Saturday, April 20, 2013

Reflections on the Movie 42


Most of the time when I go into a movie with high expectations I walk away disappointed.  It could be because I am just not a "movie person".  I enjoy movies, I have nothing against movies but I am not someone who looks forward to movies or goes every weekend.  In fact I would rather watch an Astros-Expos game from 1970 than watch a critically acclaimed "masterpiece".  You can call me crazy (you wouldn't be the first or last) but I just don't enjoy movies that much.  So it was odd for me to be as excited to see "42" as I was.  Thankfully I can say I was not disappointed and enjoyed it even more than I expected.

Since my preview last week was based only on the IMDB page list of the cast I felt, while watching the movie, that last week's article did a fairly good job of preparing you for the movie.  Had I been able to see the movie before hand I would have been able to cut down the bios I provided as some of the people listed never truly appeared or were mentioned only in passing.  Although the information I provided to you in the preview was important in the grand scheme of the Jackie Robinson back story, the bios of Mallie Robinson, Jake Pitler (1st base coach), Carl Furillo, Rex Barney, Pete Reiser, Johnny Sain, Eddie Dyer, Stan Musial, Joe Garagiola, Billy Herman and the additional characters I expected would be mentioned, were not necessary as they were only mentioned in passing or not specifically mentioned but seen only briefly in the background.  I apologize for the over load of extra information but hopefully it was still helpful in understanding Jackie's season or at least entertaining for you.

I have very few complaints about the movie, in fact, the only complaint I actually have is that it was too short.  I would have loved to have seen more in the film about his season in Montreal with the minor league team and possibly the Dodgers' World Series appearance in 1947.  Overall the portrayals of the characters were convincing.  Harrison Ford truly looked like Branch Rickey and I never felt like I was watching Han Solo in a baseball movie.  I always felt I was watching Branch Rickey.  Also, Chadwick Boseman did a tremendous job of portraying Jackie Robinson.  His movements on the base paths and almost lunging swings at times were dead on accurate.  There was a moment where Jackie hits a single and is running down to first base.  The running style and movement looked so authentic to me that it could have been a newsreel film of Jackie from the 1940's.  As I mentioned above, I am not a film critic so you may read or hear the professionals disagree but in my opinion both main actors did a great job.

Hopefully if you are reading this you have already seen the movie.  If you haven't then I hope this will inspire you to go out and see it.  Without attempting to over personalize the moment, I have often tried to put myself in Jackie's position in this season and imagine how difficult the situation might have been but I never could quite wrap my head around it.  The pressure, stress, isolation and frustration must have been unbearable.  Not only was he facing the pressure of being the first African American in a game that was not necessarily ready for him, he had to learn Firstbase in the process.  Suffering from stomach ulcers, losing his hair, dealing night after night with taunts, threats and abuse.  He was constantly being told by one side, supporting him, that the fate of every African American with a dream of playing in the big leagues rested on his shoulders while constantly being pushed by the other side in attempts to make him fail.
The greatest moment of the movie was Jackie's reaction to Ben Chapman in the dugout tunnel as he breaks down.  As Branch Rickey attempts to support Jackie, Rickey explains that he cannot understand what he is going through because no one else has that experience or responsibility.  Even with his greatest supporters he is still all alone.  The emotion of the scene is probably as close as any of us will come to being able to see the experience through Jackie's eyes and realize just what he had to deal with. 

