This is not a sugar-coated treatment of Jackie Robinson. The good and the bad of the bio-flick has to be in the telling of a true story, “the way it was”. There is no attempt to make Robinson’s life seem easier than it was, or harder than it was.
But unlike a documentary, a Hollywood bio-pic has to have some kind of an angle. In this case, the driving force behind Robinson’s advent into major league baseball is found in the character of Branch Rickey.
Ford plays Rickey with a zeal not often seen in his acting of late. Rickey had a vision and a religious bent that comes through in the comments peppered liberally throughout the film. In the end, the film stands as a tribute to Robinson and a kind of opening salvo in the civil rights struggle that is to come.
Some of the action seems a tad contrived after the initial brouhaha is over when Robinson is introduced as a Brooklyn Dodger. But, in retrospect, the film is part of the larger struggle and definitely sends an uplifting message to those who know little of Jackie Robinson’s legacy.
The other baseball bio-flicks in the 6 Degree spectrum include “The Babe Ruth Story” and “The Lou Gehrig Story”. Of all the baseball films that simply set out to tell a story, the one I would recommend is “The Lou Gehrig Story”.
Gary Cooper is never better as Gehrig, a genuinely humble man who became a legend on and off the field of baseball. Gehrig was not only well liked, but also became a national symbol for a tragically debilitating disease-ALS or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis- known simply as “Lou Gehrig’s disease”, that cut short his life.
The scene where Cooper, as Gehrig, is standing on the mound and simply says, “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth” is so moving and so based in the reality of what actually occurred that it stands alone as the truest film tribute to a sports legend.