Cast & Crew
Alfred E. Green
In 1928, Jackie Robinson, a young African-American boy who loves baseball, is given an old, worn out glove by a white man. Jackie keeps the glove as he grows up. In 1937, while representing Pasadena Junior College, Jackie breaks the national junior college broad jump record, which was previously held by his brother Mack. After Jackie leads his conference in touchdowns, UCLA football coach Bill Spaulding recruits him despite complaints from a colleague that "colored boys" have been getting too many athletic scholarships. Although Jackie receives Honorable Mention on the All-American team, he tells his girl friend, Rae Isum, that he wants to leave school and look for a full-time job so that they can get married. After discussing it with his mother, who wants him to graduate, Jackie talks with Mack, now a street sweeper despite his college degree. Jackie is skeptical about the value of a degree because schools are not hiring "colored coaches." Jackie remains in school, but his applications for college coaching positions are rejected. During World War II, he is drafted and becomes an athletic director in the army, while rising to the rank of lieutenant. After the war, Jackie plays baseball for the Black Panthers, a team in the Negro professional leagues and is soon introduced to the indignities of segregated life on the road. When Brooklyn Dodger scout Clyde Sukeforth asks Jackie to meet with the Dodgers, Jackie, not believing the man, fails to show up for the train he is to take to New York. Sukeforth finally convinces Jackie that his offer is real, and he travels to Brooklyn to meet with owner Branch Rickey. Rickey tells Jackie that because of setbacks caused by the war, he has sent scouts to look at players in Mexico, Cuba and in other Latin American countries, in addition to untapped sources in the U.S. Rickey warns Jackie that he will have to take insults, name-calling and dirty play, and not fight back, but do his job with hits, stolen bases and fielding. Jackie calls his mother in Pasadena, who suggests he seek a minister's advice. Reverend Carter, a black minister, encourages Jackie to accept the Dodgers' offer to join the Royals, their minor league club in Montreal, despite possible repercussions, and reminds Jackie that every step forward has meant a fight for their people. Jackie tells Rae that they can get married as soon as he succeeds, but Rae does not want to wait, and they decide to face the challenge together. At the Montreal spring training camp in Sanford, Florida, Jackie faces hostility from manager Clay Hopper and some of the players. Rae, having heard white men talk threateningly about Jackie, is afraid to go downtown or to the beach. When an exhibition game against the Dodgers is canceled because of a city ordinance prohibiting sports events between "white and colored," Jackie asks Rickey if he would like to call the experiment off, but Rickey refuses. On the day before the league opener in Jersey City, International League President Shaunnessy warns Rickey that having Robinson play may provoke racial fighting. Rickey replies that he believes that baseball teaches fair play and, if Shaunnessy's fears prove to be true, his whole life has been wasted. Boos greet Jackie when he bats the first time; however, he beats out a bunt, steals second, goes to third on a bad throw and then scores after provoking the pitcher to balk. On his next turn at bat, Jackie hits a home run, and at the end of the game, Rickey proclaims Jackie's to be the best first game any ballplayer has ever had. The next week, after a game in a southern city, three white racists verbally abuse Jackie at the players' entrance, but his teammates walk him safely away. As he plays in other cities, Jackie experiences more abuse from spectators and opposing players, some of whom ask him for a shoeshine, call him "Sambo" and sloppily eat watermelon. At the end of the season, however, Shaunnessy asks Jackie to stay in Montreal, where he has drawn record crowds. Hopper, who initially viewed Jackie's entrance into baseball with racism and skepticism, now credits the team's victory in the Little World Series to him and calls him a gentleman and the greatest competitor he has ever seen. In Panama, where the Dodgers and Montreal team train together, Rickey meets with six Dodger players who have signed a petition saying they do not want Jackie in the club. Rickey castigates them for calling themselves Americans, reminding one of them, an Italian American, that no one stopped his immigrant parents from working at their jobs. He says he will fight for the American right to play a game that is supposed to represent democracy, principles of sportsmanship and fair play. Rickey then assigns Jackie to first base and challenges a bigoted Dodger pitcher to strike out Jackie if he wants to keep him off the team. After ducking a pitch, Jackie hits a home run. Later, at Ebbets Field, in his first time at bat as a Brooklyn Dodger, Jackie hits a triple. He then goes into a slump, due in part to problems playing in an unfamiliar position at first base. For the good of the team, the former first basemann gives Jackie a tip and ends his slump. When an opposing player starts a fight on the field, the Dodger bench piles out in Jackie's support. As a measure of his acceptance, Jackie is given a locker instead of being forced to use a hanger in the corner. After the Dodgers clinch the pennant with Jackie's help, he is invited to speak in Washington before the House of Representatives. He tells the congressmen and the American public that although life can be tough for people different from the majority, democracy works for those willing to fight for it and is worth defending.
