The Natural (film)
Promotional poster of The Natural
|Directed by||Barry Levinson|
|Produced by||Mark Johnson|
|Screenplay by||Roger Towne
|Music by||Randy Newman|
|Edited by||Stu Linder|
|Distributed by||TriStar Pictures|
The Natural is a 1984 sports drama. It is a film adaptation of Bernard Malamud's 1952 baseball novel of the same name, directed by Barry Levinson and starring Robert Redford, Glenn Close, and Robert Duvall. 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. It was the first film produced by TriStar Pictures.
The film 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.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (January 2010)|
Roy Hobbs is a boy who is a skilled baseball player, often playing catch with his father Ed (Alan Fudge). One day, his father suffers a fatal heart attack and drops dead near a tree on the family property. When the same tree is later struck by lightning, Hobbs considers this a sign and fashions the heart of the tree's trunk, seen glowing after the trunk is split in two by the lightning, into a bat, which he dubs "Wonderboy", carving a lightning bolt into the bat.
In 1923, a 19-year-old Hobbs (Robert Redford) is a promising pitcher who threw eight no-hitters in 1922. One night, he informs his girlfriend and neighbor, Iris (Glenn Close), that he has been called up for a try-out with the Chicago Cubs, which they celebrate by spending the night together in a barn. On the way to Chicago with his manager Sam Simpson (John Finnegan), the train stops at a carnival and Hobbs is challenged to strike out "The Whammer" (Joe Don Baker), the top hitter in the Majors (it is insinuated that The Whammer also plays for the Cubs), and Hobbs proceeds to do so. Sportswriter Max Mercy (Robert Duvall), travelling with Whammer, acts as the umpire and later draws a cartoon of the event.
Hobbs also encounters Harriet Bird (Barbara Hershey) on the train, a beautiful, mysterious and alluring woman, who becomes fixated on him after he strikes out Whammer and spends the evening with her having drinks and talking how he plans to be the best baseball player ever. After reaching Chicago, Bird lures Hobbs to her hotel room, asks him if he will be the 'best that ever was', to which he replies yes and shoots him in the abdomen; and then commits suicide by jumping from the hotel room window. It is later revealed that Bird, a serial killer, kills rising athletes with a silver bullet, having only days earlier murdered a star football player named Johnny Serowski, as well as an Olympic decathlete. This gunshot wound puts an apparent end to Hobbs' promising baseball career, the effect devastates his dream and he proceeds to wander for many years afterward, sometime playing semi pro baseball - but no longer as a pitcher.
Sixteen years later, in 1939, a 35-year-old Hobbs re-emerges and is signed to the New York Knights as a hard-hitting right fielder, much to the ire of the team's manager and co-owner Pop Fisher (Wilford Brimley). Pop is angered over being saddled with a "middle-aged" rookie and does not play him, or even let him practice with the team. After sitting on the bench for a number of weeks while the team slump continues, Pop tells Hobbs that he is sending him down to the Minors to play Class B ball. An argument ensues, with Hobbs telling Pop that it took him 16 years to get to the majors and that he wouldn't go down. Eventually Pop gives in and allows Hobbs to take batting practice the next day. There, Hobbs shows his hitting ability with Wonderboy, hitting every pitch from the team's starting ace Al Fowler into the Knights Field stands for a home run.
During the next game, the team's star player, right fielder "Bump" Bailey (Michael Madsen), angers Pops after causing the center fielder to drop a catch, and Pop sends Hobbs in to pinch hit for his first start in the majors, telling him to "Knock the cover off the ball". After taking a first-pitch strike, Hobbs literally does just that, knocking the cover off the baseball and winning the game just as lightning strikes in the sky above the stadium, signalling the start of a heavy downpour. The next day, Iris, now living in Chicago, learns of his presence in the Majors during a movie newreel. Bump sees that his position is in jeopardy since he and Hobbs both play right field. He later dies after crashing through an outfield fence. Hobbs then becomes the league's sensation by turning the Knights' fortunes around, which is shown in vignettes of newspaper articles detailing the games.