Historical inaccuracies:
My intention here is not to nitpick and criticize the film for some minor inaccuracies.  I completely understand that it is not possible (or a good idea) to make a film that is a 100% word for word historical retelling of an event and still make the film entertaining.  This film did an excellent job of telling the story quickly and the historical inaccuracies were done for specific effect.  Here are a few inaccuracies that I noticed:

Film:  Clyde Sukeforth was told before being sent to scout Jackie that he was bringing him to Brooklyn for the Major Leagues. 
In the film, the movie opens with Branch Rickey, Harold Parrott and Clyde Sukeforth in Rickey's office when Rickey drops the bombshell that he will break the color line.  Parrott immediately reacts by telling Rickey he can't do that.  Rickey convinces them it will happen regardless and they begin pouring over names that may be a possibility to break the color barrier.  Sukeforth is dispatched to bring Jackie back for a meeting and tracks him down at a gas station with the rest of his team.
The reality is that Sukeforth was told to scout Jackie for the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers, a Dodgers negro league team.  Sukeforth went to Kansas City to watch Jackie play and give an actual scouting report on Jackie's play.  The scene of the team at the gas station was historically accurate in many points.  The Kansas City Monarchs were once stopping at a gas station to fill up their bus on a road trip.  When he was told that the players could spend their money on gas but not use the bathroom Jackie demanded that they move on to another station that would allow them full access.  This was definitely not where Sukeforth tracked them down.

Film:  Sukeforth, Parrott and Rickey pour over files of players trying to decide on what player to sign to a contract.  They dismiss Roy Campanella as "too sweet" and Satchel Paige as "too old".
Roy Campanella was signed to a contract not long after Jackie.  He was much younger than Jackie and was not college educated as Jackie was.  Campanella was signed to play for the Nashua, NH Dodgers farm club and was sent by Rickey to integrate the New England League.  Campy once told Rickey: "I'm no pioneer.  I'm a ballplayer."  Campanella would go on to become one of the greatest Catchers of all time, a three time MVP, Hall of Fame member and was considered as managerial material twenty years before Frank Robinson became the first African American manager.    The dismissal of Campanella as being too sweet was definitely not accurate.  Campanella was a strong personality and was able to greatly control the game and take control of the pitching staff.Satchel Paige may have been dismissed as too old to break the color barrier but definitely would have been dismissed because of his quirky personality.  With the attention focused on the first African American player Paige certainly would have been viewed more as a novelty with his age (he was 38 or 40 or maybe 43 or 45 depending on what day he was asked and who was asking).  Something You May Have Missed in This Scene:
As the three Dodgers are discussing their options, there is a blackboard with a list of names.  Several names are circled and starred as potential options.  The men do not refer to the blackboard, it is just an incidental prop in the background.  It appeared too briefly for me to see all the names listed but I did catch one name starred and circled: Josh Gibson.  Gibson was only 33 at the time, was considered one of the greatest players the game has ever seen and was known as "the black Babe Ruth".  Although it is likely that he was a recognizable name, it is not likely he was seriously considered as an option to break the color barrier because of health issues.  In 1943 he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and refused surgery.  Suffering excruciating headaches and with  his mental state as a major question mark (whose wouldn't be in dealing with the constant pain?) they probably quickly ruled him out.  Adding the pressure that Jackie faced would not have been something that Gibson could have handled in addition to his failing health.  Larry Doby later said that Gibson was heartbroken at not being chosen to break the color barrier and missing the opportunity to play aganst the major league stars.  Gibson passed away on January 20, 1947, just a few months before Jackie's debut in Brooklyn, from a stroke.  He was only 35.

Film:  The petition started by the players asking Branch Rickey not to bring Jackie to the majors was initiated by Kirby Higbe.  Dixie Walker asks Higbe "Are you sure about this?"
The petition was started by Dixie Walker.  Higbe signed the petition but later felt guilty about it and told Harold Parrott about the petition.  Parrott notified Rickey and Durocher which led to the speech by Durocher.

Film:  Burt Shotton is portrayed as an almost feeble, bumbling old man.  He gives a speech where he sounds more like a Mr.Magoo type character than a baseball manager.
Burt Shotton did tell the team "don't worry about Burt Shotton getting in your way.  You can win this pennant in spite of me", however, it was not quite the way it was portrayed in the movie.  He said these comments more as an ice breaker to defuse a tough situation.  The Dodgers were dealing with the attention of Leo Durocher's suspension as well as the added attention of Jackie's presence.  Shotton was not known to the Dodgers players and was not familiar with their roster.  He had not managed in the majors since a one game stint in 1934 in Cincinnati.  The comments were meant more to put the players at ease and let them know to just keep playing the way they had been and that they did not have to worry about him trying to change their style of play.  It was a savvy approach to a team that had very nearly reached the World Series the year before.

