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The Natural

Promotional poster of The Natural
Directed by Barry Levinson
Produced by Mark Johnson
Written by Roger Towne and Phil Dusenberry,
(based on a novel by Bernard Malamud)
Starring Robert Redford
Robert Duvall
Glenn Close
Kim Basinger
Barbara Hershey
Darren McGavin
Wilford Brimley
Richard Farnsworth
Editing by Stu Linder
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release date(s) May 11, 1984
Running time 137 Min
144 Min Director's Cut
Language English
Budget $28,000,000

The Natural is a 1984 film adaptation of Bernard Malamud's 1952 baseball novel of the same name. The film was directed by Barry Levinson and stars Robert Redford. The film, like the book, recounts the experiences of Roy Hobbs, an individual with great "natural" baseball talent, spanning decades of Roy's success and his suffering.

The Natural was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actress (Glenn Close), and nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress (Kim Basinger). Many of the baseball scenes were filmed in Buffalo, New York's War Memorial Stadium, built in 1937 and demolished a few years after the film was produced. Buffalo's All-High Stadium stood in for Chicago's Wrigley Field in a key scene.

The film was the first movie produced by TriStar Pictures.

Contents

Plot

Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) is a child, playing baseball with his father on the family farm. Mr. Hobbs dies suddenly while Roy is still young, collapsing under a tree. That tree is split in half by lightning, and young Roy carves a baseball bat from it, on which he burns the image of a lightning bolt and the label 'Wonderboy'.

In 1923, a 19-year old Hobbs is granted a tryout by the Chicago Cubs as a pitcher. The train to Chicago makes a stop at a carnival and Roy is challenged to strike out "The Whammer" (clearly based on Babe Ruth) (Joe Don Baker), the top hitter in the major leagues. He does so in front of many people, including a sportswriter named Max Mercy (Robert Duvall), who draws a picture of the event to put in the paper the next day. Just before Hobbs gets on the train, a young boy shouts, "Hey Mister what's your name?!" Roy Hobbs responds by telling the boy his name and throwing him a ball. Back on the train, the naive Hobbs is seduced by Harriet Byrd (Barbara Hershey), an alluring but sinister woman, who gravitates to him after judging that he, rather than The Whammer, is now the best baseball player in the world. Byrd lures young Hobbs to a hotel room, shoots him, and then jumps out the window to her death.

The story skips forward 16 years to 1939. A fictitious National League team called the New York Knights has signed the now 35-year-old Hobbs to a contract, to the ire of the team's gruff manager and co-owner, Pop Fisher (Wilford Brimley). With the Knights mired in last-place, Pop is angry he has been sent a "middle-aged rookie" and refuses to even let him participate in team practice. After a showdown in which Roy refuses to submit to Pop's judgement of him when angrily told he is to be sent back to the minors, Pop is impressed and relents. When finally allowed to practice with the team, Hobbs shows incredible hitting ability. During the next game, the team's star player, Bump Bailey (Michael Madsen), angers Pop with his chronic laziness in the field and Roy is sent to pinch hit. Pop jokingly encourages Hobbs to knock the cover off the ball, which Hobbs actually does, providing the game-winning hit for the Knights in a rain-shortened game. After a now-motivated Bump dies running through the outfield fence in pursuit of a fly ball, Roy takes over as the team's starting right fielder and plays phenomenally, becoming the league's sensation and single-handedly turning the Knights' fortunes around. Hobbs' spectacular success prompts Max Mercy to try and unearth details about his mysterious background, but Mercy's attempts to elicit information from Hobbs himself are unsuccessful. Mercy starts a rumor that Wonderboy is a loaded bat, but the allegation is disproven when the league weighs and measures the bat, which meets specifications.

