The Jackie Robinson Story

April 17, 2011 at 1:49 am Leave a comment

Although I am a little late for Jackie Robinson Day, it’s never too late to watch the 1950 movie The Jackie Robinson Story. It’s a bio-pic that actually stars Jackie Robinson.  Also remarkable, two of the greatest football players were attached to this movie. The movie was written by Lawerance Taylor and the man playing catcher for the Dodgers was Emmitt Smith. I kid, of course. I don’t believe the LT and Emmitt Smith traveled through time to be part of this movie. I did find it remarkable that two people involved in the making of this movie shared names with two of the greatest football players at their respective positions.  It is incredible that an athlete in the prime of his career would make a bio-pic about himself. Imagine Lebron James starring in the Lebron James Story sometime next year. Particularly fasincating, this is a movie about the man who broke the color barrier made in 1950 starring the man who actually went through everything.  I won’t go into the racial history of Hollywood, that would deserve a completely separate article. I encourage you to do you’re own research to understand the gravity of how truly remarkable it is that this movie was even made.  Considering the time in which the movie was made, it’s also amazing how dignified all of the roles the black actors playing are. At no time is anyone made out to be a buffoon. One guy is a buffoon but he is white and all his humor is baseball related.

Now, how do I judge this movie? Thankfully, I have seen a lot of films from this period. While it certainly wouldn’t stand up as any kind of technical achievement today, for the time it was made, The Jackie Robinson Story was a competent, well put together movie. Sure, it’s obvious that all of the baseball footage was shot in Southern California. Unless palm trees grow in Montreal. I don’t know, I’ve never been there. Kind of ironic too, considering the Dodgers would one day move to Los Angeles but at the time of this movie were still playing in Brooklyn.  Some of the ADR doesn’t match up in scenes where dialog couldn’t be saved. Some of the shots are washed out and over-exposed. But I’ve seen these problems in a lot of movies from the era. For it’s time, it was as well made as you could have hoped. Jackie’s acting is fairly solid. He can seem almost too wholesome at times but according to all reported accounts, that’s how he really was, so I can’t find a problem with that.  Some of the other actors in the movie have wooden performances. I’m not so sure the actor playing the Dean at UCLA wasn’t actually the Dean at UCLA.

The story plays out like a live action wikipedia page. Jackie starts out as a kid learning how to play baseball. Then he breaks his brother’s long jump record at Pasadena Junior College. From there he goes to UCLA. I had no idea he played football. Or basketball for that matter.Then he was in the military during World War II. Then he played in the Negro Leagues. Then he played for Triple A Montreal. Then he played for the Dodgers. Again, for the time in which it was made, it was fine. There are some themes that I found interesting. One was Jackie’s relationship with his brother, Mack. Mack apparently was also a gifted athlete and a college graduate. However, after college the only job he could get was as a street sweeper. The movie certainly doesn’t shy away from the racial tensions of the time. If anything, they could have done a lot more.  But to even show and talk about these kind of things in a movie in the 50’s was unheard of.  In one scene, Jackie is playing in the Negro League. As the new guy on the team, it was his job to go into a restaurant and ask if they could be served and use the washroom. The scene almost seems too tame. Jackie gets them to make sandwiches for the team but they can’t use the washroom. I doubt the interactions Jackie had in real life in situations like this were as civil. Also there is a scene where Jackie and his wife have to sit at the back of a bus. Reminder, this movie was made before Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back of the bus. Before Brown vs the Board of Education. Things like this were still going on in the country at the time but this really is the only movie made at the time where such things were portrayed that I know of. I’d say it’s like looking into a time loop but you know it was worse than the movie made it out to be. I wouldn’t go so far as to say you feel Jackie’s struggle but you get a taste of it. He always handled himself with grace and dignity in the movie as he did in real life.

There are a few things in this movie that are odd to say the least. One of them is a comic relief character whom Jackie plays with in the minors. He really doesn’t fit the serious tone of the movie. Basically, they put the breaks on the whole Jackie Robinson thing for this guy and the manager to do corny baseball related humor. The manager buys him a pair of shoes with lifts in it to help his swing. The guy bumbles around for a bit, then flies out to center. COMEDY! The movie concludes with Jackie giving a speech to congress that speaks out against communism, in a sense. That seemed out of place. The final line of the movie was interesting too. “Thanks to Jackie Robinson, any child can grown up to be President of the United States or play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.” The President thing wouldn’t be for another 59 years or so but still, this movie was like an oracle.  It predicted the future! Think about it. The footage of Jackie playing for the Dodgers was shot in Los Angeles.  The movie portrays southern lunch counters and riding on the back of the bus years before those events gained historical significants. The movie ends stating a black man could become President. Maybe Lawerance Taylor and Emmitt Smith really are time travelers and somehow got involved with this movie.

The Jackie Robinson Story is a movie I’d recommend for anyone. I think it’s a movie worth watching for historical prospective at the very least. It can be a hard watch at times but that’s only because it hasn’t aged well. I do believe this movie could be remade today and be an instant classic. The movie really lets you know that Jackie Robinson was incredibly humble and classy. At times, the movie really understands the gravity of the subject it’s covering, especially when we get speeches from Branch Rickey and Jackie’s minister. The Jackie Robinson Story is a movie more people really should see and you can watch it for free anytime you want.


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