The film is among the list of films in the public domain in the United States. However a new copyrighted "restored and in color" version was released in conjunction with the Jackie Robinson Foundation in 2008.
The film begins with Robinson as a boy. He is given a worn-out baseball glove by a stranger impressed by his fielding skills. As a young man, he becomes a multi-sport star at UCLA, but as he nears graduation, he worries about his future. His older brother Mack was also an outstanding college athlete and graduate, but the only job he could get was that of a lowly street cleaner.
When America enters World War II, Robinson is drafted, serving as an athletic director. Afterward, he plays baseball with a professional African-American team. However, the constant travel keeps him away from his college sweetheart, Rae.
Then one day, Brooklyn Dodgers scout Clyde Sukeforth invites him to meet Branch Rickey, president of the Major League Baseball team. At first, Robinson considers the offer to be a practical joke, as African Americans are not allowed to play in the segregated major leagues. When he is convinced that the opportunity is genuine, he and Rickey size each other up. After thinking over Rickey's warning about the hatred and abuse he would have to endure without being able to strike back, Robinson signs with the Dodgers' International League farm team, the Montreal Royals. Though he wants to delay marrying Rae to shield her, she insists on an immediate wedding so she can support her man in the trying times ahead.
Robinson leads the league in hitting in his first year, and despite the grave concerns expressed by the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rickey goes ahead and promotes him to the Dodgers. Reviled at first by many of the fans and some of his own teammates, Robinson gets off to a shaky start, playing out of position at first base and going through a hitting slump, but then gradually wins people over with his talent and determination. The team goes on to win the pennant, with Robinson driving in the tying run and scoring the winning one in the deciding game.
At the end, Robinson is invited to address the United States House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.
Principal photography for the film took place in the off-season following his third season with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Even during its initial release—in the era of racial segregation—the film received critical praise and fared well at the box office.
According to Bosley Crowther, "What is surprising...in this new film ...is the sincerity of the dramatization and the integrity of Mr. Robinson playing himself. Too often, in films of this nature about sports figures, fanciful or real, the sentiments are inflated and the heroics glorified. Here the simple story of Mr. Robinson's trail-blazing career is re-enacted with manifest fidelity and conspicuous dramatic restraint. And Mr. Robinson, doing that rare thing of playing himself in the picture's leading role, displays a calm assurance and composure that might be envied by many a Hollywood star."
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2006: AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers – Nominated
On April 19, 2005, 20th Century Fox and Legend Films released a colorized version of the film, donating a portion of the proceeds to the Jackie Robinson Foundation, a charity that benefits education for gifted students. An "official" version remains in release by MGM Home Entertainment (whose sister company, United Artists, produced this film).