Roy is soon summoned to a meeting with the principal owner of the Knights, The Judge (Robert Prosky). Beforehand, he is informed by Pop's assistant, Red (Richard Farnsworth), that The Judge actually has an interest in the team losing, since Pop is obligated to sell his share of the team to his co-owner if the Knights fail to win the National League pennant. To ensure that result, The Judge had secretly ordered his chief scout to stock the roster with unknown players like Hobbs. The Judge worries now that Hobbs' unexpected talent will foil his plans. At the meeting, The Judge inquires about Roy's background but is rebuffed. The Judge then offers him a new contract as an implicit bribe to throw the season, but Hobbs makes it clear he is committed to winning the pennant for Pop. Hobbs leaves, at which point gambler Gus Sands (Darren McGavin) emerges from the shadows and is revealed to be in league with The Judge. They realize Roy is not as greedy as Bump (who was on their payroll) and devise a new plan to manipulate him: Memo Paris (Kim Basinger) — Pop's niece, Gus' lover, and Bump's girlfriend — is sent to seduce and distract Roy.

Mercy sees Roy playfully pitch to a teammate after practice one day and finally realizes where he saw Hobbs before. Mercy confronts him with the cartoon he drew way back after Roy had struck out The Whammer and offers him $5,000 for his story, but Roy isn't interested. Mercy takes Roy to dinner and introduces him to Gus and Memo. Memo seduces Roy and they begin seeing each other regularly. Roy actually cares for her and fails to see that he is being set up. Despite warnings from Pop that his niece is "bad luck," he continues the relationship. Hobbs soon falls into a terrible slump.

The Knights are at Wrigley Field in Chicago to play the Cubs and Hobbs, suffering through another miserable game, comes to bat in the top of the ninth inning with the Knights trailing by a run and a man on third. With two strikes, he notices a woman dressed in white stand up in the crowd, illuminated by sunlight, and he promptly belts a mammoth game-winning home run that shatters the scoreboard clock. After the game, Roy realizes the mysterious woman in white is his childhood sweetheart, Iris (Glenn Close), and they meet at a soda shop and reconnect. She attends the next day's game, at which Hobbs hits four home runs. Afterwards, they go for a walk and Roy, for the first time, confides his shooting and how he subsequently lost his way in life. Iris is sympathetic and they return to her apartment for tea. Roy notices a baseball glove lying around, which Iris informs him belongs to her 16-year old son. Roy wonders where his father is and Iris tells him he lives in New York. Roy is curious to meet the boy, who is a big fan, but Iris doesn't want Roy to miss his train and tells him he should leave.

Roy's encounter with Iris renews his focus. With Hobbs hitting again, the Knights surge into first place, needing just one win in their final three games against the Philadelphia Phillies to clinch the pennant. Against Pop's admonitions, a victory party is held at Memo's, where Roy once again refuses a payoff from Gus. Memo then feeds Roy a poisoned éclair, causing him to fall ill. Roy awakens in a hospital bed a few days later and learns that the Knights lost their final three games of the season, setting up a one-game playoff against the Pittsburgh Pirates for the pennant. The doctor also informs Roy that the lining of his stomach has been gradually deteriorating due to his previous gunshot injury, which was discovered when they recovered the silver bullet head while pumping Roy's stomach. Hobbs is warned that his stomach could tear apart and kill him if he continues to play ball.

Memo visits Roy in the hospital and tries to persuade him to sit out and accept Gus' payoff. Roy later sneaks out of the hospital to take batting practice, but collapses after a few swings as The Judge secretly observes from his office. Later that night, The Judge appears at Roy's bedside and increases his offer to $20,000, even though he doesn't think Roy is in any condition to play. Hobbs refuses and The Judge threatens to ruin Roy's image by releasing police photographs from the Harriet Byrd shooting, which were obtained from Max Mercy. The Judge also informs Roy that a contingency plan is in place, as he has bribed another key player on the team. The Judge leaves the money.

The day before the game, Iris visits Roy, who is glum. He still blames himself for getting shot and failing to achieve his full potential in baseball. Iris insists he's a great player anyway, but Roy responds that he could have broken every record and been "the best there ever was." Iris tells him her theory that people have two lives: "the life they learn with and the life they live after that". Roy tells her how much he loves baseball and asks whether her son is in New York with her. She replies he does and Roy asks if they will be attending the game, but nurses enter and Iris leaves before giving an answer.

