"The story of an American boy" opens in summer of 1928, when this young boy just wanted to play baseball. Years pass, & according to the biographical telling in The Jackie Robinson Story (1950), Jackie experienced only a modicum of racism on a personal level pursuing his dream.
The tougher realities are subdued in order to make a pleasant family film, but enough of grave reality is given to insure the story does convey Jackie's achievement against all odds in spite of the imposition of prejudice.
As Jackie's story unfolds, his brother Mac, despite a hard won college education, has only found work as a streetsweeper.
This makes Jackie want to drop out of colelge since it didn't help Mac. Jackie's been a top athlete for football, basketball, & his best sport, Baseball. But a colored athlete can't get on a professional baseball team, obtain any college coaching jobs, so what's the point.
After his military service he does get onto a team, an all-black baseball team, on which he naturally excels. A black team gets paid damned little, is on the road in a barnstormer bus on which they have to eat, & even sleep sitting up, since there are often nothing but whites-only hotels & cafes along the way.
An agent for the Brooklyn Dodgers spots Jackie & wants him for the team, a radical move for the era.
Even though Jackie playing himself is no actor, he's just cute as a button doing his scenes, a quiet-spoken gentleman who avoids confrontation. He is awfully good at playing himself, which is a harder trick than may seem.
If he'd wanted to be an actor rather than a baseball superstar, I bet he could've gotten the work. Though it might've been much more frustrating than baseball if he'd only gotten offered roles as train porter or shoeshine boy. So we can remain glad he loved baseball best.
He's warned in advance what he'll have to face. It won't take just playing well to survive. "It'll take a lot of courage." And courage is what Jackie had.
Louise Beavers plays a rather passive sweet figure as Jackie's mother. I'd been looking forward to her having a more substantial role than she usually got, as she's a character actor I've admired even for her walk-on roles as maids or mammies. Her role turned out to be a little disappointing, for a man of Jackie's character surely had a more dynamic mom than this.
His girlfriend then wife is played by Ruby Dee, as beautiful as any woman ever was. I'd like to have seen her scenes expanded, but she has screen charisma & somewhat makes up for the weak role given Louise.
Jackie plays himself as almost Gandhist in his pacifism & doe-eyed goodness. Doubtless he had these traits, & perhaps it was true that it took just such a gentle nature to stand in the fire of racism & give no excuse for others' prejudicial behavior.
So the film is played polite & lowkey with an obvious intent to educate that racism is bad. It's a good message, especially for the era when this film was made.
There's inherent drama in even just knowing Jackie remained cool in the face of much worse than this toned-down film dared show. We get some token name-calling in one scene only, but nothing near as recurringly nasty as was true in life.
Calling him Sambo, Shine, & Rubberlips while he's trying to bat isn't exactly nothing, though, & is pretty tense stuff. It's enough to get the idea across, of what was historically much worse than that, & it'll get anyone with even half a heart rooting for Jackie.
He leads the Dodgers to a pennant, speaks out to Congress on racism in America, a gentle aware hero through & through. There was something of humility in Jackie that makes this performance in a film in praise of himself seem right & proper, nothing of vanity about taking a humble posture & telling truths that even today can be hard for some people to hear, & during Jackie's rise & triumphs could be downright dangerous to be saying.
The hopeful content of the film required no exaggeration, & can be accepted without need of rose-tint glasses. It has none of the sap & melodrama of all too many biopics, resulting in a fine unshowy film.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl