The Batter’s Eye: The Jackie Robinson Story

At less than 80 minutes, The Jackie Robinson Story (1950, directed by Alfred E. Green) isn’t going to be a comprehensive biography. His early life is covered in broad strokes before the movie makes it to the pivotal point where he was signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers’ farm team.

Poster for The Jackie Robinson Story

Robinson plays himself (the movie was filmed after his third season with the Dodgers) and he does reasonably well for someone who wasn’t an actor. To be fair, it’s probably fairly easy to play yourself, but he does bring integrity to the part.

The movie does not shy away from the racism that Robinson faced (although I suspect the movie did tone it down quite a bit). It also doesn’t pretend that Robinson playing in the major leagues automatically solved racism permanently. It’s truly just his story, as the title implies, and the few men who fought for his inclusion.

The others in the movie are given much less to do than Robinson, but provide enough of a background. Ruby Dee as Robinson’s wife, Rae, probably is the most memorable with her honest sweetness. Minor Watson as Branch Rickey, the man who signed Robinson to the Dodgers, plays the role in a straightforward manner rather than someone asking for praise for his heroic actions.

Despite the short run time, there is a lot of baseball action. That’s maybe not too surprising, given that Robinson was a professional baseball player, but it does add a lot to the movie. So far, my complaint about these baseball movies is that they haven’t featured enough baseball. Robinson being able to play baseball helped to minimize the cuts and provided opportunities for close-ups of the action.

I was surprised by this. I don’t quite know what I was expecting but this was better and felt more realistic than I thought. It’s not a documentary, clearly, but it’s an honest take on an important moment in sports and U.S. history.