The day of the game arrives and Hobbs goes to The Judge's office to return the money. He tells The Judge he intends to hit away. Memo draws a gun and shoots at Roy, missing him. He takes the gun from her and throws it across the room, finally recognizing her similarity to Harriet Byrd. Echoing words said earlier by Roy's father, Gus tells Roy he has a great gift, but it's not enough. As Hobbs walks out, Gus calls him a loser and predicts the Knights will lose anyway. Hobbs heads to the locker room, where a nervous Pop is ruminating about the virtues of farming. Roy joins in the conversation and agrees there's nothing like a farm. Pop tells Roy that his mother wanted him to be a farmer, and Roy replies that his father wanted him to be a baseball player. Pop tells Roy he's the best player he's ever coached and the best hitter he ever saw. He tells Roy to suit up.

The game begins and Roy, both hurting and rusty, strikes out in his first at-bat. The Pirates take the lead when the Knights' starting pitcher, Fowler, surrenders a two-run home run. Hobbs realizes Fowler is the key player The Judge bribed and runs in from right field to meet with him on the mound. Roy tells him not to throw the game, to which Fowler replies he'll start pitching when Roy starts hitting. Hobbs is terribly overmatched in his next at-bat and strikes out again, falling to the ground helplessly. Iris is watching concernedly from the stands with her son and heads down near the dugout railing. She has an urgent message for Roy and asks the usher to deliver it. Hobbs receives the message, which explains Iris and her son are at the game and Roy is the boy's father. Shocked by the revelation, Roy peers out from the dugout but cannot locate them in the crowd. Meanwhile, Fowler has settled down and kept the Knights in the game.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Knights are still trailing 2-0 and are down to their final out. After the next two batters reach base, Hobbs comes up and the Pirates decide to make a pitching change, bringing in a young, blonde, hard-throwing, left-handed farm boy. Hobbs fouls the first pitch back, breaking the glass to the press box, where Mercy had been sketching a cartoon portraying Roy as the game's goat. Hobbs swings through the next pitch. Down to his last strike, he hits what looks like a home run down the right field line, but the ball hooks foul at the last second. As he jogs back to the plate, he sees that Wonderboy has split in two. He asks the batboy to pick out a winner and the batboy hands him his own handmade bat, the 'Savoy Special', which Roy had earlier shown him how to make. As Hobbs digs in to the batter's box, his stomach starts to bleed through his jersey. The catcher notices and calls for an inside fastball to exploit Roy's injury. With lightning flashing in the sky, Hobbs crushes the pitch and sends it into the lights above the right field roof for the game-winning home run. The lights explode and sparks rain down upon the field as Hobbs rounds the bases. The Knights win the pennant.

The screen fades then opens to a wheat field bathed in sunlight, with Hobbs playing catch with his son as Iris watches them from afar.

Production

The film's producers stated in the DVD extras that the film was not intended to be a literal adaptation of the novel, but was merely "based on" the novel. Malamud's daughter said on one of the DVD extras that her father had seen the film, and his take on it was that it had "legitimized him as a writer."[1]

This is in spite of the fact that Malamud's novel ends with Roy Hobbs striking out, rather than hitting a home run. A young boy later approaches Hobbs, aware of speculation about gambling, and says, "Say it ain't true, Roy," a reference to Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Chicago White Sox throwing the 1919 World Series to gamblers. Roy's response to boy's imperative reads as follows: "When Roy looked into the boy's eyes he wanted to say it wasn't but couldn't, and he lifted his hands to his face and wept many bitter tears." This despondence contrasts sharply with the film's home run victory and familial denouement.

Hobbs' hope that one day people will say "There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was." is inspired by Ted Williams' - "A man has to have goals - for a day, for a lifetime - and that was mine, to have people say, 'There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived."

Darren McGavin was cast late in the process as gambler Gus Sands and was uncredited in the film. Another uncredited actor was the radio announcer heard from time to time throughout the picture; Levinson stated on the DVD extras for the 2007 edition that there had been too little time to find a bona fide announcer during post-production, so Levinson himself recorded that part of the audio track[2] (and probably also that of the scout, who appears in just two lines, over the phone).

