US Release Date: 05-16-1950
Directed by: Alfred E. Green
- Jackie Robinson, as
- Ruby Dee, as
- Rae Robinson
- Minor Watson, as
- Branch Rickey, President Brooklyn Dodgers
- Louise Beavers, as
- Mrs Robinson
- Richard Lane, as
- Clay Hopper, Montreal Manager
- Harry Shannon, as
- Frank Shaughnessy, Dodger Executive
- Ben Lessy, as
- Shorty, Montreal Player
- William Spaulding, as
- Billy Wayne, as
- Clyde Sukeforth, Dodger Scout
- Roy Glenn as
- Mr. Gaines
Jackie Robinson was a man who broke racial barriers like no one before him. He did it all with class and honor. He stood alone and faced discrimination at amazing odds. He was a true pioneer for social change for the better.
Robinson stars as himself. This works in that we really get to see just how much of a soft spoken man he really was. On the screen, his mannerisms and voice are rather childlike. He sounds like an intelligent Mike Tyson.
Robinson is the child of a single mother. He and his brother excelled in college sports. Robinson ran track, played football and basketball as well as baseball. After college, he could not find a coaching job, but Uncle Sam recruited him during World War II. Although the movie glosses quickly over his war years, in real life Robinson never saw any action and in fact, was never stationed outside the United States. Considering that this movie was made a few years after the war and is really trying to build him up as much as possible,it was probably better to hurry through that part.
Shortly after leaving the Army, Robinson began playing in the Negro League where he was soon scouted by the Brooklyn Dodgers. No black man had ever played for a Major League Team before and this causes all kinds of media coverage and fan gossip. As the owner explains in the movie, the only thing that should count with a player are the daily box stats.
Through his Minor League year and his first year in the Majors, (that is all the movie covers) Jackie is subject to all kinds of derogatory jokes and name calling. They come from fans and players alike. The worst moment comes when a couple of guys hang a black cat over the side of the dugout wall and say it is a friend of Jackie's. Fortunately for Jackie, he had some very thick skin and was able to get through it. By the end of the movie, Robinson's playing ability has turned many fans around.
Jackie's story is very inspirational and full of the kind of drama that most writers can only dream about. This movie however, seems far to eager to lay out its social message and forgets to entertain the audience. Robinson was a great ball player. His life time batting average was 311. His acting though, is barely adequate. He plays the entire movie with one expression.
The only cast member worth discussing is Ruby Dee. This is one of her first notable roles, some 58 years before her Oscar nomination for American Gangster. Here, she looks very much like Jasmine Guy, from A Different World. Old Ruby Dee was once a hot young thing.
As a movie, The Jackie Robinson Story fails to engage the audience even though the subject is ripe with possibilities. As a piece of American history, Jackie Robinson's story is priceless.
The story of Jackie Robinson is a big part of the Civil Rights Movement that advanced the equality of black Americans between the end of WWII and the 1970s. During this roughly 25 year period huge strides were made in granting minorities equal treatment under the laws of the land. I don't see how you can truthfully tell The Jackie Robinson Story without dealing explicitly with these details, so I don't get Eric's complaint that the producers of this movie were too intent on getting their social message across to entertain. Any attempt to downplay the harsh treatment and racism he faced would be an insult to his legacy. The truth is not always entertaining.
As for his military record, I have a different take on that as well. During WWII the United States Military was segregated. This included churches, parades, transportation and canteens on all military bases around the globe. For whatever reasons some of our military leaders were reluctant to put black soldiers on the front lines in combat roles. Of the many millions of Americans that served overseas during WWII only 125,000 were black. Therefore it isn't surprising that Jackie Robinson wasn't sent abroad during the war. I think this fact says more about the then state of the U.S. Military than it does about Jackie Robinson. (It's worth noting that by the height of Vietnam in the late 60s the % of black soldiers had risen to 12.7, which was slightly higher than the 11% of the population they then accounted for.)
I do agree that of all of Jackie Robinson's many talents acting isn't one of them. But then how hard can it be to play yourself? And nobody else could play the baseball scenes like him. The simple fact that Jackie Robinson -in his prime- appears in this movie makes it historically important. I also concur that Ruby Dee was gorgeous when she was young (and remains an elegantly beautiful woman to this day). She gets only a few scenes but makes the most of them. Another face you may recognize is the actor playing the Florida attorney Mr. Gaines. Roy Glenn would later play Sidney Poitier's mailman father in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.
One sign of just how much the times were changing is the fact that this movie got made at all in 1950. It takes an honest look at what at the time was the state of contemporary race relations. It doesn't demonize Caucasians nor does it canonize Robinson. He is simply playing himself and my hunch tells me he downplays more than he exaggerates. The entire thing runs just 77 minutes and the finale where Jackie steals home to win the pennant for the Brooklyn Dodgers is a great cheer along scene.
Photos © Copyright Eagle-Lion Films (1950)