Hobbs' success prompts Mercy to try harder to unearth his background since he feels he's seen him before, but can't finger exactly where or when. Later, Hobbs is summoned to a meeting with the principal owner of the team, The Judge (Robert Prosky). The Judge has an agreement with Pop that if the Knights fail to win the pennant at the end of the season, Pop's share of the team reverts to the Judge. However, if they win, Pop can buy his and the judges shares back- winner take all. To ensure the team loses, the Judge had the team's chief scout stock the roster with unknown players like Hobbs. When Hobbs refuses a bribe to throw the season, gambler Gus Sands (Darren McGavin) and the Judge devise a plan to manipulate him though Memo Paris (Kim Basinger), a mersmerising blonde and also Pop's niece as well as Bump's girlfriend until his death. She is also on Gus' payroll who uses her to further his manipulation of players to affect outcomes for betting purposes.
At the end of a Knights practice, one of Hobbs' teammates, Boone (Mike Starr), asks him to pitch him one, telling him that he wanted to hit it into the stands. Hobbs sends down a fastball that sticks in the cage netting, much to the surprise of his teammates, who knew nothing of his past as an incredible left-handed pitcher. Mercy, watching practice from the stands and seeing the pitch, finally remembers where he had seen Hobbs before. Later, after showing Hobbs the drawing he had done of him striking out The Whammer in 1923, Mercy introduces Hobbs to Gus and Memo. Although she is his niece, Pop tells Hobbs that be believes that Memo is "bad luck" and that bad luck has a way of rubbing off on others, but they begin a relationship and Hobbs soon falls into a playing slump.
At Wrigley Field in Chicago against the Cubs, Hobbs comes to bat having already struck out twice in the game. Iris, having watched his first two at-bats fail, stands up so he can see her. Hobbs promptly hits the game-winning home run, causing the ball to shatter the scoreboard clock. Hobbs makes his way to her as quickly as he can after the game and they have a quick talk at her favorite soda shop. As she hurries off into a cab, he pleads for her to come to the next day's game, but she is noncommittal. The press then dubs Iris "The Lady in White" and lands her picture on the front page of the paper along with Hobbs, prompting panic from Gus and Memo--so much that Memo calls to tell him she misses him and taunts him with visions of what they will do once together again. Hobbs hangs up, but Memo, pretending he is still on the phone, says, "I love you, too". Gus asks if she is still playing a game, and she assures him that she is. After the game the following day, Iris is waiting for Roy and he asks her if they can go for a walk. Hobbs confides to her about the shooting and how he lost his way in life. As they talk at her apartment, Hobbs sees a glove and ball, which prompts Iris to reveal that she has a son whose father lives in New York. They hug before he leaves for his train.
With Hobbs hitting again, the Knights surge into first place, needing just one more win to clinch the pennant. Hobbs again refuses a payoff from Gus to throw the game and it's revealed that Bump was the person they were paying off to lose previously. During a party at Memo's new apartment (paid for by Gus), she feeds him tainted food which causes him to collapse and be rushed to the hospital. By the time he awakens in the maternity ward (due to overcrowding), the Knights have lost their last three games, forcing them to a one-game playoff against the Pittsburgh Pirates. When his doctor arrives, he informs him that the silver bullet from the shooting has been eating away the lining of his stomach, meaning it could burst at any time and kill him instantly. Memo visits after finding out that he can't play due to his health and is surprised to find he wants to anyway. She then asks him not to so they can run away together with money that Gus gives them so they can buy into a business and be well off. After a visit by his teammates, Hobbs awakens to The Judge in his room, holding a briefcase. The Judge offers him double what he was paying Bump: twenty thousand dollars. When Hobbs again declines, he reveals the crime scene pictures from the Harriet Bird shooting, showing that Max had put all the pieces together. During the attempted bribe, The Judge admits that there is another player that has been paid off and that no matter what Hobbs does, the Knights will lose. The last person to see Hobbs before he is released is Iris. He is feeling dejected that what has kept him from playing all this time might finally take it away now that he's reached where he's wanted to be. He blames himself, not Harriet, for failing to achieve his full potential, but Iris insists he is a great player and he had no clue that simply getting to know an interesting woman would hurt him this much.