"Two-thirds" of the scenes were filmed in Buffalo, New York, mostly at War Memorial Stadium,[3] built in 1937 and demolished a few years after the film was produced. Buffalo's All-High Stadium, with post-production alterations, stood in for Chicago's Wrigley Field in a key scene in the film.[4] Other scenes were filmed in South Dayton, New York.

Release

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Reception

The Natural currently stands as one of the most beloved sports movies of all time. One movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an 83% positive score based on 29 reviews, with an average rating of 7.0/10.[5] Variety called it an "impeccably made...fable about success and failure in America."[5] James Berardinelli praised The Natural as "[a]rguably the best baseball movie ever made."[5] ESPN's Page 2 selected it as the 6th best sports movie of all time,[6] and sports writer Bill Simmons has argued, "Any 'Best Sports Movies' list that doesn't feature either Hoosiers or The Natural as the No. 1 pick shouldn't even count."[7]

While The Natural's reputation has enhanced over time, critics were not universally impressed when the film first appeared. Leonard Maltin's annual Movie Guide said in its 1985 edition that the film is "too long and inconsistent." Dan Craft, long-time critic for the Bloomington, Illinois paper, The Pantagraph (May 19, 1984), gave it three stars, while saying, "The storybook ending is so preposterous you don't know whether to cheer or jeer." Frank Deford, reviewing the film for Sports Illustrated (May 21, 1984, p. 71), had faint praise for it: "The Natural almost manages to be a swell movie." Both John Simon of the National Review and Richard Schickel of Time were disappointed with the screen adaptation of Malamud's novel. Simon contrasted Malamud's story about the "failure of American innocence" with Levinson's "fable of success . . . [and] the ultimate triumph of semi-doltish purity," declaring "you have, not Malamud's novel, but a sorry illustration of its theme."[8] Schickel laments that "Malamud's intricate ending (it is a victory that looks like a defeat) is vulgarized (the victory is now an unambiguous triumph, fireworks included)," and that "watching this movie is all too often like reading about The Natural in the College Outline series."[9]

Roger Ebert wrote a fairly negative review, calling it "idolatry on behalf of Robert Redford."[10] Ebert's television collaborator Gene Siskel praised its themes and acting performances, giving it four stars, and also putting down other critics that he suggested might have just recently read the novel for the first time. The film is considered one of the most beloved sports movie of all time and many young boys ironically view the fictional Roy Hobbs as the best baseball player of all time.[11]

In an analysis of the film as part of a lengthy article on baseball movies, Roger Angell pointed out that Malamud had intentionally treated Hobbs' story as a baseball version of the King Arthur legend, which came across a bit heavy-handed, "portentous and stuffy", in the film version, and that the book's ending should have been kept. However, he also cited a number of excellent visuals and funny bits, and noted that Robert Redford had prepared so carefully for the role, modeling his swing on that of Ted Williams, that "you want to sign him up." [12]

Awards

The Natural was nominated for four Academy Awards: Actress in a Supporting Role (Glenn Close), Cinematography (Caleb Deschanel), Art Direction (Mel Bourne, Angelo P. Graham, Bruce Weintraub), and Music (Randy Newman).[13] Kim Basinger was also nominated for Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress.[14]

DVD

The initial DVD edition, with copyright year on the box reading "2001", contained the theatrical version of the film, along with a few specials and commentaries.

The "director's cut" was released on April 3, 2007.[15] A two-disc edition, it contains the featurette "The Heart of the Natural," a 44 minute documentary featuring comments from Cal Ripken, Jr. and Levinson; it is the only extra released originally with the 2001 DVD. Sony added a number of other extras, however, including: "When Lightning Strikes: Creating The Natural," a 50 minute documentary discussing the origins of the original novel and the production of the film; "Knights in Shining Armor," which addresses the mythological parallels between The Natural, King Arthur and the Odyssey; and "A Natural Gunned Down" which tells the story of Eddie Waitkus, a baseball player who was shot by a female stalker, paralleling Roy Hobbs.[16] The film itself has been re-edited, restoring deleted footage to the early chapters of the story. These scenes expand on the sadness of Hobbs, focusing on his visits to his childhood home as an adult and his childhood memories.[16] The "gift set" version of the release also included some souvenirs: a baseball "signed" by Roy Hobbs; some baseball cards of Roy Hobbs and teammates; and a New York Knights cap.

