Cooperstown Crier - Your Source for Hometown News - Cooperstown, Baseball Hall of Fame

May 9, 2013

Movie depicting legendary Jackie Robinson does not disappoint

By Michelle Miller
Cooperstown Crier

---- — Going to the movies is not something I do often. I can count the number of times I have gone on my fingers, unless you include trips to the drive-in. And even so, it took me years before I made it to one of those, going for the first time two summers ago. 

I can remember the first time I went to a movie theater. It was with a friend and her father to see one of the “Star Wars” movies. I was in the fifth-grade and had never heard of “Star Wars.” We went to the theater that used to be located on Chestnut Street in Oneonta. It was small and had big round pillars that obstructed the view. Nonetheless it was enjoyable perhaps purely because it was something I had never done before. 

I can only remember going to see a film on the big screen once with my parents. They took me and my brother to see “The Santa Claus.” It must have been in 1994 because that is when the movie was released. 

I tend to just wait for movies to come out on DVD and watch them from the comforts of my home. Maybe it is because I find it way too expensive to go to the theater, or that I just do not get out much. It is probably the combination of both. 

I did find myself really wanting to get to the theater for the premier of the biographical sports film “42,” however. I am a real sucker for any film that has to do with baseball. In fact, I am not sure I can name a baseball related movie that I have disliked. 

I did not make the debut of “42” because I got real sick. That was OK though, because I did not want to get too excited to see it because movies never live up to the hype if you get overly eager. 

It seemed like there was always something keeping me from being able to see the life story of Jackie Robinson on the big screen. That was until last weekend when I finally made it to the theater.

When I arrived, there was a huge line. Luckily it was not for “42.” Instead, it was for “Iron Man 3,” which had the second-biggest film opening of all time over the weekend. 

With everyone wanting to see the new hit film, there were not very many people in the small theater. That is just how I like it because I hate it when people talk or do other annoying things throughout the movie. As I looked around I saw most were probably older than 35. That makes sense I guess, there were no vampires or super hero action. 

“42” is a straightforward and ultimately soaring portrayal of Robinson’s historic entry into Major League Baseball in 1947. The ballplayer, who sported the No. 42 while playing first base for the Dodgers, is often viewed as a civil-rights figure. The film, written and directed by Brian Helgeland (who won an Oscar for his “L.A. Confidential”), does a excellent job showing the struggles Robinson went through as he broke baseball’s color line. It is like seeing a history lesson come to life. 

This movie should be a must see for everyone because it tells the story of segregation and racism and what happened in the not so long ago past. There are lessons to be learned, the most noteworthy being sometimes fighting is not the answer.

A lively, cigar-chomping Harrison Ford portrays Dodgers President Branch Rickey. He tells Robinson he needs a player who doesn’t so much have the guts to fight back as the guts not to fight back. That certainly takes more self control and proved to be effective. Not many people could have done it. 

The characters are all well played. Howard University graduate Chadwick Boseman has a canny resemblance of Robinson and does a great job taking on the role as a somewhat newbie to the film scene. Having met Rachel, Robinson’s wife before, I felt Nicole Beharie was a good fit. Ford marked a milestone of his own with the film. It was the first time in the 70-year-old’s career he has done a baseball movie. He also is not used to taking the back seat as he his accustomed to being the “leading man.”   

I will warn moviegoers, “42” only covers three years of Robinson’s life and does keep you wanting to know more about man behind the myth. 

“42” leaves viewers remembering the man, who died at age 53, for breaking the race barrier in Major League Baseball without much insight into his life beyond that. The movie only provides brief glimpses of what seems like a perfect marriage and his personal life. I did learn one tidbit of information: Robinson’s dad left him when he was young.

I am a fan of baseball movies, so I am going to provide a list of my favorites in no particular order (because that would just be too hard to do).

‘Trouble With the Curve’ (2012)

This is a film I rented while on vacation in Georgia. It is about an ailing baseball scout (Clint Eastwood) who takes his last recruitment trip with his estranged daughter, Mickey, (Amy Adams) acting as his eyes.

‘Moneyball’ (2011)

This movie features Brad Pitt as Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, Jonah Hill as a Yale wiz kid and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the A’s stubborn coach Art Howe. When the Oakland Athletics find themselves on a budget with the championship constantly eluding them, a revolutionary runs-based formula alters their recruiting style by finding value in underpaid players.