Before the playoff game, Hobbs visits The Judge in his office to return the bribe. The Judge reacts with disbelief that he'd still play knowing that the crime scene pictures have come to light. Memo responds in anger by picking up a gun and shooting it at his feet while screaming at Hobbs how much she hates him for ruining their perfect ending. Gus calls him a washed up loser who was less than he'd given him credit for. Roy then heads out to the locker room to prepare for the game, catching Pop talking about how much he wanted to win the pennant. He then reveals his presence and that he intends to help Pop win. During the game after giving up a 2-run homer in the 4th, Hobbs realizes that the Knights' starting pitcher Fowler is the player the Judge bribed. Hobbs confronts him on the mound, telling him not to throw the game. Fowler replies he will start pitching when Hobbs starts hitting. Iris, in the stands with her son, asks an usher to deliver a note to Hobbs. It finally conveys what Iris has been struggling to tell Hobbs since they reconnected: that her son is his from the night they spent together before he left for Chicago. Once he reads the notes, he's shocked and looks up into the stands, but can't find them.
The Knights are trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the 9th and Hobbs comes up to bat with two outs and runners on first and third. After opening with two balls, the Pirates take their starting pitcher Youngberry out of the game despite being on a 3-hit shutout. They bring in a young, left handed Nebraskan farm boy named John Rhoades who, like Hobbs had been in his youth, was a highly touted prospect with a blazing fastball. Down to his last strike, Hobbs hits a foul ball so hard it splinters the Wonderboy in two. He then turns to the bat boy, Bobby and asks him to pick him out a winner. He returns with the "Savoy Special", the bat that Hobbs helped him to make. Hobbs then hits a homer into the lights on top of the right field stands, which wins them the pennant. He then runs the bases under the showering lights as his team rejoices.
The screen fades to a wheat field on the family farm that Iris had told Hobbs she still owned and would never get rid of, with Hobbs playing catch with his son as Iris looks on, echoing the opening scene with Hobbs and his own father at the start of the film.
- Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs
- Robert Duvall as Max Mercy
- Glenn Close as Iris Gaines
- Kim Basinger as Memo Paris
- Wilford Brimley as Pop Fisher
- Barbara Hershey as Harriet Bird
- Robert Prosky as The Judge
- Richard Farnsworth as Red Blow
- Joe Don Baker as "The Whammer"
- Darren McGavin as Gus Sands
- Michael Madsen as Bartholomew "Bump" Bailey
- John Finnegan as Sam Simpson
- Alan Fudge as Ed Hobbs
- Ken Grassano as Al Fowler
- Mike Starr as Boone
- Mickey Treanor as Doc Dizzy
- Jon Van Ness as John Olsen
- Anthony J. Ferrara as Coach Wilson
- George Wilkosz as Bobby Savoy
- Paul Sullivan Jr. as Young Roy
- Rachel Hall as Young Iris
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".
Darren McGavin was cast late in the process as gambler Gus Sands and was uncredited in the film. Due to a disagreement, he chose not to be credited, though later Levinson wanted to credit him and McGavin said no. Levinson stated on the DVD extras for the 2007 edition that because there had been too little time during post-production to find a professional announcer willing and able to provide voice-over services, Levinson recorded that part of the audio track himself.
Two-thirds of the scenes were filmed in Buffalo, New York, mostly at War Memorial Stadium, 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.
Variety called it an "impeccably made...fable about success and failure in America." James Berardinelli praised The Natural as "[a]rguably the best baseball movie ever made." ESPN's Page 2 selected it as the 6th best sports movie of all time, 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."
Director Barry Levinson said on MLB Network's "Costas at the Movies" in 2013 that while the movie is based in fantasy, "through the years, these things which are outlandish actually [happen]…like Kirk Gibson hitting the home run and limping around the bases…Curt Schilling with the blood on the sock in the World Series."
Leonard Maltin's annual Movie Guide in its 1985 edition called it "too long and inconsistent." Dan Craft, longtime critic for the Bloomington, Illinois paper, The Pantagraph, wrote, "The storybook ending is so preposterous you don't know whether to cheer or jeer." Frank Deford in Sports Illustrated, had faint praise for it: "The Natural almost manages to be a swell movie." John Simon of the National Review and Richard Schickel of Time were disappointed with the adaptation. 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." Schickel lamented 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."
Roger Ebert called it "idolatry on behalf of Robert Redford." Ebert's television collaborator Gene Siskel praised it, giving it four stars, also putting down other critics that he suggested might have just recently read the novel for the first time.
In a lengthy New Yorker 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 in the film as a bit heavy-handed, "portentous and stuffy," and that the book's ending should have been kept. 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".
