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If you were offended by the supposedly profligate use of the n-word in “Django Unchained,” it stands to reason you’ll be outraged by a scene in “42” in which Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman climbs out of the dugout and spews cruel racist epithets at Brooklyn Dodgers rookie Jackie Robinson.

You can see the pain and rage on Robinson’s face as he tries to concentrate on his at-bat, knowing if he goes after Chapman, the headlines won’t be about the hateful manager — they’ll be about the first black player in the major leagues “attacking” the opposition.

It’s a tough scene to sit through, with the likable character actor Alan Tudyk bravely portraying this real-life embodiment of pure, ignorant, racist hate, and Chadwick Boseman doing equally fine work as a the fiery, intense Robinson, who must perform with the weight of instant history on his shoulders — while racists such as Chapman (and some of Jackie’s own teammates) are hectoring him every step of the way. (Sadly, the Chapman character wasn’t the least bit fictionalized. The ’47 incident really happened. Before that, as an All-Star outfielder with the Yankees, Chapman reportedly taunted Jewish fans with anti-Semitic slurs and the Nazi salute. What a guy.)

The sliding moral scale of major league baseball at the time was such that Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher was suspended for an entire season for having an affair with a married actress — but Chapman was just told to knock it off with the racist taunts and to pose for a publicity photo with Robinson.

That this all happened in 1947 — history recent enough there are people around who remember it — might come as shocking news to younger generations who know little about Jackie Robinson other than that his number 42 being universally retired because he broke baseball’s shameful color barrier. For this reason alone, “42” is a valuable film — a long overdue, serious big-screen biopic about one of the most important American pioneers of the 20th century.

But this is more a ground-rule double than a grand slam.

As written and directed by Brian Helgeland , “42” is competent, occasionally rousing and historically respectful — but it rarely rises above standard, old-fashioned biography fare. It’s a mostly unexceptional film about an exceptional man.

Boseman is a fine actor, and he looks like a baseball player in the spring training and game-time sequences, but other than one bat-breaking meltdown that takes place out of sight of fans and teammates, we rarely get that visceral, punch-to-the-gut true feeling for the pressure Robinson surely must have felt when he took the field in 1947 as a pioneer. (As “42” reminds us, black Americans fought and died for their country in World War II — but they returned home to a country with separate drinking fountains and a ban on Negroes in the major leagues.)

To be sure, there are scenes of racist fans heckling Robinson and many of his own teammates signing a petition demanding Robinson not be allowed to join the Dodgers — but “42” falls short in giving us a full measure of the man himself. The Jackie Robinson of “42” is a high school history lesson, lacking in complexity and nuance. Even the domestic scenes with the beautiful Nicole Beharie as Rachel Robinson paint an almost too-perfect picture. The real Rachel Robinson was also a hero, but in “42,” she’s portrayed as a near-saint, patiently counseling Jackie to hold his temper, and looking like a movie star as she quietly endures the morons in the stands behind her.

We’re told Robinson was chosen over other major league-ready players (and future teammates) such as Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe because he wasn’t as “nice,” i.e., soft, and would be better equipped to deal with the hate and intolerance.

In “42,” Robinson is indeed pragmatic. When he gets the offer to sign with the Dodgers, he’s more excited about the pay increase than the historical implications.

Harrison Ford is all eyebrows and speeches as Branch Rickey, the Dodgers executive determined to break the color barrier. It’s a rather remarkable performance by Ford in that he goes for it whole hog, scowling and barking and delivering sound bite-sized life lessons. Whether Rickey’s lecturing young whippersnappers in his sun-dappled office (which looks like it was borrowed from “ The Natural ”) or observing his ballclub from the sidelines, he’s filled with one-liner wisdom and perfectly timed punch lines.

John C. McGinley delivers a gem of a performance as the great announcer Red Barber, and Andre Holland is solid as Wendell Smith, a black sportswriter who’s more of a baby-sitter and travel guide for Robinson than an objective journalist.