Soundtrack

Randy Newman's dramatic, Academy Award nominated score has often been compared to the style of Aaron Copland. Scott Montgomery, writing for Goldmine music magazine, referenced the influence, and David Ansen, reviewing the film for Newsweek, called the score "Coplandesque."[17][18] The score also has certain Wagnerian features of orchestration and use of Leitmotif. Adnan Tezer of Monsters and Critics noted the theme is often played for film and television previews and in "baseball stadiums when introducing home teams and players."[16] It was also used in the John McCain presidential campaign in 2008, when introducing Sarah Palin.

The soundtrack album was released May 11, 1984 on the Warner Bros. label. All music was composed by Randy Newman.[19]

  1. "Prologue 1915-1923" – 5:20
  2. "The Whammer Strikes Out" – 1:56
  3. "The Old Farm 1939" – 1:07
  4. "The Majors: The Mind Is a Strange Thing" – 2:14
  5. "'Knock the Cover Off the Ball'" – 2:17
  6. "Memo" – 2:02
  7. "The Natural" – 3:33 (track not used in the film)
  8. "Wrigley Field" – 2:13 (two separate tracks spliced)
  9. "Iris and Roy" – 0:58
  10. "Winning" – 1:00
  11. "A Father Makes a Difference" – 1:53
  12. "Penthouse Party" – 1:10
  13. "The Final Game / Take Me Out to the Ball Game" – 4:37 (three separate tracks spliced)
  14. "The End Title" – 3:22

References

  1. ^ Janna Malamud Smith (daughter of Bernard Malamud). (2007-04-03). When Lightning Strikes: Creating The Natural. [Documentary]. Sony Pictures Entertainment.  
  2. ^ Barry Levinson (director). (2007-04-03). When Lightning Strikes: Creating The Natural. [Documentary]. Sony Pictures Entertainment.  
  3. ^ "Film Starring Redford To Be Shot in Buffalo". Associated Press (The New York Times). 1983-06-18. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9801EFD6153BF93BA25755C0A965948260. Retrieved 2008-10-31.  
  4. ^ http://www.buffalonews.com/entertainment/story/305911.html
  5. ^ a b c "The Natural Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/natural/. Retrieved 2009-06-12.  
  6. ^ "Page 2's Top 20 Sports Movies of All-Time". ESPN.com. http://espn.go.com/page2/movies/s/top20/fulllist.html. Retrieved 2009-06-12.  
  7. ^ Simmons, Bill. "Holy trilogy of the 'Karate Kid'". ESPN.com. http://espn.go.com/page2/movies/s/simmons/020830.html. Retrieved 2009-06-12.  
  8. ^ Simon, John (1984-07-13). The Natural. National Review. pp. 51–2.  
  9. ^ Schickel, Richard (1984-05-14). The Natural. Time. pp. 91.  
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger (1984-01-01). "The Natural". rogerebert.com. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19840101/REVIEWS/401010363/1023. Retrieved 2008-01-10.  
  11. ^ Gene, Siskel (1984-05-11). "'The Natural': Redford scores in an uplifting celebration of the individual". Chicago Tribune. pp. D A1.  
  12. ^ Angell, Roger (July 31, 1989). "No, But I Saw The Game". The New Yorker: 41.  
  13. ^ "Academy Awards Database: The Natural (57th-1984)". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. http://awardsdatabase.oscars.org/ampas_awards/DisplayMain.jsp?curTime=1200879955474. Retrieved 2008-01-20.  
  14. ^ "NY Times: The Natural". NY Times. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/34607/The-Natural/awards. Retrieved 2009-01-01.  
  15. ^ "DVD - The Natural (Director's Cut)". Monsters and Critics.com, WotR Ltd.. http://dvd.monstersandcritics.com/archive/dvdarchive.php/The_Natural_%28Director%27s_Cut%29/10359. Retrieved 2008-01-20.  
  16. ^ a b c Tezer, Adnan (2007-04-01). "DVD Review: The Natural (Director’s Cut)". Monsters and Critics.com, WotR Ltd.. http://dvd.monstersandcritics.com/reviews/article_1285572.php. Retrieved 2008-01-20.  
  17. ^ Montgomery, Scott; Gary Norris and Kevin Walsh (1995-09-01). The Invisible Randy Newman. 21. Goldmine. http://www.randynewman.info/biography/a10.html. Retrieved 2008-01-20. "The Natural, a 1984 Robert Redford vehicle based on the classic Bernard Malamud novel about a baseball player, features some of Newman's most inspiring movie music — his first score to feature synthesizers prominently in string arrangements. Leaning gently on Copland, Berlin and his uncle Al, the dramatic title theme (which has been heard in virtually every baseball-related film trailer since the movie's release) earned Newman both an Academy Award nomination for best soundtrack and a 1985 Grammy Award for Best Instrumental.".  
  18. ^ Ansen, David (1984-05-28). The Natural. Newsweek.  
  19. ^ "The Natural (1984 Film) [SOUNDTRACK"]. Amazon.com. http://www.amazon.com/Natural-1984-Film-Randy-Newman/dp/B000002L6A/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1200861432&sr=1-1. Retrieved 2008-01-20.  

