The Natural (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Barry Levinson|
|Produced by||Mark Johnson|
|Based on||The Natural|
by Bernard Malamud
|Music by||Randy Newman|
|Edited by||Stu Linder|
Delphi II Productions
|Distributed by||TriStar Pictures|
|Box office||$48 million|
The Natural is a 1984 American sports film based on Bernard Malamud's 1952 novel of the same name, directed by Barry Levinson and starring Robert Redford, Glenn Close, and Robert Duvall. Like the book, the film recounts the experiences of Roy Hobbs, an individual with great "natural" baseball talent, spanning the decades of Roy's career. It was the first film produced by TriStar Pictures.
The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actress (Close), and it was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress (Kim Basinger). Many of the baseball scenes were filmed in 1983 at War Memorial Stadium in Buffalo, New York, built in 1937 and demolished in 1988. All-High Stadium, also in Buffalo, stood in for Chicago's Wrigley Field in a key scene.
In 1910s Nebraska, young Roy Hobbs learns to play baseball from his father, who suffers an early fatal heart attack near an oak tree. When lightning strikes that same tree, splintering it, Hobbs makes a baseball bat from the wood, burning a lightning bolt and the name “Wonderboy” into the barrel.
Now 19 years old, Hobbs heads to Chicago for a tryout with the Chicago Cubs, leaving behind his girlfriend, Iris. En route on the train, he meets legendary ballplayer the “Whammer” and sportswriter Max Mercy. On a stopover at a carnival, Hobbs wins a bet to strike out Whammer on three pitches. The feat catches the attention of Harriet Bird, a mysterious woman also traveling on the train who was previously fawning over Whammer.
In Chicago, Harriet invites Hobbs to her hotel room. She asks if Hobbs's claim that he can be “the best there ever was,” is true, and he confidently avers it is. Harriet aims a handgun at Hobbs and shoots him in the abdomen. It is learned that Harriet, who commits suicide, previously targeted other top athletes.
Sixteen years later, in 1939, Hobbs is signed as a rookie to the Knights, a struggling ball club sitting in last place. Manager Pop Fisher is furious that Hobbs was recruited, believing him too old. He initially refuses to play Hobbs but finally relents. At his first batting practice, Hobbs amazes the entire team with his powerful hitting. The following game, Pop benches star outfielder Bump Bailey after a reckless play. Pop pinch hits with Hobbs, who literally knocks the baseball's cover off. Shortly after, Bailey tragically dies crashing through an outfield wall, resulting in Hobbs being made starting outfielder. Hobbs becomes a sensation and the Knights’ fortunes turn around. Mercy finds Hobbs to be familiar but fails to recognize him as the pitcher who once struck out the Whammer.
Assistant manager Red Blow tells Hobbs that if Pop loses the pennant this year, then his Knights ownership share will revert to the team's majority owner, the Judge. Pop will permanently be out of the sport. Hobbs privately meets with the Judge who offers him $5,000 to throw the season. Hobbs, unlike Bump Bailey, refuses the bribe.
Mercy introduces Hobbs to Gus Sands, a bookie whom Hobbs learns places large bets against him. He also meets Pop's niece, Memo Paris, who was Bump's girlfriend. Their budding relationship results in a distracted Hobbs’ game slumping. Pop privately cautions Hobbs about Memo, who appears to be working for the Judge, though Hobbs dismisses his concerns.
Hobbs' slump continues until a game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, during which a woman in white stands up in the bleachers, catching Hobbs’ attention. He then hits a home run, shattering the clock on the scoreboard. He realizes the woman is Iris, and the two later meet at a diner. They discuss their respective lives, though Hobbs avoids mentioning what happened to him. When they meet the next day, Hobbs tells Iris the truth. Iris, who is unmarried and works in Chicago, shares that she has a son whose father lives in New York City. The reunion restores Hobbs' hitting prowess, and the Knights surge into first place. During a practice session, Mercy watches Hobbs pitching and suddenly remembers him.