From the soundtrack to the speechifying to the subject material to the script’s somber tone, “42” has the uniform of an Oscar contender, but it falls short of Hall of Fame status. Jackie Robinson was great. “42” is good.

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42 movie poster

Rated PG-13 thematic elements, including language

115 minutes

Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson

Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey

Christopher Meloni as Leo Durocher

Jon Bernthal as Ralph Branca

John C. McGinley as Red Barber

T.R. Knight as Harold Parrott

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movie summary for 42

Wendell Smith (Andre Holland) narrates that after the war, baseball became more prominent in the hearts of Americans. However, for African Americans, there was still much scrutiny and racism and Jim Crow laws being enforced. At the time, there were 400 white men playing baseball, but the number went down to 399 when one man stepped in and changed everything.

Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) meets with Harold Parrott (T.R. Knight) and Clyde Sukeforth (Toby Huss) in the office of his Brooklyn baseball club, saying he wants to sign a black man to their team. Although Parrott says he will receive a lot of heat for this move, Rickey says there are as man black baseball fans as there are white. While going through their files, they come across one of Jackie Robinson. – We meet Jackie (Chadwick Boseman) with his own baseball club. While stopping to get gas for their bus, he tries to use the restroom, but the gas station attendant tells him he can’t. Jackie says they’ll get their gas elsewhere, so the attendant lets him go. When he steps out of the restroom, Jackie is met by Clyde.

Jackie meets with Rickey in his office, who offers him a chance to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Rickey tells him he must control his temper, because there will no doubt be people who will chastise him for being black. Jackie asks him if he wants a player who doesn’t have guts to fight back, but Rickey says he prefers someone who wouldn’t fight back. Jackie agrees to join as long as he can get a uniform and a number on his back.

Jackie calls his girlfriend Rachel (Nicole Beharie) in Pasadena. He proposes to her over the phone, and she accepts. He goes back home, and they are married. In New Orleans, the couple prepares to fly to Florida. Rachel wants to use the restroom, but it’s only available for whites. She goes in anyway, which is noticed by a lady working at the airport, and as a result, the Robinsons are not allowed to fly.

They make it to Florida on a bus and are met by Wendell, who is to be chronicling Jackie, and they stay at the home of a black couple, the Brocks. – It’s the beginning of spring training as Jackie goes to play for the Montreal Royals. He meets Clay Hopper (Brett Cullen), manager of the Royals. During their first game, Jackie is met with cheers from the black crowd and boos from the white crowd. One black child watches him with awe. By the end of the game, one player on the opposing team drops the ball, giving his team the out.

During the game, Rachel feels sick. She goes to the bathroom where one woman suggests that she might be pregnant.

That evening, a white man approaches Wendell and Mr. Brock. He tells them that Jackie had best be getting out of there or else there will be trouble. Wendell tells Rickey about this, and he tells him to get Jackie out of there, but not to inform him of that issue.

Wendell takes Jackie out at night, and they pass a bar where a group of white men start walking near them. Panicked, Wendell drives out of there and almost hits another car. Jackie is told that they’re avoiding more vitriol from the white men, but he laughs, saying he thought he was awoken because he was cut from the team.

During one game, Jackie is told by the sheriff to get off the field, and that he can’t play, but Hopper goes to his defense. Jackie tells Rachel about it and appears to have a somewhat sardonic attitude about it. They are approached by a white man, who Jackie thinks is going to attack him and Rachel, but the man tells him he is supporting him all the way.

Sometime later, Jackie and Rachel become parents to a baby boy. While he watches him sleep, he tells the baby that he doesn’t remember his father after he left him and his mother, but Jackie promises his son he will remember his father.

After spending two seasons with Montreal, Jackie makes it to the team and goes in for spring training, earning his uniform and the number 42. A bunch of his teammates start a petition to get Jackie off the team, and when their manager Leo Durocher (Christopher Meloni) hears about it, he angrily tells the players that if Jackie can help the team win, then he will play.

