Yes, Jackie Robinson portrayed himself in this 1950 B-movie "docudrama." Perhaps that was a mistake. Robinson was a great baseball player, a pioneer, and a true hero of the civil rights movement. What he was not was an actor. And while this is an important film because of Robinson's presence, it is not a good film.
His historically important stint in the U.S. Army was glossed over. There was no mention of his court martial for refusing to sit at the back of the bus on an Army transport in Texas (he won--see movie "The Court Martial of Jackie Robinson"). There was nothing about the Kansas City Monarchs and his playing on the same team as legendary hurler/baseball showman Satchel Paige (see movie "Soul of the Game.")
While there was an attempt made to show the racial injustices Robinson faced, first as a member of the Triple-A Montreal Royals of the International League, then with the Dodgers, this movie was more of a feel-good, 1950s, African-American Horatio Alger piece of public relations. For all the bite the screenplay had, it could have been written by the Dodgers P.R. office. It also made a running joke of brother Mack's "steady job." Mack Robinson was a janitor/street sweeper who could not find a better job despite a college diploma and a silver medal as a sprinter in the 1936 Olympics. The only reason he wasn't hired somewhere as a coach was racism. The movie tried unsuccessfully to make that point, but racism was not a popular subject in 1950 America, especially when the filmmaker's agenda was selling movie tickets, so the reason for Mack's lowly employment status was hinted at, not confronted.
There are two redeeming qualities in the movie: Ruby Dee as Robinson's wife, Rachel, and the appearance of Robinson himself, actor or not. Dee, who was one of Hollywood's most beautiful women at that time, was an excellent physical match for the lovely and intelligent Rachel Robinson. Her acting performance transcended an otherwise bad film. Ironically, forty years later, she would play Robinson's mother in "The Court Martial of Jackie Robinson." As for Robinson himself, those who only know him from Black History month can see firsthand that he was an intelligent, articulate human being, despite being ill at ease on the movie set. What also comes through about Robinson is his broad shouldered physical prowess. He was not as tall as Andre Braugher, who played him in "Court Martial...," nor did he have Braugher's vocal presence. While handsome, he was not drop dead movie star gorgeous as Blair Underwood, who played him in "Soul of the Game." But he was a real athlete, who had been a four-letter man at UCLA (baseball, football, basketball and track), and who had also been the best black amateur golfer in California. The real Robinson, unlike the fine actors who played him later, comes across as the real athlete he was.
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