At a team party, Hobbs collapses in pain and awakens in a hospital. A silver bullet removed from his stomach has caused long-term damage that could prove fatal if Hobbs continues playing baseball. He learns the Knights have since lost three games in a row, which sets up a one-game playoff against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Memo visits Hobbs in the hospital and urges him to accept the Judge's bribe, which has been quadrupled, and to walk away. The Judge tells Hobbs to consider his offer and threatens to publicly expose Hobbs' past and reveals that another team member is being bribed. Hobbs again rejects the Judge's offer. When Iris visits Hobbs, she assures him he has not wasted his potential and is a great ballplayer.
Hobbs, still recovering, returns to the team wanting to play. Pop tells Hobbs that he is the best player he has ever seen and says to suit up. As the game progresses, Hobbs realizes that Knights pitcher Al Fowler is the bribed player. Hobbs confronts Fowler on the field, warning him not to throw the game. Fowler starts pitching competitively and the Knights stay in the game. Watching from the stands with her son, Iris begs an usher to deliver a note to Hobbs in the dugout, telling him that she has brought their son to watch him play.
In the ninth inning, the Knights trail the Pirates when the latter brings in a young, hard-throwing pitcher. Seeing that Hobbs is hampered by his old wound, the pitcher throws inside trying to harm him. Hobbs hits a foul but has struck the ball so hard that his bat, Wonderboy, splits in half. Hobbs asks Bobby Savoy, the bat boy, to pick a replacement. Bobby brings him his own bat, the “Savoy Special”, that Hobbs helped him make. Hobbs, down to his last strike, his wound bleeding through his jersey, hits the ball, smashing it into the stadium lights, winning the game and the National League pennant. The Knights advance to the World Series, though the outcome is not revealed.
The victory secures Pop's share of the team and his place on it. At the end, Hobbs is seen playing catch with his son in the same field that he and his father played in many years earlier, while Iris looks on.
- 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 (uncredited)
- 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
- Robert Rich III as Ted Hobbs
- Rachel Hall as Young Iris
- Sibby Sisti as Pirates manager
Malcolm Kahn and Roger Bean acquired the rights to Bernard Malamud's 1952 novel The Natural in 1976. Phil Dusenberry wrote the first adaption. In October 1981, Roger Towne, a Columbia Pictures story editor and brother of Robert Towne, quit to produce and write the screenplay, with Bean set to direct and Kahn co-producing.
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. Additional filming took place at the New York and Lake Erie Railroad depot in South Dayton, New York.
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. 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 film 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 18th annual Movie Guide 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." In Sports Illustrated, Frank Deford had faint praise for it: "The Natural almost manages to be a swell movie." John Simon of 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 article on baseball movies in The New Yorker, 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."
At the film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, retrospectively compiled reviews from 43 critics give the film a score of 81%, with an average rating of 7.1/10. The website's consensus reads: "Though heavy with sentiment, The Natural is an irresistible classic, and a sincere testament to America's national pastime."
Awards and honors
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 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 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."
The soundtrack is also the home run song for Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers.
In popular culture
- Fimrite, Ron (May 7, 1984). "A star with real clout". Sports Illustrated: 92.
- Deford, Frank (May 21, 1984). "The Natural: hit or myth?". Sports Illustrated. (Movies): 71.
- The Natural at the American Film Institute Catalog
- "Towne Adapts and Produces 'Natural'". Variety. October 7, 1981. p. 7.
- 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.
- "Wrigley Field in Buffalo". buffalonews.com. Archived from the original on March 24, 2008. Retrieved October 5, 2008.
- "South Dayton remembers filming of". WDOE. Retrieved 2016-12-11.
- "The Natural (1984)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
- "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)
- Simon, John (July 13, 1984). "The Natural". National Review. No. 36. pp. 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. Archived from the original on July 11, 2012. 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. Archived from the original on January 29, 2013. Retrieved January 20, 2008.
- Tezer, Adnan (April 1, 2007). "DVD Review: The Natural (Director's Cut)". Monsters and Critics.com, WotR Ltd. Archived from the original on January 21, 2008. Retrieved January 20, 2008.
- "The Natural (1984 Film) [SOUNDTRACK]". Amazon.com. Retrieved January 20, 2008.
- Montgomery, Scott; Gary Norris; Kevin Walsh (September 1, 1995). "The Invisible Randy Newman". Goldmine. Vol. 21 no. 18. 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.
- "Images for Randy Newman - The Natural". www.discogs.com.