Synopsis by Hal Erickson
Despite its lack of production values and box-office "names," The Jackie Robinson Story is one of the best and most convincing baseball biopics ever filmed. Brooklyn Dodgers second baseman Jackie Robinson plays himself, and quite well indeed. The film traces Robinson's career from his college days, when he excelled as a track star at Pasadena College and as UCLA's All-Sports record holder. Upon his graduation, Robinson tries to get a coaching job, but this is the 1940s, and most doors are closed to black athletes. After serving in the army, Robinson plays with the Negro Baseball League, where his uncanny skills attract the attention of Branch Rickey, general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Anxious to break down the "color line" that exists in major-league baseball, Robinson is chosen in 1946 to play for the Brooklyn farm team in Montreal. In a harrowing sequence, Rickey lets Robinson know what he's in for by bombarding him with insults and racial slurs. The manager is merely testing Robinson's ability to withstand the pressure: he wants a black ballplayer "with guts enough not to fight back." Robinson agrees to ignore all racial epithets for the first two years of his Brooklyn contract. Despite the unabashed hatred to which he is subjected during his year with Montreal, Robinson steadfastly continues to turn the other cheek, and in 1947 he graduates to the Dodgers lineup. After a slow start, Robinson justifies the faith put in him by Rickey. The Dodgers win the pennant race, and slowly but surely the ban on black players vanishes in the big leagues. Though a model of restraint by 1990s standards, The Jackie Robinson Story is surprisingly frank in its detailing of the racial tensions of its own era. It falters only in a couple of silly vignettes involving comic-relief ballplayer Ben Lessey. The cast is uniformly fine, including Louise Beavers as Robinson's mother, Ruby Dee as his wife Rae (Dee would later play Robinson's mother in the 1990 TV movie The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson), Joel Fluellen as his brother Mac, Minor Watson as Branch Rickey, and best of all, Richard Lane as Montreal manager Clay Hopper.
athlete, baseball, Black [race], celebrity, cross-cultural-relations, fame, Major-League, racism, sports