‘Bull Durham’ (1988)

I got to meet some of the actors in this film during an anniversary event held at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The film features Kevin Costner as the minor-league lifer Crash, Susan Sarandon as baseball groupie Annie and Tim Robbins as the next big thing, Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh. “Bull Durham” showed a crueler side of the sport by focusing on the very un-romantic minor leagues.

‘A League of Their Own’ (1992)

This may be my ultimate favorite and is by far the movie I have seen over and over again. I do not typically watch movies more than once, but I have seen this one maybe more than I have seen “Forrest Gump,” which also start Tom Hanks. This movie is about women who competed in the first female professional baseball league staring Geena Davis, Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell.

‘The Bad News Bears’ (1976)

For a generation of baseball fans, “The Bad News Bears” was, and still remains, the Holy Grail of baseball movies. Walter Matthau plays Morris Buttermaker, once a minor-league ball player, now coach of a group of misfits with middling talent on the baseball field. He makes a series of unorthodox decisions (like recruiting Amanda Whurlizer, a 12-year-old girl, as the team’s star pitcher), and leads them to the championships.

‘The Rookie’ (2002)

Based on the true story of youth baseball coach Jimmy Morris, it focuses on the extremely rare case of an older player, Quaid’s Morris, who was not on anyone’s radar, making it to the big leagues.

‘Angels in the Outfield’ (1994)

Angels are literally put in the outfield when a little boy prays for a family, which is only promised when the Angels (the team, not the heavenly bodies) win the pennant.

“Fever Pitch” (2005)

I am not a Boston Fan, but found this to be a great movie nonetheless. It is a remake of a 1997 British film and loosely based on Nick Hornby’s memoir “Fever Pitch: A Fan’s Tale.” While the book and movie were set in England and revolved around a soccer team, this version is set in Boston and revolves around baseball.

Ben (Jimmy Fallon) is falling in love with Lindsey (Drew Barrymore) over the winter, but once spring rolls around, he finds himself torn between his new love and his one true love, the Boston Red Sox.

Set in 2004, the film’s original ending depicted the “Curse of the Bambino” dashing the hopes of Red Sox nation for an 85th consecutive season. Once Boston broke the curse, winning the 2004 World Series, the film’s ending needed to be rewritten.

“61*” (2001)

While this was never a theatrical release, shown only on HBO, it is a part of my movie collection. It certainly is on the top of my list of favorites as it follows the story of Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and their chase of Babe Ruth’s then-record 60 home runs in a single season in the summer of 1961.

“The Pride of the Yankees” (1942)

I may be biased being a Yankee fan, but this film has stood the test of time. It transcends generational gaps with the story it tells. The film follows the life of New York Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig, played by Gary Cooper. The “Iron Horse” played in 2,130 consecutive games before removing himself from the lineup when the symptoms of a deadly nerve disease, ALS or, as it’s commonly known, “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” become too much for him to handle. It also provides an opportunity to see Gehrig’s longtime teammate, George Herman “Babe” Ruth, play himself.

“The Sandlot” (1993)

What kid has not seen this movie and the ones that came after? A generation of baseball fans grew up with this film, but make no mistake about it, baseball fans of all ages can appreciate and enjoy what is far too often tossed aside as a “children’s movie.”

“Major League” (1989) 

This sport’s comedy features the Cleveland Indians getting a new owner who has her sights on moving the team to Florida. Her goal is to get the team to become one of baseball’s biggest losers to do so. Despite her best efforts, Ricky Vaughn (Charlie Sheen), Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes), Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) and Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert) lead the team on an improbable run.

“For Love of the Game” (1999)

This film is based on the novel of the same title by Michael Shaara. It is directed by Sam Raimi and stars Kevin Costner and Kelly Preston.The film follows the perfect game performance of an aging star baseball pitcher as he reminisces about his career and his relationship with his on-and-off girlfriend, while pitching his final game. The play-by-play of the game is announced by longtime Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers baseball broadcaster Vin Scully, who himself has called four perfect games in his career.

“Rookie of the Year” (1993)

When an accident miraculously gives a boy an incredibly powerful pitching arm, he becomes a major league pitcher for the Chicago Cubs. This used to always be on television when I was a kid.

Little Big League (1994)

Another movie that was on a lot when I was a kid, this is family film about a 12-year-old who suddenly becomes the owner and then manager of the Minnesota Twins baseball team. It stars Luke Edwards, Timothy Busfield and Dennis Farina.