate homage to the man who signed Robinson, the Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey, played brilliantly in the film by Harrison Ford. Rickey was an incredible baseball man, not only for signing Robinson but also for laying the groundwork for the modern minor league baseball leagues. He also drafted the first Hispanic star, Roberto Clemente. Rickey was first and foremost a baseball man but he also was in the business of making money. As we all know, winning baseball makes money. The movie touches briefly on Rickey’s desire to make money and bringing in talented African Americans who played an exciting brand of baseball was a way to fill the coffers. I don’t doubt at all that Rickey understood the injustice of the ban on African Americans in baseball, and he was against the ban wholeheartedly. Rickey received his fair share of flack from baseball and the public for signing Robinson but he knew it was the right thing to do.

The movie did not mention Rickey’s agreement with Robinson that Jackie had to take all the abuse heaped upon him for two seasons before he could begin to stand up for himself other than by his play. Rickey wanted Robinson the earn his place through his play and for Robinson to earn respect on the field, which he eventually did. I think this was a key to measuring just how much courage Robinson showed during those early years and it should have been included.

The film did a good job showing how Robinson courage and play won the grudging respect, admiration, and the eventual acceptance of his teammates, including Southerners like Pee Wee Reese. There are a handful of scenes with Jackie interacting with players on his team that were quite stirring.

The cast, including Ford, Chadwick Boseman as Jackie, Nicole Beharie as Rachel, Chris Merloni as Leo Durocher, Lucas Black as Reese, Andre Holland as Wendell Smith, and Hamish Linklater as Ralph Branca, did a fine job. A special shout out to John C. McGinley for his incredible portrayal of announcer Red Barber – that was terrific.

All in all, the movie was good despite the sanitized, Disney-like feel to it. It was entertaining, educational, and a must see for all. This event is an important part, not only baseball history, but the history of our nation. I was surprised at the make up of the audience in the audience at the showing I went to. It was a relatively full theater but most of the movie goers were above 60 years old. There were only a handful of children of any age. This is a film I urge parents to take their kids to, despite a couple of scenes with rough language, because of it importance to the tapestry of our nation.

According to IMDB, “42” took in $27.2 million in box office sales. That is a good total but it is less than a season’s salary for some of today’s stars, who owe much to Jackie Robinson. I hope the film draws well for several weekends because the topic deserves our attention. The film lacked a certain realistic grittiness but it tells an important story. Everyone should go see this film, even if just for the story line.