Film:  The series against the Phillies when Chapman and the Phillies taunt Jackie non-stop is in Brooklyn.  In between innings when Jack nearly has a breakdown Rickey comes and talks to him and comforts him telling him that he has to continue to fight through this.
This Phillies series took place in Philadelphia.  The verbal attacks on Jackie were very realistic and very difficult to watch.  Jackie's reaction was very realistic.  Jackie later said that he did consider punching Chapman and envisioned how that would play out, however, stayed strong and kept quiet.  He felt that he was near a nervous breakdown at that point.  Branch Rickey was not with the team on the road trip although Harold Parrott was keeping him up to date on the details of the series.  Eddie Stanky did tell Chapman "Why don't you pick on someone who can yell back", but he did not leave the dugout to do it.  It was done when the Dodgers were in the field.  Stanky's reaction to Jackie's thank you was relatively accurate.  Anyone who read the preview post will remember that Stanky told Jackie "I don't like you but we'll play together and get along because you're my teammate."

Film:  Fritz Ostermuller hit Jackie in the head.
Ostermuller certainly pitched high and tight to Jackie and he definitely did not have good intentions but the pitch that hit Jackie actually hit his arm.  Jackie was able to get his arm up just in time to deflect the ball.

These are certainly not key plot points or even important but there were several minor references and hidden props that you may not have noticed:
Branch Rickey's Ring:
Did anyone notice the ring that Branch Rickey wears throughout the movie?  Rickey was the Manager, Business Manager and eventually General Manager of the St. Louis Cardinals until 1942.  During the time he was involved with the Cardinals they reached the World Series in 1926, 1928, 1930, 1931 and 1942, winning the series in 1926, 1931 and 1942.  The ring he wears in the film is a World Series ring from his time with the Cardinals.

Kirby Higbe's rant after his trade:
After learning he has been traded to Pittsburgh (the worst team in the league) he rants about the terrible fate of being sent to the baseball graveyard and mentions that he was traded for cash and "some Italian outfielder named Gionfriddo".  Al Gionfriddo was a little known outfielder.  In the World Series of that year Gionfriddo would make one of the greatest catches in World Series history.  As game 6 moved into the sixth inning Shotton sent Gionfriddo out to play left field replacing Eddie Miksis.  The Dodgers led 8-5, the Yankees put two men on with two out and Joe DiMaggio at the plate.  DiMaggio hit a fly ball headed for the left field corner.  Gionfriddo felt that the team had him positioned too shallow but he got a great reaction to the ball.  "I started running with my back to home plate.  I looked over my shoulder once, and I could see the ball was still coming and I put my head down again and kept running and running and when I got to where I thought the ball would come down, I reached my glove out...I was up in the air when I got it."  It is one of the most replayed, spectacular catches of all time.  Even more replayed was DiMaggio's reaction.  As he rounded second in what most believed was a sure home run, DiMaggio kicked at the dirt in frustration.

Rachel Robinson walks down the street in Brooklyn:
The Dodgers in Brooklyn were truly a communal experience.  This was a small town team playing in New York and struggling to remain a community property.  It was often said that the entire city was in love with the team.  Obviously that is an exaggeration because no matter where you go you will never get everyone to agree on anything but the point was the Dodgers were beloved in the city of Brooklyn.  There is a legend in the Brooklyn Dodger literature that Red Barber (and later Vin Scully) were a part of the family and were invited into the home everyday by way of the radio.  The radio broadcasts were so popular that someone could walk down the street in Brooklyn and keep track of the game based on the radio broadcasts they overheard out of the windows.

