My father’s favorite team growing up was the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was born in 1945 – and his father was a player/coach for the Air Force Base and coached the team on exhibitions all over the world – and even got a hit off of Fidel Castro’s pitching arm, before the revolution. To say my Dad loved Baseball as a kid… well, he went on tour with his Dad’s team and can remember in 1950 when his father put a young African American on his team, the first in Texas Amateur history. I grew up hearing stories about restaurants refusing the player service and my Grandfather having the team order their food, and when it came out – all standing up and walking out – to teach the racists a lesson. And Dad always brought up Jackie Robinson. Both him and his Dad were big Dodgers fans – and since my Dad was a Pop Culture dealer – I had access to the Comic Books that were published at the time.
There was a whole series of Jackie Robinson Comics that were published by Fawcett Comics as Jackie was making history on the team. Then there was THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY, made in 1950 and actually starring Jackie playing himself and going through much of what we see in Legendary’s 42.
Let’s talk about 42. Contrary to Billy’s absurd assertion that the film candy coats everything… Well, every major sticking point in 42, is not only a matter of record, but most of them – from the name calling, to President of the Dodgers, Branch Rickey’s speeches, to players making public shows of support… to the press turning around. In 1947 – as Jackie Robinson was becoming the first black baseball player, his conduct, his toughness and his amazing baseball prowess. If you REALLY know this story, 42 does a brilliant job.
The only big omission that I could really see is that Branch Rickey as played by Harrison Ford – doesn’t call Jackie, “BOY,” in fact – they leave that behind. The whole time I watched 42, I had THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY in my mind. That film ended with this narration:
“Yes, this is The Jackie Robinson Story, but it isn’t his story alone. Not his victory alone. It is one that each of us shares. A story, a victory that can only happen in a country that is truly free. A country where every child has the opportunity to become President or play baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers!”
That quote ended THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY 63 years ago. And 42 doesn’t. 42 doesn’t state the obvious, but throughout Helgeland’s film you see what being on the wrong side of history is like. You can see the ignorant and racists and just frightened folks – and just how ugly they are to modern eyes. Not that we live in a time devoid of racism, instead a lot of modern racists don’t out themselves as proudly as their brethren years ago. But History will condemn them too. It always does.
I love this film. One, just getting to see Brian Helgeland having the opportunity to direct again is a thrill. I loved PAYBACK and A KNIGHT’S TALE – and THE ORDER was never really a complete movie, there were problems behind the scenes that made that an unfortunate splotch on Helgeland’s otherwise strong record. But here, you can tell that he had the full cooperation of everybody and here’s what he does with it.
Harrison Ford’s Branch Rickey is something I couldn’t watch without smiling with tears. I love Harrison Ford, but too often he takes roles that feel like variations of his own personality, here… He allows himself to disappear into the character of a man who had a vision that went further than baseball. It is no accident that Jackie Robinson had his own comic series, that sold spectacularly btw. Rickey wanted Jackie because he wanted to win baseball games, but he also realized that he was changing the dream of baseball. Baseball was considered America’s game, but it belonged exclusively to whites. Rickey knew that baseball was a game that was judged based on stats, and he knew that Jackie was going to light it up. He fought his own organization and the Baseball Association and every other team in Baseball.
Ford’s Rickey is played with gusto. From all accounts that I’ve read, Rickey was very much that kind of man. Ford’s monologues and lines in this are some of the best he’s had in seemingly forever. I liked him in COWBOYS & ALIENS, but this is just a different level of awesome. Harrison Ford fans will do good to watch this film, then watch Ford in THE MOSQUITO COAST – which has long been my favorite role of his. But man I love his Branch Rickey, it is made for Supporting Actor nods.
And then there’s Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson – and he is a fucking star. I love him in this film. The scene between him and Rickey in the midst of a particularly draining series with Pittsburgh… Both of them – electric. Loved their chemistry – most of all though, I was just completely taken with Boseman’s Robinson. Other than an episode of FRINGE, I hadn’t seen him in anything before this, and after watching him act his ass off in this film – and watching his very physical performance of Jackie – I think MARVEL has a new actor to consider for T’Challa / BLACK PANTHER. He plays Robinson as an intelligent man that is having to fight his base instincts, he’s been asked by Rickey to ignore all provocations. Rickey rightly points out that the media would reports his punch, his losing his cool and they would use it to claim he didn’t have the toughness to play big league baseball. And through the film, Boseman has a bit of frustration – anger disguised with a smile.
The film is beautifully shot and a real triumph. The attention to detail is exquisite. I love watching Jackie tell his own story in the original, but that 1950 film does show it’s age. The greatest moment of the film is when some Klan members try to muscle Jackie after a game, and Jackie stares them down. I love it, because that is JACKIE ROBINSON's Hard Ass Don't Fuck with me stare! To compare, 42 needed to be a great film and Helgeland knocked it out of the park. Sticking to the amazing first season of Jackie's career is great, and the filmmaker's avoided some rather obvious pitfalls. Had they wanted, they could've mined Jackie's appearance before Congress and any other number of stories. Hell they could've made this corny, instead they made it powerful.
The story of Jackie Robinson, like the original film pointed out, isn’t just his story anymore. Every time that a human being has tried to end inequality, to make a leap forward, there are doubters, haters and those that want to roll things back. It was that way in 1947 – and it was certainly that way when Lincoln tried to end slavery. But this isn’t just a story for Black America, 42 is the quintessential American tale of Civil Rights progress. Sure, that was baseball… but Jackie’s inclusion in the game set about a country upon a path that was trying to push for an end to a great deal of inequalities. Today as we see folks trying to spin wheels backwards on Women’s rights, to stop the forward progression of America’s Gay communities… if you’re fighting these battles – remember 42. Watch this film and imagine stadiums of hate booing and hurling the most vile of words. Death threats and direct intimidation.
We’re America and we’re better for our diversity. We’re united in equality – and a bit of that is owed to 42. If you want to see the original, Amazon Instant has it for $2.99 or I believe it is on YouTube. This is the most fitting film that LEGENDARY has made, because the story of 42 is truly legendary!