Durocher is caught in a scandal when it is discovered he is having an affair with an actress. He is suspended for a year, and the team is then managed by Burt Shotton (Max Gail).

During a game against the Phillies, their manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) constantly harasses Jackie by hurling racial slurs at him, egging him on. Jackie retreats to the dugout where he furiously smashes his bat against the wall and breaks down in tears. Rickey approaches him, saying that Chapman wants him to fight back. Jackie goes back out and is still insulted by Chapman, but he’s defended by teammate Eddie Stanky (Jesse Luken). Parrott angrily complains to Rickey about Chapman’s behavior, but Rickey says Chapman is allowing Jackie to get sympathy with his rudeness. Although Chapman doesn’t think he’s doing anything wrong, since he uses slurs against Jewish and Italian players, he is told to change and then later poses in a magazine cover picture with Jackie.

Jackie becomes more popular, but he still has his detractors. The Dodgers He gets to Cincinnati and is booed at by the white crowd, to the point where a child yells slurs at him because his father is doing so. Jackie’s teammate Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black) stands next to him and puts his arm around him, receiving yells and boos from his usual fans. Pee Wee tells Jackie that perhaps they’ll all be wearing the number 42 soon.

The Dodgers get to a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, in which Jackie gets spiked up the leg and is seriously hurt. While he is treated, Rickey tells him that Jackie inspired him to love baseball again. He gets back out there and is faced with a pitcher, Fritz Ostermueller (Linc Hand), who beaned him earlier in another game. Jackie manages to hit a home run, taking the Dodgers to the World Series. Rachel is walking their baby as the neighborhood hears about this and cheers. Wendell continues to write about Jackie and his accomplishments as Jackie triumphantly runs to home base.

The epilogue tells that Jackie, Branch Rickey, and Pee Wee Reese, among others, were inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame at certain points. Wendell Smith was the first African American writer for the Baseball Writers Association of America. Ben Chapman was fired and never managed again. Dodgers player Dixie Walker, who was against Jackie, was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates (as was another teammate earlier on).

The boy that Jackie tosses a ball to when boarding a train earlier in the film, turns out to be ED CHARLES who grows up and plays with the 1969 World Champion Mets, the Miracle Mets.

Every April, baseball players wear the number 42 on their Jerseys to commemorate Jackie Robinson’s achievements. 42 is the only number retired from baseball.

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2013, Biography/History, 2h 8m

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42 is an earnest, inspirational, and respectfully told biography of an influential American sports icon, though it might be a little too safe and old-fashioned for some. Read critic reviews

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The past is never dead. It's not even past

Not Even Past

by Dolph Briscoe IV


The new film 42 tells the story of Jackie Robinson’s heroic effort to integrate Major League Baseball.  Signed by Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) endures resistance from teammates, taunting from opposing players and fans, and terrifying threats of violence against his family and himself by breaking baseball’s color line.  His loving wife Rachel Robinson (Nicole Beharie), herself a determined warrior in the struggle for racial equality, serves as his anchor during this time of trial.  Jackie Robinson’s courage inspires Americans, both white and black, and helps to ignite the emerging civil rights movement. 42 is a stirring film that illustrates the brutality of racism and the heroism of those individuals who sought to overcome the most troubling characteristic of American society in the twentieth century.

Set in the immediate post-World War II years, 42 focuses primarily on Jackie Robinson’s first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.  A key theme in this movie is the significance of relationships between people, with Jackie Robinson as the ideal candidate for integrating baseball.  Branch Rickey immediately recognizes that Robinson possesses the strength of character as well as the athletic gifts necessary to undertake this daunting task.  As the film begins, Robinson tells teammates and the press that he is “just a ballplayer,” and Rickey stresses that his job as a baseball executive is solely to win games and make money for the club.  But the two men forge a close relationship through their shared experience and, by the movie’s end, recognize that Robinson’s integration of baseball means much more to themselves and to the nation at large.  Rickey, portrayed by Ford as deeply philosophical and troubled by a failure earlier in his career to take a stand for integration, finds redemption and a renewed love for the game through Robinson’s bravery.  Robinson realizes that he is much more than only a baseball player—he has become an inspiration and a hero for Americans of all races, particularly children, and has touched the conscience of the United States.