Assist by Ralph Branca:
Ralph Branca was portrayed in the film as Jackie's main support among the players and Branca was definitely a supporter for Robinson in the first year.  However, he was credited with an assist at a key point in the movie that could not have happened.  As Jackie is tracking a foul ball toward the dugout he looks at the dugout to get his bearings and check how much room he has to make the catch.  Branca stands up, catches Jackie as he falls into the dugout and saves him from crashing into the dugout by tackling him onto the field.  This is sort of false.  Everyone has seen players stand up in the dugout to assist the player coming over to make  the play, although there is a rule.  The players in the dugout are not allowed to physically assist the player making the play.  Had Branca actually gone onto the field the play would have been called interference.  It would be a foul ball and any runners on base would advance one base.  It is likely that Dodgers players would have helped Jackie to stop his momentum from carrying him into the dugout but he definitely would not have moved into the field of play.

The Abraham Lincoln of baseball:
Branch Rickey has often been called the Abraham Lincoln of baseball for obvious reasons.  When Pee Wee Reese goes into Rickey's office there are bookends of Lincoln on the shelves behind his desk.

The first ever National League Playoffs:
There was a brief mention in the movie that the Dodgers had finished two games behind the Cardinals in 1946.  What they failed to mention is that the Dodgers and Cardinals were actually tied at the end of the regular season and for the first time in the history of the National League two teams played a best of three playoff series to determine the league champion and World Series representative.  The Cardinals won the first two games of the best of three meaning that they won two more games than the Dodgers.  There was no mention of the impact this had on the 1947 team coming into the season.  Regular playoffs did not occur until 1969 when the league went to a four division format. 

Pete Reiser:
Pete Reiser was one of the stars of the Dodgers and a particular favorite of Branch Rickey.  Frequent readers of the blog may remember the story that Rickey signed Reiser to a minor league contract with the Cardinals only to have Commissioner Landis void the contract.  Reiser had seen Jackie before, during their military days and refused to sign the petition started by Dixie Walker.  Although he was listed in the cast he played little or no part in the movie.

Walter O'Malley:
Walter O'Malley was a co-owner of the Dodgers and Rickey's arch rival.  After a power struggle, O'Malley wrestled control of the team from Rickey.  He has been villainized in Brooklyn for decades for his final decision to move the Dodgers to Los Angeles and the story of the Dodgers cannot be told without him.  I did not notice any mention or reference of him in the film.

Hank Greenberg:
This is a truly personal petty complaint so you'll have to forgive me on this one.  Since Greenberg retired long before anyone I know followed baseball there is no logical reason for my like of Hank Greenberg but for some reason (as frequent readers may notice) I love to make a reference to Greenberg who was truly one of the great players ever.  Knowing the part that Greenberg played in his support of Jackie and the appreciation that Jackie showed towards him I was very disappointed that Greenberg was not seen.  There was a very brief reference to Greenberg and it may have been missed.  As Ben Chapman is defending his taunting of Jackie he mentions that it was something that was done to everyone.  He mentions that DiMaggio was called a WOP and Greenberg was called a kike, as though that made everything ok.  That was the only reference to Greenberg.  As Jackie hit the dramatic home run off Ostermuller in Pittsburgh I was hoping to at least see a big old Pirates #5 as Jackie rounded first but sadly I didn't even see it there.  What?  I told you these were petty complaints!


  1. I'm not a big baseball fan, but I really enjoyed the movie. It was inspirational and a great reminder of how we should strive to keep equality for all. I didn't notice all those small things that you mentioned, but good eye and interesting info. Maybe those people mentioned but not seen will be on the DVD extras? I'd watch it again. :)

    1. I think that many people,not just baseball fans, will enjoy the movie. It is a great story about a great moment in history. I am definitely looking forward to the DVD and the extra content.

  2. I will read this review after I see the movie. Reading Hope's comment makes me want to see the movie ASAP. Kirstein's also highly recommend the movie.


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