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). Kim Basinger was also nominated for Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress.
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. 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 Ruth Ann Steinhagen, a female stalker, in an incident which inspired the fictionalized shooting of Roy Hobbs. 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. 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.
The Natural was released on Blu-ray format on April 6, 2010. The special features from the two-disc DVD are included, but the film is the original theatrical cut, not the director's cut.
The film score of The Natural was composed and conducted by Randy Newman. The score has often been compared to the style of Aaron Copland and sometimes Elmer Bernstein. Scott Montgomery, writing for Goldmine music magazine, referenced the influence, and David Ansen, reviewing the film for Newsweek, called the score "Coplandesque." 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."
Levinson also described to Bob Costas in MLB Network's "Costas at the Movies" how he heard Randy Newman develop the movie’s iconic theme: "We were racing to try to get this movie out in time and we were in one room and then there was a wall and Randy's in the other room. One of the great thrilling moments is I heard him figuring out that theme…You could hear it through the wall as he was working out that theme and I'll never forget that."
- "Prologue 1915-1923" – 5:20
- "The Whammer Strikes Out" – 1:56
- "The Old Farm 1939" – 1:07
- "The Majors: The Mind Is a Strange Thing" – 2:14
- "'Knock the Cover Off the Ball'" – 2:17
- "Memo" – 2:02
- "The Natural" – 3:33 (track not used in the film)
- "Wrigley Field" – 2:13 (two separate tracks spliced)
- "Iris and Roy" – 0:58
- "Winning" – 1:00
- "A Father Makes a Difference" – 1:53
- "Penthouse Party" – 1:10
- "The Final Game / Take Me Out to the Ball Game" – 4:37 (three separate tracks spliced)
- "The End Title" – 3:22
- Janna Malamud Smith (daughter of Bernard Malamud) (April 3, 2007). When Lightning Strikes: Creating The Natural (Documentary). Sony Pictures Entertainment.
- Barry Levinson (director) (April 3, 2007). When Lightning Strikes: Creating The Natural (Documentary). Sony Pictures Entertainment.
- Heldenfels, Rich (June 14, 2012). "Mailbag: Why do TV shows run longer than scheduled?". Akron Beacon-Journal. Retrieved June 15, 2012.
- "Film Starring Redford To Be Shot in Buffalo". The New York Times. June 18, 1983. Retrieved October 31, 2008.
- http://www.buffalonews.com/entertainment/story/305911.html[dead link]
- "The Natural". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved June 12, 2009.
- "Page 2's Top 20 Sports Movies of All-Time". ESPN.com. Retrieved June 12, 2009.
- Simmons, Bill. "Holy trilogy of the 'Karate Kid'". ESPN.com. Retrieved June 12, 2009.
- Barry Levinson, Costas at the Movies, MLB Network, February 11, 2013
- (May 19, 1984)
- (May 21, 1984, p. 71)
- Simon, John (July 13, 1984). "The Natural" (36). National Review: 51–2.
- Schickel, Richard (May 14, 1984). "The Natural". Time (123): 91.
- Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1984). "The Natural". rogerebert.com. Retrieved January 10, 2008.
- Siskel, Gene (May 11, 1984). "'The Natural': Redford scores in an uplifting celebration of the individual". Chicago Tribune. pp. D A1.
- Angell, Roger (July 31, 1989). "No, But I Saw The Game". The New Yorker: 41.
- "Academy Awards Database: The Natural (57th-1984)". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved January 20, 2008.
- "NY Times: The Natural". NY Times. Retrieved January 1, 2009.
- "DVD - The Natural (Director's Cut)". Monsters and Critics.com, WotR Ltd. Retrieved January 20, 2008.
- Tezer, Adnan (April 1, 2007). "DVD Review: The Natural (Director’s Cut)". Monsters and Critics.com, WotR Ltd. Retrieved January 20, 2008.
- Montgomery, Scott; Gary Norris; Kevin Walsh (September 1, 1995). "The Invisible Randy Newman" 21 (18). Goldmine. Archived from the original on August 17, 2007. Retrieved January 20, 2008.
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.
- Ansen, David (May 28, 1984). "The Natural". Newsweek.
- "The Natural (1984 Film) [SOUNDTRACK]". Amazon.com. Retrieved January 20, 2008.