The strong marriage of Jackie and Rachel Robinson further illustrates the key role played by personal relationships in the quest to integrate baseball.   42 presents the Robinsons’ marriage as a true love story.  Jackie calls Rachel his “heart,” not only the love of his life, but also his source of strength during his times of trouble.  Rachel Robinson is as much a civil rights activist as her husband, confidently entering a whites-only bathroom in a southern airport and continuously displaying a calm resolve in the presence of hostile fans in baseball parks.

42 also examines Jackie Robinson’s relationships with the press and his teammates.  Besides Rachel, Jackie’s key confidant becomes Wendell Smith (Andre Holland), an African American sports reporter covering these historic events.  Robinson initially is reluctant to become too close with Smith for fear of relying on other people for support.  Eventually however, Robinson develops a strong friendship with the journalist, who records his accomplishments on the diamond with beautiful prose.  Furthermore, Smith helps Robinson realize that he represents more than “just a ballplayer” by confiding his own hardships with racism as a black reporter.  Many Brooklyn Dodgers players are wary about having Robinson on their team, pictured most dramatically when several sign a petition against his joining the club.  Yet Robinson’s determination and dedicated play win over most of his fellow ballplayers, and by the film’s ending those few remaining doubters find themselves ostracized by the team.  In a poignant moment, while playing in Cincinnati, a city bordering the South, Kentucky native Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black) puts his arm around Robinson on the field, a powerful gesture for all fans to see.


The film depicts the cruelty of racial segregation and the valor of civil rights activists in twentieth-century America. Fans and players yell at Robinson hatefully and, in an upsetting scene, an opposing team’s manager viciously taunts him with a barrage of racist insults.  Base runners spike Robinson with their sharp cleats and pitchers purposefully try to bean him; by season’s end Robinson leads the majors in hits by pitch. Perhaps most frightening, Robinson receives hundreds of letters with death threats against him and his family.  Yet Jackie and Rachel Robinson, like later civil rights activists, handle this trauma with quiet persistence and sheer bravery.  Branch Rickey encourages Robinson by invoking their shared Methodist faith, which Jackie emulates through “turning the other cheek” in the face of his oppressors.   42 also soberly illustrates how children imitate their elders, for both good and evil.  In a disturbing sequence, a seemingly kind young boy heckles Robinson after watching his white father do the same.  However, young black children see Robinson as a role model to imitate in both words and deeds.  Rickey further tells Robinson that he has even noticed some white children pretending to be him on playgrounds, a hopeful sign for the future of race relations in the United States.

By expanding its story beyond the 1947 season, 42 could have illustrated better Jackie Robinson’s complexity.  Following his first year in the majors, Robinson, with Rickey’s approval, resolved to fight back when persecuted on and off the field.  He believed that he had proved he belonged in the Major Leagues and now had to protest against his tormentors to further the larger civil rights movement.  To do otherwise would be to acquiesce to the unjust status quo.  Indeed, for the rest of his life, Robinson continued to push for greater progress in racial equality.  He viewed his post-baseball career in several successful commercial ventures as similarly important in opening doors to African Americans in the business world.  He urged ball clubs to hire black managers and front office administrators.  Major League Baseball’s failure in this area, coupled with a growing national backlash against the civil rights movement by the early 1970s, left Robinson disillusioned.  Yet despite these disappointments, serious health problems, and personal tragedy with the death of his oldest son, Robinson remained dedicated to the struggle for racial equality until his death in 1972.


In 1997, Major League Baseball retired Jackie Robinson’s number 42 for every team.  Over the last few years, players of all races have worn the number 42 on Jackie Robinson Day in April.  Although additional detail about his entire life could have provided a more nuanced picture of Robinson, 42 is a magnificent film that shows audiences a critical time in the struggle for racial equality in the United States.  Brilliant actors give unforgettable performances in a movie that should stand the test of time not only as a sports classic, but indeed a masterful drama of American history.

