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Lucy Massie Phenix,
Bernice Johnson Reagon
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After Jackie Robinson had his career year in 1949(batting champion and National League Most Valuable Player, he was apparently talked into appearing in this cheaply made autobiographical story by Dodger President Branch Rickey. According to a recent biography of Robinson the film was made in California in the early months of 1950 and rushed into movie houses in time for the 1950 baseball season.
Jackie Robinson was one of the most gifted athletes of the last century. He could easily have had a career in football, track, or basketball. But acting was not one of the skills God blessed him with. The poor man looks nervous and apprehensive and wondering what he was doing there.
The movie touches on a few highlights of his early life, skipping over his military career which was very important because he felt the sting of racism there and was courtmartialed in the army, but acquitted. I won't go into that story, a television movie was made of it.
There's no real explanation of just WHY it was Robinson who Branch Rickey selected to integrate the Brooklyn Dodgers and major league baseball. The skimpy screen play does concentrate on Rickey and his role in bringing integration to baseball. That's not surprising since the screenplay was authored by Arthur Mann who was Rickey's own publicist. Later on Mann wrote a hagiography of Rickey.
Branch Rickey was a complex man himself and not quite the pure knight the film makes him out to be although he does deserve a lot of credit. Rickey was not above a lot of sanctimonious moralizing in his life and actor Minor Watson caught some of that aspect of him. A book and/or movie should be done about that man as well.
Ruby Dee got her first real notice on the screen in this film as Rachel Robinson, Jackie's wife. There's was one of the great love stories of the last century, but you'd never know it. Ms. Dee said that she had little to go on in creating the character of Rachel for the screen, but that after meeting her when the shooting was well over halfway done, she wished she had met her before. Her interpretation of the dutiful wife would have been a lot different.
In fact one of the reasons that Rickey did choose Robinson as opposed to other black athletes was that Robinson was a very religious man who was very much in love with his wife. No stories about him running around and nightclubbing would occur to ruin Rickey's great experiment.
In fact other than the Robinson family and Branch Rickey the only other real characters in the story are Dodger coach and scout Clyde Sukeforth and Montreal Royal Manager Clay Hopper. No mention at all of any of Jackie's famous teammates. Another example of the skimpiness of the screenplay.
Ruby Dee said that Robinson was a very nice man who felt out of place in the film. Maybe one day a good film about Robinson the ballplayer and civil rights activist will be made. I can see Denzel Washington in the part.
Having seen the film 42 I can recommend that one as a far better telling of The Jackie Robinson Story.
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