Niagara Gazette

Night & Day

April 16, 2013

CALLERI: New baseball movie about Jackie Robinson doesn't quite round the bases


Niagara Gazette — “42” concentrates on three years, 1945 through 1947. The film offers few surprises, not that it has to, but it doesn’t rise to the level of greatness. It’s an earnest effort detailing how Robinson got from Kansas City to Brooklyn. He was not received warmly. Robinson was subjected to racial epithets of the most abusive and ignominious kind. Not just from fans, but also from his fellow players, including teammates.

I wish the movie had stressed Robinson’s extraordinary talent as a player more than the virulent treatment he received. The message is delivered and received. It was ugly. But the whole point of Robinson’s journey was that he was an exceptional baseball player. His performance on the field, his stunning game statistics, which true fans study devotedly, should be part of the drama we see before us. It may have taken the Dodgers’ Pee Wee Reese putting his arm around Robinson’s shoulders in front of the howling idiots in the stands to send a strong signal that the new first baseman was welcomed, but his stellar hitting and fielding also silenced the mobs.

Although the uncomplicated film delivers a small peek at Robinson’s private life through his marriage to his adoring wife Rachel, we are not given a better sense of the stresses they faced. There’s also too little of how Robinson got to be the great baseball player he was. His mother had moved her family from Georgia to Pasadena, Calif. In college, Jackie was a star in baseball, football, basketball, and track, becoming the first athlete in UCLA history to earn varsity letters in four sports.

Robinson’s older brother Mack was a track superstar at the University of Oregon. He won the silver medal in the men’s 200 meter race at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, finishing just 0.4 seconds behind Jesse Owens. Mack lived out his adult life sweeping streets in Pasadena. The story of the entire Robinson family could have been a goldmine for a filmmaker. Hollywood has celebrated Jackie. He played himself in “The Jackie Robinson Story,” a popular studio release in 1950.

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