Monday, April 22, 2013


We saw 42 this weekend and recommend it.  Is it a little stilted and hokey at times?  Yes, but it's a great story, well told.  And as a baseball history nut it is impressive how accurate it is.  They telescope some events and change some chronology but virtually everything you see happened (though they take liberties with the dialogue at times).

This is true even for the parts that seem like they must have been invented by the screenwriter for dramatic purposes like when Branch Rickey (played by Harrison Ford, who hams it up, but Branch Rickey was a ham so it works) finally tells Jackie Robinson the real reason he wanted to integrate baseball.  Hard to believe but true.

Kentucky-born shortstop Pee Wee Reese really did come over to first baseman Jackie and put his arm around him in front of a hostile, taunting crowd at Crosley Field in Cincinnati.  And look at the stands in Crosley Field!  The folks who made this film did a phenomenal job accurately recreating these old ballparks.

Pee Wee and Jackie became friends and in the interviews and speeches Robinson gave later in his life, he always cited Pee Wee as second only to Branch Rickey in helping him succeed in those difficult times.

And the most searing scene in the movie, when Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman baited Robinson throughout a game with the most vicious and vile taunts really happened (if anything, as bad as the movie makes it seem, the actual language may have been even worse based on some accounts I've read).

The movie captures well how pivotal the integration of baseball was for American society and how lonely and difficult it must have been for Jackie and Rachel during those first two years after his signing by Ricky in October 1945.  They had both grown up in Southern California where racism was present but relatively mild compared to what they would face when the Dodgers had spring training in Florida and during the season when they traveled to cities like Philadelphia, Cincinnati and St Louis and, indeed the open hostility of some of his own teammates.

The movie features terrific casting, even for the smaller parts.

Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey in what I think must be his first character actor part and yes, Rickey really dressed like that.

Christopher Meloni (From Law & Order SVU) as Leo Durocher, the fiery Dodger manager who faced down a player revolt against Robinson joining the team.

John McGinley (the older doctor in Scrubs) as Red Barber, the Dodger broadcaster.  It is uncanny how McGinley captures Barber's distinctive cadence and voice. 

Lucas Black as Pee Wee Reese.

Alan Tudyk (the pirate in Dodgeball) as Ben Chapman.

The most difficult roles to cast must have been Jackie Robinson and his wife, Rachel.  They are so iconic and the story so melodramatic that it is almost impossible to portray them in a normal way.  I think the filmmakers made the right choice in picking two relative unknowns (Chadwick Boseman and Nicole Beharie) who carry the burden and acquit themselves well.
Jackie Robinson died in 1972 when he was in his early 50s but his wife, Rachel, is still alive and now 90 years old and heavily involved with the movie.  If you've seen and heard Rachel interviewed over the years you know she is smart, determined and gracious.  After Jackie retired, Rachel launched a career in nursing eventually becoming a professor at Yale's Nursing School and director of Connecticut's Mental Health Center.  And she is still rolling along.  Here she is at the premiere of 42:
It took an extraordinary man to break the color barrier in baseball and Jackie Robinson was that man and it took an extraordinary man to decide to do it and that man was Branch Rickey.

Rachel Robinson and Chadwick Boseman at the premiere of 42.

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