Sunday, April 14, 2013

42 ~ Not Just A Baseball Story

“It don’t matter what I believe, it is what I do.”  ~ Jackie Robinson 

A merica has an ugly past, and as we move into the second decade of the 21st century, Brian Helgeland's film “42”  takes us back to that racist, segregationist, and discriminatory, past. “42” focuses on a time shortly after the Second World War when the troops, both black and white, were returning to civilian life. “42” is one of those movies that come up once in a while that not only has  great acting, interesting characters, above par production values, and most of all, a message, that we as Americans should take note of.  This is a film about a man who decides to take up a crusade for Civil Rights within the sport of baseball.

That man was Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), businessman, innovator, and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball club.  However, Rickey needed a partner; he needed a man of courage, integrity, and skill, who was from the black Negro baseball league.  Looking through the rosters and the files of team members, Ricky finds one man -- the right man.  Ricky's ally was an African-American by the name of Jack Roosevelt Robinson (Chadwick Boseman).  Robinson, a young lieutenant in the US army during World War Two, who was court martialed for not relinquishing his seat on an army bus.  When asked by the Dodger's promotions manager Harold Parrott, why Robinson?  Rickey's answer was "Because I am a Methodist. Robinson is a Methodist, and God is a Methodist!"

Born in Cairo Georgia in 1919 Robinson who, while still a baby moved to Pasadena California, and played on the University of California, Los Angeles's racially integrated baseball team.  Known for his stance on not backing down, his deftness with a bat, his fielding, and his skill at stealing bases, would Robinson accept Ricky's terms?  Hegeland's writing and directing, move this film along quickly, showing Robinson's transition from the Negro League's Kansas City Monarchs to one of Rickey's farm team, the Montreal Royals, and then finally to the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Some of the most poignant scenes in “42” are between Rickey and Robinson.  Branch Rickey had been pushing for racial integration for some time, and he was shrewd at strategizing this coup.  What he wanted from Robinson was a man who "God built to last," and "Who had the guts not to fight back."  We see it today, where many celebrities are heckled, have cameras shoved in their face, and generally annoyed, Robinson had it worse and he was able to control himself.  As Rickey counsels Robinson at his interview, “the only thing the public will remember is how the Negro lost his temper.”  Alan Tudyk of "Firefly" and "Serenity" fame, plays Phillies' manager Ben Chapman.  Chapman is probably the worst of all the racist characters that this film explores.  Chapman, who grew up in the south, is open about his feelings about Jackie.  Shouting words that we haven’t heard since Quentin Tarantino‘s “Django Unchained.”

Harrison plays Rickey as a fiery preacher on an abolitionist roll.  Telling - Yelling at the general manager of the Cincinnati Reds "When you die and meet God, and he asks you why you wouldn't play against Jackie Robinson; And you tell him that it was because he was a Negro,  I don't think he will find that satisfactory."  On the field, writer/director Helgeland wants the viewer to feel the tension and the hate from other teams.  Racism is learned, as displayed by a father yelling racial and hateful epithets at Robinson in Ohio.  The boy follow suit.  Helgeland, infuses, the film with legendary and historic acts of courage.  During that game, shortstop, and team captain, Peewee Reese (Lucas Black), comes out while the crowd is booing and shouting, and puts his arm around Jackie.  Helegend uses this factual incident to play on the audiences emotions.  It works.

Notable mentions go to actress Nicole Beharie ("American Violet") as Robinson's wife   —  Rachel.  Beharie shows us a woman who respects and cares for her husband, and like him, tends to buck the system.  “Scrubs" actor John C. McGinley plays Dodger broadcaster Red Barber.  Playing Red, McGinley gives a performance that energizes the film in a way a good baseball announcers energizes and keeps the momentum of the game going.  Watching this film is like watching a real baseball game at the stadium, you get the excitement of the play, the action, and you can almost smell the newly mowed grass.  However, like being at Ebbets field without a program, you are not sure of who all the players are.  So, if you are planning to see "42," I have some player information for you down below, plus the link to the Baseball Almanac website.  

Throughout the film, like an angel (messenger), Mr. Helgeland, uses reporter Wendell Smith (Andre Holland - "1600 Penn," "Miracle at St. Anna") to guide the viewer along and to explain to both Robinson and us about the importance of what Branch Rickey is trying to do.  Not just for Jackie Robinson, but for all African-Americans.  You see, Wendell has to sit near third base with his typewriter on his lap, because he, being African-Americans are not allowed in the broadcast booth.  Robinson can't do this alone and learns to depend on his team, and on his friends.


What becomes painfully noticeable to us, the gentle viewer, is how different this world has become.  As the audience, and myself watched as a line of African-Americans flow into the baseball stadium, the camera tilts up slowly to reveal a sign over the entryway -- "Colored." A quiet gasp sounded from the audience. Like Jackie, I too grew up in Southern California where Jim Crow in the areas that I lived were not as pronounced.  By the time of my generation, athletes like Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron and Willy Mays were household names.  We can only imagine the pain and anguish that our fellow men and women had to endure.  A scene between, Rickey and Robinson, once again, shows not only the suffering, but also how Branch Rickey's faith and morality comes through and likens Jackie's torment to Christ's by Satan. These are the times that Boseman's acting is the most effective. He plays Robinson as a man holding back his rage, but also a man of faith.  In order to keep the pacing flowing, Brian Helgeland only briefly alludes to, and briefly touches on these aspects of both men's characters. I think this was a wise choice. There is a definite patriotic stature to this film.  Mark Isham's score is powerful and grandiose at times, but definitely stirs the emotions.  The audience gets equal doses of Rickey's trials while building momentum of racial integration. While Helgeland intertwines  Robinson's perspective of the abuse and triumph of the cause.  “42” celebrates Jackie's determinism, fierceness, restraint, and his faith in himself, and in his team.  Ultimately, this film is as American as mom, baseball, and apple pie.

Robinson's final stats: batting average of 311,  1,518 hits, 137 home runs, 734 RBIs, and 197 stolen bases.

Movie Data

Genre: History, Sports, Drama, Biography
Year:  2013
Staring: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Alan Tudyk, Christopher Meloni, Lucas Black, John C. McGinley
Director: Brian Helgeland
Producer(s): Thomas Tull
Writer: Brian Helgeland
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 128 minutes
Release Date: 4/12/2013

1947 Dodger Roster

C         #10     Bruce Edwards * not shown
C         #24     Bobby Bragan (Derek Phillips) *
1B       #42     Jackie Robinson  (Chadwick Boseman)
2B       #12     Eddie Stanky  (Jesse Luken)
3B       #21    Spider Jorgensen (Jamie Ruehling)
SS       #1       Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black)
LF       #22    Gene Hermanski (Blake Sanders)
CF       #6       Carl Furillo (Johnny Knight) *
RF       #11    Dixie Walker (Ryan Merriman) *

Starting Pitchers

#20     Ralph Branca (Hamish Linklater)
#13     Kirby Higbe (Brad Beyer)*
*Denotes the players that signed the anti-integration petition.

More 1947 Brooklyn Dodger statistics