The Austin premiere of Warner Bros. “42” drew a huge and mixed crowd. Many of them stayed behind for the panel discussion with his daughter, Sharon Robinson, and Branch Rickey III as panelists. Branch Rickey III is the grandson of the Brooklyn Dodgers president who signed Jackie Robinson to his team. The combined events for the night were spot-on. I echo his daughter’s sentiments, as she stated, “The more you see this film, the more you enjoy it!” She reported that it was her 3rd viewing. I enjoyed every moment of the film, and my eyes were riveted to the screen during the entire premiere run time. I didn’t want to miss a second of this great production. I give it a thumbs-up. A review of the movie and panel discussion details follow below. Warning: There are a few spoilers.
Many people might not know that Jackie Robinson was married to a woman who did not grow up in the Jim Crow South. Sharon Robinson stated that this was true, as was the fact that her mother went into an airport restroom labeled “whites only, just as was depicted in the movie. Sharon Robinson told the panel audience, “That absolutely happened,” described Rachel Robinson as feisty, and said her mom didn’t accept the color rules.
She said she met the newcomer actor, Chadwick Boseman, who portrayed her father. According to her, he came to her mother’s birthday celebration one day after the close of the shooting of the film. “I thought Chadwick did an amazing job as Jackie Robinson,” said Sharon Robinson.
Branch Rickey III said Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford (as Branch Rickey) and all other actors carried off their roles well. He said Ford so closely personified his grandfather that he had to blink a couple of times during certain scenes to verify that it was Ford on the screen rather than his grandfather. He also said he found that the essence, value, spirit and emotion of the movie were true to fact.
Rickey III reported that he found that Ford’s portrayal and capturing of the years 1945-1947 was very compelling. “I think it’s a real tribute,” he stated.
Some things that I found enthralling about “42”:
- Chadwick Boseman, as Jackie Robinson, did an awesome job of holding his peace when constant chirps, barbs, boos and vitriol were launched at him time and again. He really kept his head in the game. Some fans, particularly those in Cincinnati, Ohio were especially horrible and racist with their actions and comments.
- The way Harrison Ford (as Branch Rickey) showed courage in the face of the adversity that he encountered for signing on Jackie Robinson and defending his right to play Major League Baseball.
- The way Rickey was depicted as an enraptured beholder when he watched Robinson play baseball. In one scene he described Robinson as, “Practically superhuman.”
- Once during the movie Jackie Robinson was described as a “brunette,” which didn’t exactly identify his race.This was one of the humorous moments.
- The independent side of Jackie Robinson that was shown. During the panel discussion, Sharon Robinson said that her dad really didn’t like to depend on anyone for anything. However, she said that when he became blind due to failed laser surgery to correct diabetic retinopathy; he had to rely on a driver to take him on errands.
- The Christian values that seemed to drive many of Rickey’s decisions. He repeated, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” a few times.
- The fact that they showed Jackie Robinson as someone who believed in himself and His God. In one scene he told his wife that God had built him to last. I was able to interview Sharon Robinson late in the evening after she dined at Austin’s Roaring Forks Restaurant. She told me that her dad was indeed a Godly man.
- The fact that his wife, Rachel, saw him in the most gracious light. “If they knew you, they’d be ashamed,” she told her husband in one scene. IMDB lists the actress Nicole Beharie, of “American Violet” fame as the personality who depicted the women that Branch Rickey III referred to as, “First Lady of Major League Baseball.”
- Harrison Ford did a superior job as Branch Rickey. Watching his aggregate of facial expressions was a treat.
- The fact that they picked an unknown actor to depict Jackie Robinson. Sharon Robinson revealed during the panel discussion that they wanted someone unknown, without a strong identity to carry Robinson’s role. IMDb indicates that Boseman played roles in “Lincoln Heights”, “CSI:NY” and a few other TV shows. It also lists him with producer, director, editor, and writer credits. I really loved this actor’s excellent channeling of the Jackie Robinson role.
- The loving relationship that was portrayed between Robinson and his wife.
- The iconic baseball stadiums.
- There was some great music, courtesy of Watertown Music (according to the post-movie credits).
Conclusion – A Home Run
“42” was not the first movie produced about Jackie Robinson. I don’t think anything out there could rival this production. Some previous works apparently carried some false messages or images that didn’t sit well with his daughter. As Sharon Robinson stated, “I’m very glad to have this one to erase that meaning.”
The Austin screening received rousing and energetic applause. Most of the movie viewing audience stayed behind for the panel discussion. Included in that group was Paige Mercer. She stated that she is a huge baseball fan. She said she thought “42” was the best baseball movie of all time. She told me that while she watched she laughed, cried, and gritted her teeth at different times during the biopic. Her husband, Josh Mercer, described the movie as funny and inspirational. “It was a fantastic movie,” he stated. I agree. Others described it as “awesome.” I also agree.
Praise to the cast of characters and writer/director Brian Helgeland. During the panel discussion, Sharon Robinson mentioned that Helgeland was the sole writer, and that he produced one of the best first drafts they’d ever seen.
According to an email invitation that I received from UT-Austin’s College of Communication, the Austin screening at The Paramount Theater, 712 Congress Avenue was hosted by The University of Texas at Austin College of Communication’s Texas Program in Sports and Media. The email also specified that the premiere was co-sponsored by the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum, the Paramount Theatre, and the Winstead PC law firm (Dallas).
Also by Shirley
Sharon Robinson: Jackie Robinson’s Daughter
Are You Ready For Some Baseball?