Alfred E. Green
Howard Louis Macneely
Herschel Burke Gilbert
William Joseph Heineman
Arthur H. Nadel
Joseph H. Nadel
Maurie M. Suess
The Jackie Robinson Story
Jackie himself starred in this low-budget "B" effort that was shot in the off-season following his third campaign with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Within that span following his groundbreaking entry into Major League Baseball, he had twice led the Bums to the National League pennant, and his professional star was at its brightest. "I thought Jack's decision to act in a feature film was daring," Rachel Robinson wrote in her memoir of her late husband, Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait (Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1996). "He had never acted, learned lines, or been involved in any drama--except the one he created on the baseball field."
The film's narrative provides a straightforward account of Robinson's life, starting at the sandlots of the all-white Pasadena neighborhood where he spent his youth. While his innate ability leads to a full scholarship and a four-letter performance at UCLA, his efforts to line up a college coaching position garner only a small mountain of rejection letters. While commiserating with his older brother Mack (Joel Fluellen), an Olympic medalist resigned to utilizing his own degree for "good, steady work" sweeping streets, Jackie finally receives a concrete offer of employment -- from the military.
With his discharge, Jackie accepted an offer to play the 1945 season with the Negro League, and found himself quickly dispirited by the demeaning segregationist treatment that he comes to expect as part of life on the road. Still, the caliber of his play did not go unnoticed by Dodger general manager Branch Rickey (Minor Watson), who saw in him both the on-field skill and strength of character to challenge professional baseball's long-standing color barrier. Robinson signed to play with the Dodger's triple-A farm club in Montreal under the proviso that he turn the other cheek to the torrent of race-baiting that he was certain to receive.
In depicting the hateful invective that spewed from opposing dugouts and bleachers when Jackie first entered pro ball, The Jackie Robinson Story is surprisingly candid for the era in which it was released, and it still bears impact when viewed today. Through it all, Robinson not only played but played like an all-star, making converts of the doubters in the stands and within his own clubhouse when he reached the majors and took Brooklyn to the league championship.
For a non-actor, Jackie acquitted himself extremely well before the camera. Frankly, if all he had to bring to the performance was the pure strength of his convictions, that was more than enough. It's doubtful any trained thespian could so convincingly convey in a single look the hurt and anger from the jeers and snubs, as well as the sheer will to put those emotions in a back pocket and play to the best of his ability. "Theater audiences cried at the parts where Jack, with great humility, accepted the abuse heaped upon him and walked away," Rachel Robinson wrote. "His dignity and strength were touching to see."
While The Jackie Robinson Story isn't without its share of stilted performances, several members of the cast make a memorable impression. Most noteworthy is the young Ruby Dee in one of her first screen roles as Rachel Robinson; she turns the cliched stereotype of the baseball wife into a genuine character whose quiet resolve helped her husband to endure difficult times. Other standouts are the veteran actress Louise Beavers as Jackie's doting mother, and Richard Lane as Clay Hopper, the Montreal skipper who was forced to reconsider his own prejudices by Jackie's presence.