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The Natural is a 1984 film about an average baseball player who comes out of seemingly nowhere to become a legendary player with almost divine talent.

Directed by Barry Levinson. Written by Roger Towne and Phil Dusenberry, based on the novel by Bernard Malamud.
The best there was! (taglines)

Contents

Roy Hobbs

  • I guess some mistakes you never stop paying for.

Pop Fisher

  • People don't start playing ball at your age, they retire!

Ed Hobbs

  • You've got a gift Roy... but it's not enough - you've got to develop yourself. If you rely too much on your own gift... then... you'll fail.

Dialogue

Pop Fisher: My ma urged me to get out of this game. When I was a kid, she pleaded with me. And I meant to, you know what I mean? But she died.
Red Blow: Tough.
Pop Fisher: Now look at me. I'm wet nurse to a last-place, dead-to-the-neck-up ball club, and I'm choking to death!

Roy Hobbs: Red, it took me sixteen years to get here. You play me, and I'll give ya the best I got.
Red Blow: I believe ya.

Pop Fisher: Hobbs. I'm sending you down Hobbs, Class B ball. Tomorrow you go to the Great Lakes Assocaition.
Roy Hobbs: All right. You make the rules.
Pop Fisher: That's right, that's right and you ain't been playing by 'em. Don't you remember signing a contract!
Roy Hobbs: I remember signing a contract, to play ball not to be put to sleep by some two bit carney hypnotist! I won't do that Pop! I can't.

Pop Fisher: Batting practice tomorrow, be there!
Roy Hobbs: I have been. Every day.

Pop Fisher: You know my mama wanted me to be a farmer.
Roy Hobbs: My dad wanted me to be a baseball player.
Pop Fisher: Well you're better than any player I ever had. And you're the best God damn hitter I ever saw. Suit up.

Max Mercy: You read my mind.
Roy Hobbs: That takes all of three seconds.

Roy Hobbs: I coulda been better. I coulda broke every record in the book.
Iris Gaines: And then?
Roy Hobbs: And then? And then when I walked down the street people would've looked and they would've said there goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in this game.

Iris Gaines: You know, I believe we have two lives.
Roy Hobbs: How... what do you mean?
Iris Gaines: The life we learn with and the life we live with after that.

Taglines

  • The best there was!
  • Boyhood dreams, a bat made from a tree struck by lightning and most importantly, a never-ending passion for the game.
  • He lived for a dream that wouldn't die.
  • From an age of innocence comes a hero for today.

Cast

External links

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