POSTED April 11 2013

The 411 on “42”

Chadwick Boseman and Nicole Beharie as Jackie and Rachel Robinson in "42."

Chadwick Boseman and Nicole Beharie as Jackie and Rachel Robinson in “42.”

42, the story of Jackie Robinson’s rookie season for the Brooklyn Dodgers, looks like a Norman Rockwell illustration come to life, as I say in my first review for WHYY about this unashamedly old-school biopic.

It stars relative newcomer Chadwick Boseman as Robinson — 42 was the number on the ballplayer’s Dodgers jersey —  and it doesn’t hurt the cause that Boseman bats, runs and slides like an actual ballplayer. And he does such a convincing job swallowing the bile Robinson must have felt when he was race-baited or told he couldn’t sleep in the same hotel as his white teammates that I thought I was going to get acid reflux just by watching him.

Walking in, I was disappointed that I wasn’t going to see Spike Lee’s Jackie Robinson movie. From the trailers, I was afraid it was going to focus more on Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford in a cigar- and scenery-chewing performance), the Dodgers owner whose recruitment of Robinson integrated the majors. While Robinson’s relationship with Rickey (no relation to me, by the way) is one of the film’s plotlines in Brian Helgeland’s film. More moving is Robinson’s loving marriage with his wife, Rachel (Nicole Beharie, wonderful) and his shotgun marriage to teammates like Pee Wee Reese and Ralph Branca. I was surprised how emotionally overwhelmed I was, but good performances, an inspiring story,  the Norman Rockwell imagery and the swelling horns sure worked me over.

This is the story of Robinson from 1945–1947, told with the political consciousness of that period. This is not the reflective account of the ballplayer who said from the consciousness of his 1971 memoir that he had only been an actor in the script written by Rickey and he knew he was a black man in white America. This is not the story of how Branch Rickey killed the Negro Leagues. (For these perspectives on Robinsson, you can read his memoir, I Never Had it Made or Dave Zirin’s Five Fears about the Jackie Robinson movie.)

I liked 42. And am curious to know what you think.



  1. Mark says:

    Jackie Robinson attended my high school years before my time when it was called Muir Tech. Every year he sent an inspirational telegram just before the annual football game with our crosstown rival, Pasadena High. It was read at the school-wide pep rally and the effect was electric.

  2. David Cohen says:

    Carrie, did you know one of Robinson’s standout teammates at UCLA was the late, great Woody Strode? The year before Robinson broke the color line in baseball, Strode and another UCLA star, Kenny Washington, broke the color line in the NFL, with the Los Angeles Rams.

    • admin says:

      David: I did know that. Because my mom attended UCLA in the early 1940s. And because Strode was a customer of my Dad’s furniture and appliance store. WS was imposing and charming.

      • David Cohen says:

        I interviewed him for my football book not long before he passed away. Strode told me that during the filming of SPARATACUS, Laurence Olivier came to him and told him he was a fan of him and Kenny Washington when they played at UCLA.

  3. Woody was imposing and charming, when I met him he was sitting atop a bench on the Venice Beach Walk. What I remember best is that he looked me straight in the eye, never wavering. That moment passed to me the wisdom, strength and fortitude that he contained. It was a very amazing moment. Shortly after he passed. But I thank God that I got to meet Woody Strode and shake his hand. Being a Vet he will always be Sgt. Rutledge to me. I never met Jackie. But he was a household name because my uncle played for the minors shortly after Jackie was chosen by Mr. Ricky. You could feel the silent tension among us that was based on the hope that he wouldn’t fail and the “say hey kid” didn’t fail us at all. It’s a beautiful thing that this unique individuals’ triumph over racism was so well translated to film for all to see. The baseball field at the West LA VA is named after Mr. Robinson. I always give it a nod as I pass. Unlike Woody, who’s voice was a strong direct baritone, Mr. Robinsons’ voice was sweet, direct, precise and humble. One fist of iron the other of steel. I am very pleased that you enjoyed Mr. Robinsons’ legacy as much as I have enjoyed feeling that somehow I am a part of him. Aloha

  4. guillermo says:

    I enjoyed seeing this film. It shows what great men Robinson and Rickey both were.
    That said, there’s a couple of things that didn’t sound right to me.
    1. When Red Barber is talking about the 1946 season, he says something like “The Dodgers went 96-60 but the Cardinals beat them by two games.” I would have expected him to say “The Dodgers and Cardinals finished the regular season tied at 96-58, but then the Cardinals beat them in a two-game playoff.”
    2. When the Dodgers come to Cincinnati, a boy (possibly some relative of Pee Wee Reese) says “I wonder how many runs Pee Wee will score today.” A real baseball fan would have wondered how many hits Pee Wee would get, or how many runs he would bat in (rather than score).

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