Jackie Robinson Biopic 42: A Historical Travelogue to 1940s-Era Brooklyn

42 PosterWednesday Matinee

By Jane Boursaw

Destination: Brooklyn, New York

Movie: 42

I’ve been racking my brain to try and figure out how to bend the movie 42 into my Wednesday Matinee column here on A Traveler’s Library. Generally when I write about movies here, they’re filmed in cool locations to which you can actually travel and see cool things. But with “42,” a movie released last week about black baseball player Jackie Robinson’s recruitment into the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940s, that’s a little different story.

Having only been to Brooklyn once during the 1980s when my sister lived there, I don’t have much connection to the area. So I actually had to Google “Ebbets Field” to see if it was still there. It’s not. The baseball park once located in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York and once the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers was demolished in 1960 and replaced with apartment buildings. That must have been a sad, sad day, because it looks like a lovely vintage place to watch a baseball game.

Here’s a picture from MLB.com. I can just imagine watching a baseball game here on a warm summer day, vendors shouting “Peanuts!” and “Hotdogs!” and kids with baseball mitts praying that a fly ball would come their way.

Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers

The Ebbets Field Apartments which now reside there don’t have quite the same appeal, do they? Here’s a photo from Wikimedia Commons, circa 2008:

Ebbets Field Apartments

But I’m sure there are plenty of nice places to visit in and around Brooklyn, despite the fact that the grand old Ebbets Field is a thing of the past. Let’s talk about the movie…

I love sports movies. Especially sports movies based on real people who changed our country for the better. You can’t get more significant than Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player recruited into Major League Baseball. Not only is the story riveting, but the film is really well done and had me hooked from the beginning to the end credits, which played over photos of the real Jackie Robinson and other real-life people from the movie.

In the aftermath of World War II, Brooklyn Dodgers’ general manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford doing his best “gruff guy with a heart of gold”) decides it’s time to recruit the first black baseball player into Major League Baseball. Black players mean black fans, which means more cash. But beyond all of that, Rickey is a good guy with heartfelt motives.

After sifting through stats on noteworthy black players, Rickey settles on Jack “Jackie” Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), a 26-year-old player for the Kansas City Monarchs. Rickey offers Robinson a spot on the Dodgers’ minor league team the Montreal Royals, which leads to a contract with the Dodgers in 1947. The number on his uniform? 42.

Nothing about this situation is easy. Robinson faces racism from everyone — fellow teammates, opposing team members, baseball fans, people on the street, everyone. During the first session of spring training in Florida, Rickey sets him up in a private home, rather than risk having him stay with the team. But Robinson still gets threatened, and later on, the entire team is turned away from a hotel because of him.

One particularly vile manager, Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) of the Phillies, hurls racial slurs and insults at Robinson, but Robinson manages to keep it together until he gets off the field, and then privately goes ballistic with a bat. With the loving support of his wife Rachel (Nicole Beharie, who looks like Kerry Washington’s twin) and the steadfast faith and guidance from Rickey (a religious man who’s always comparing Robinson’s struggles to Jesus), he becomes a hero to both blacks and whites, and basically brings an entire country together.

“42” is a near perfect film, riveting from start to finish. Whereas you look at Branch Rickey and go, ok that’s Harrison Ford turning in a fine performance as the Dodgers’ general manager, the lesser-known Chadwick Boseman doesn’t have the lineage of “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones,” which is good, in this case. You really believe he’s Jackie Robinson, not just an actor playing a part.

Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson
Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in “42” | Warner Bros.

T.R. Knight (George on “Grey’s Anatomy”) turns in a scene-stealing performance as Rickey’s right-hand man, and his “Grey’s” castmate James Pickens, Jr. has a small role, as well. John C. McGinley is perfect as the calm and restrained announcer Red Barber, and Christopher Meloni plays Dodgers’ manager Leo Durocher who’s ousted after an adulterous affair.

Andre Holland plays Wendell Smith, a black reporter whom Rickey hires to help shuttle Robinson around, and Max Gail (Detective “Wojo” on “Barney Miller”) plays retired manager Burt Shotton who’s called back into service after Durocher is suspended. Terrific cast all the way around, and the cars, clothing and other 1940s-era details are fabulous.

Even if you’re not a sports-movie nut, “42” is an amazing, inspiring film and also a great history lesson. Sure, we still have a ways to go on some things, but when you see a film like “42,” it really drills home the fact that we’ve made some huge strides forward in the past 65 years. This is one movie you’ll want to see on the big screen, and then get the DVD or blu-ray later for the awesome bonus features.

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5 thoughts on “Jackie Robinson Biopic 42: A Historical Travelogue to 1940s-Era Brooklyn

  1. would that pizza by the bridge be at Grimaldi’s? and you know I’m going to tell you about a place to hear Irish music — try Ceol, whose name actually means music in Irish. food’s good too and it’s run by a Dublin native.

    1. Kerry–Probably Grimaldi’s. I just recall hearing there is a great pizza place near the bridge. And I’ll add the Irish pub to my list, too.

  2. Jane, you’re so right about there being plenty of reasons to visit Brooklyn. I imagine some of our readers will share their favorite things about Brooklyn, but I’d like to go back to NYC and walk across the Brooklyn bridge, walk along the riverside park and have a pizza in a restaurant near the bridge. Then I’d like to visit the Brooklyn Museum of Art. For more ideas, visit http://www.visitbrooklyn.org

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