Producer: Mort Briskin
Director: Alfred E. Green
Screenplay: Arthur Mann, Lawrence Edmund Taylor
Cinematography: Ernest Laszlo
Editing: Arthur H. Nadel, Maurie M. Suess
Music: David Chudnow, Herschel Burke Gilbert Principal Cast: Jackie Robinson (Himself), Ruby Dee (Rae Robinson), Minor Watson (Branch Rickey), Louise Beavers (Jackie's Mother), Richard Lane (Hopper).
By Jay Steinberg
The Jackie Robinson Story
Jackie Robinson (1919-1972), who joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, become the first African American to play for a Major League baseball team. He was chosen Rookie of the Year, and helped the Dodgers win the pennant that year. In 1949, he was voted Most Valuable Player after winning the batting championship. New York Times commented that the film marked the first time a non-actor played a starring role as himself and noted that Dodger owner Branch Rickey did not give his approval to the film until the production company agreed to use Robinson and as many other ballplayers as possible.
According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, an Italian-American organization in Jersey City, NJ, the 5th ward division of the John R. Longo Association, wrote to New Jersey's two U.S. senators in August 1950 to complain about the scene in the film in which an Italian-American player objects to Robinson playing on the team. Claiming that the film "smears and libels Americans of Italian extraction," the group in a resolution urged the senators to "launch an investigation to determine if a conspiracy exists in the movie industry to hold these decent Americans in such an unsavory light, and thereby perpetrating all phases of racial discrimination."
New Jersey Senator H. Alexander Smith then wrote to Senator Edwin C. Johnson, the Chairman of the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee: "As you have introduced legislation with regard to an investigation of the movie industry, I am wondering whether the legislation will cover the subject of this resolution." Senator Johnson subsequently wrote to Eric Johnston, president of the Motion Picture Association of America. Johnston had his New York office make a study of films released in the previous two years that contained depictions of Italians. He found that of 116 portrayals, 78 were sympathetic, 19 were unsympathetic and 19 were mixed or with no particular impact. Of the 50 prominent depictions among the 116, 34 were sympathetic, 11 unsympathetic and 5 mixed. Johnston then wrote to Senator Johnson that the same issue had been raised the previous year by the United Italian-American League of New York. At that time, Johnston supplied an editorial writer for the Italian-language newspaper, Il progresso, with information stating that motion picture producers routinely changed the names of unsympathetic Italian characters in plays and novels adapted for films and added sympathetic Italian characters where Italians originally had been cast as villains. Johnston wrote, "I've found from personal observation that Hollywood, in films dealing with different nationalities and groups, is guided by principles of fair play and justice, tolerance and understanding." Although he acknowledged the possibility of "errors and mistakes of judgment," he reiterated the Production Code provision dealing with the issue: "The history, institutions, prominent people and citizenry of all nations shall be represented fairly." Joseph I. Breen, director of the Hollywood PCA office, also denied that Italian Americans were "smeared" in The Jackie Robinson Story, noting that later in the film, there is a scene in which the Dodgers are led by the Italian-American player as they rush out of the dugout in support of Jackie after he is threatened by a member of the opposing team.
Hollywood Reporter praised the film stating, "There is no attempt to minimize the racial angle; yet this is not the essence of The Jackie Robinson Story. It happens to be an account of a great athlete and what must be a greater gentleman. The film is choppy, episodic, and sometimes its low budget shows at the seams. But director Alfred E. Green and his star maintain a serene dignity throughout it all." Variety commented, "Robinson is a better baseballer than he is an actor, but still does rather well in a not too self-conscious portrayal of himself." Fortnight noted that the film "strives hard to be in line with the popular documentary technique of the moment." Hollywood Citizen-News criticized Robinson's performance and the film, stating "it strikes us more as a re-enactment of events rather than as a tremendous drama developing with all the psychological complexities mirrored before our eyes."