Photo Credits:

Promotional poster for 42 (Image courtesy of Legendary Pictures)

Jackie Robinson signing autographs in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ dugout, Ebbets Field, April 11, 1947 (Image courtesy of Corbis Images)

Robinson playing against the Boston Braves (Image courtesy of The Full Count )

Images used under Fair Use Guidelines

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By A.O. Scott

Biographies of great athletes can be roughly sorted into three categories. There are hero-worshiping fables suitable for fourth-grade classrooms, scandalous feet-of-clay exposés and, rarest of all, narratives that link sports with significant, nonathletic historical events and social issues. In America those events and issues almost always have to do with race, which makes the life of Jackie Robinson especially ripe for sweeping, comprehensive treatment.

But while “42,” Brian Helgeland’s new film about Robinson, gestures toward the complicated and painful history in which its subject was embroiled, it belongs, like most sports biopics, in the first category. It is blunt, simple and sentimental, using time-tested methods to teach a clear and rousing lesson.

In other hands — Spike Lee’s, let’s say, or even Clint Eastwood’s — “42” might have taken a tougher, more contentious look at the breaking of Major League Baseball’s color barrier. But Mr. Helgeland, whose previous directing credits include “Payback” and “A Knight’s Tale” (and who wrote “Blood Work” and “Mystic River,” speaking of Clint Eastwood), has honorably sacrificed the chance to make a great movie in the interest of making one that is accessible and inspiring. Though not accurate in every particular, the movie mostly succeeds in respecting the facts of history and the personality of its hero, and in reminding audiences why he mattered.

After a clumsy and didactic beginning — in which every scene ends with Mark Isham’s score screaming “This Is Important!” in Dolby — the movie settles into a solid, square rhythm. By then we have met Robinson, played with sly charm and a hint of stubborn prickliness by Chadwick Boseman.

A shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro leagues, a four-sport athlete at U.C.L.A. and a commissioned Army officer during World War II, Robinson has been selected by Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) to become the first African-American major leaguer of the modern era. After some time with the Dodgers’ minor-league affiliate in Montreal, Robinson, now married and with a baby (his wife, Rachel, is played by Nicole Beharie), starts at first base, wearing No. 42, for the Dodgers on opening day in 1947.

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The story of what happened before and after that game has been told well before — in Arnold Rampersad’s biography and in parts of Ken Burns’s “Baseball,” for instance — but “42” does a good job of dramatizing the salient emotions of the moment and the racism that surrounded Robinson and every other black American of his time. To his credit Mr. Helgeland avoids the trap that so many depictions of the Jim Crow era fall into, which is to imply that racial prejudice was an individual or regional pathology rather than a national social norm.

Chadwick Boseman, left, and Harrison Ford in “42.”

So while there are a handful of snarling Southern bigots — most notably Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk), the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies — their actions are treated not as exceptions to the rule but as especially ugly instances of it. Robinson is threatened and harassed by vigilantes and police officers in Florida during his first spring training, but white fans in the North, Brooklyn included, are hardly shy about showering him with boos and slurs when he takes the field.

The other players — including Robinson’s own teammates — are not much better. He is spiked by base runners and beaned by pitchers. A petition circulates in the Dodgers’ clubhouse demanding his removal from the team, and rival owners call Rickey demanding the same thing.

As I said: a well-known story. But it is useful for young viewers to have a look at the world their grandparents were born into, a world that is still frequently given, in movies and on television, a glow of nostalgic innocence.

Of course there was decency and courage as well, here embodied by Rickey, the Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca (Hamish Linklater) — one of the only Brooklyn players to shake Robinson’s hand when he first walks into the locker room — and the shortstop Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black), whose public embrace of Robinson before a game in Cincinnati is the emotional high point of the movie. But “42” does not give these men disproportionate credit for passing a fairly easy test of character that most of the country was proud to fail, and it does not pretend that Robinson’s story is really theirs.

