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The Jackie Robinson Story (1950)

When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, it was big news, particularly when he helped the team win the pennant and was named Rookie of the Year. A film about his career seemed a natural idea, but none of the major studios wanted to take a chance at a time when Black characters on screen were mostly seen in secondary, stereotyped roles. Independent producer William J. Heineman of Eagle-Lion Pictures took on the challenge, creating Jewel Productions to make the picture. At the insistence of Dodgers owner Branch Rickey, he even cast Robinson to play himself.

The film follows Robinson from childhood, tracing his successful career as a college athlete, his time in the military during World War II and his move into baseball, initially in the Negro Leagues. He does so well there, he’s scouted for the Dodgers, whose owner (Minor Watson) decides it’s time to desegregate Major League Baseball. With the support of his wife (Ruby Dee, in one of her first film roles) and mother (Louise Beavers), Robinson stands up to racists in the dugout, the opposing team and the bleachers, to prove himself one of the game’s best players ever.

The Jackie Robinson Story was shot between the Robinson’s third and fourth seasons with the Dodgers. Although it was a low-budget, independent film and did not shy away from the realities of racism, it was met with praise from critics and did well at the box office. Robinson’s wife reported that audiences were in tears during scenes in which he faced racial abuse.

d. Alfred E. Green, 77 minutes, 35mm

Print preserved by the Library of Congress