His triumph is edged with bitterness and shadowed by profound loneliness. In spite of Rachel’s steadfast support and the enthusiasm of black fans, Robinson is surrounded by hostility and by people who, even if they are on his side, cannot begin to understand his experience. When Rickey describes his new player as “superhuman,” he is bestowing a curse in the form of praise, and identifying a paradox central to postwar racial politics. To be accepted as human, as equal to whites, the black pioneers of the era had to rise above all kinds of ordinary human temptations — to fight back, to show anger or fear — and become flawless exemplars of their race.

“42” not only identifies this burden but also surrenders to it. Robinson, the film’s undisputed hero, is in some ways its least interesting character. Rickey is a cigar-chomping, Scripture-spouting old coot; Leo Durocher (Christopher Meloni), the Dodgers’ manager, is a cynical womanizer who speaks in cracked aphorisms, while the radio broadcaster Red Barber (a wonderful John C. McGinley) extemporizes jewels of English prose.

In contrast, the main African-American figures in the story — Jackie, Rachel and the journalist Wendell Smith (Andre Holland) — seem a little stiff, unable to be themselves in their own story. Which may just be to say that the cultural transformation in which Jackie Robinson played a significant early role is still incomplete.

“42” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Some rough language, including racial epithets.

Spirituality & Practice

Network for Good

Film Review by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

"Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America," cultural critic Jacques Barzun wrote, "had better learn baseball." It is a game of individualists all working together as a team. Baseball fans know it is a game of angles and inches. There is a balance between action and inaction. Achievement is earned and recorded. Baseball is a game where numbers are all important.

Those who love this sport don't talk much about its ugly history of racism. That is why it's good to to revisit the life and times of Jackie Robinson who courageously took upon himself the hatred of baseball players, managers, umpires, owners, and fans who wanted to keep baseball segregated. In 1945, the Brooklyn Dodgers' General Manager, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), decides that it is time to integrate the game. His motives are mixed: he thought it was the right thing to do and he also wanted to bring African-Americans into the stadium to watch the Brooklyn Dodgers play.

After a national search, Rickey discovers Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), a leading player on the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro League. In their first meeting, he tells the young man that he will have to take an unending barrage of hatred and verbal abuse without ever fighting back. Buoyed by the promise of a new life, Robinson marries Rachel (Nicole Beharie). He is befriended by Wendell Smith (Andre Holland), a black reporter hired by Rickey to shepherd the new player through spring training.

Robinson, with the number 42 on his shirt, lives up to his billing and wows crowds with his ability to steal bases. The low point in the 1947 season is when this laid-back player has to listen to the vicious racist slurs of Philadelphia Phillies' manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk). It takes his teammates a long time to warm to Robinson and that is why a scene where Peewee Reese (Lucas Black) puts his arm around Robinson in front an angry crowd in Cincinnati is so touching.

Some moviegoers will be turned off by writer and director Brian Helgeland's attempt to manipulate our emotions in this saga depicting Jackie Robinson's role as a civil rights figure who singlehandedly crossed the color line and opened the door for other African-Americans to play on major league baseball teams. Did we feel manipulated? Yes, perhaps we did. But 42 does a fine job stretching our emotions in response to the virulent racism which still lingers as a toxin in America. And that's a good thing.

Special features on the DVD include featurettes on stepping into history, full-contact baseball; and the legacy of number 42.

Harrison Ford as Branch and Chadwick Boseman as Jackie

Warner Home Video, 04/13

DVD Feature

PG-13 – thematic elements including language

Purchase from Amazon

Main Practice

42: The True Story of an American Legend Movie Review Summary

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of 42: the true story of an american legend, script analysis of 42: the true story of an american legend, plot & themes, main character, writing style, movies with storylines, themes & endings like 42: the true story of an american legend.


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