The Natural (film)
|Directed by||Barry Levinson|
|Produced by||Mark Johnson|
by Bernard Malamud
|Music by||Randy Newman|
|Edited by||Stu Linder|
|Distributed by||TriStar Pictures|
The Natural is a 1984 American sports drama 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. 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 a few years later. All-High Stadium, also in Buffalo, stood in for Chicago's Wrigley Field in a key scene.
A young Roy Hobbs plays baseball with his father on the family farm. Roy's father dies suddenly under a tree, later split in half by lightning, and Roy carves a baseball bat from it. He burns a lightning bolt on the barrel and labels it "Wonderboy."
In 1923, Hobbs, now 19 years old, is traveling by train to a pitching try out for the Chicago Cubs. At a stopover, Hobbs is challenged to strike out 'The Whammer' (Babe Ruth), the top hitter in the Majors. Sportswriter Max Mercy, travelling with Whammer, draws a picture of the event.
Hobbs also encounters Harriet Bird, who becomes smitten with him after he strikes out Whammer. Bird lures Hobbs to her hotel room and shoots him before she commits suicide. It is revealed that Bird kills top athletes, having already murdered an Olympian and an American football star, using silver bullets.
In 1939, Hobbs, now a 35-year-old, is signed by a scout to the New York Knights, frustrating the team's manager and co-owner, Pop Fisher. With the Knights mired in last place, Pop is angry over being saddled with a "middle-aged" rookie.
Unused for weeks, Hobbs finally gets to be a pinch hitter for team star "Bump" Bailey, whose careless play cost the Knights a lead. Hobbs literally knocks the cover off the baseball, winning the Knights' first game in weeks. When Bump dies after crashing through an outfield fence, Hobbs becomes the league's sensation, turning around the Knights' fortunes.
Hobbs's success prompts Mercy to try to unearth Hobbs's background. Hobbs is summoned to a meeting with the principal owner of the team, nicknamed "The Judge". The Judge has an agreement with Pop that if the Knights fail to win the pennant that season, Pop's share of the team reverts to the Judge. To ensure the team loses, the Judge bribes "Bump" to play poorly and has a scout sign unknown players such as Hobbs.
When Hobbs refuses a $5,000 bribe to throw the season, gambler Gus Sands and The Judge send Memo Paris, Pop's niece and Bump's former girlfriend, to trick Hobbs. Mercy finally remembers where he had seen Hobbs. Later, Mercy introduces Hobbs to Gus and Memo. Pop warns Hobbs that Memo is "bad luck," but they begin a relationship, and Hobbs soon falls into a hitting slump.
At Chicago's Wrigley Field, Hobbs spots a woman in white standing at her seat and promptly hits the game-winning home run. The woman is his childhood sweetheart, Iris. They meet later, and Hobbs confides to her about Bird's shooting and how he subsequently lost his way in life. Iris tells him she has a 16-year-old son whose father lives in New York.
With the resumption of Hobbs hitting, the Knights surge into first place, needing only one more win to clinch the pennant. Hobbs again refuses a payoff from Gus to throw the game. Memo throws a party, where she hand-feeds Hobbs a pastry, after which he collapses. Awakening in hospital a few days later, Hobbs learns the Knights have lost their last three games, setting up a one-game playoff against the Pittsburgh Pirates for the pennant. The doctor gives Hobbs the silver bullet found when they pumped his stomach after the Bird shooting and informs him his stomach lining is eroding and the physical strain of playing could kill him.
Memo urges Hobbs to accept Gus's bribe and The Judge quadruples it. Hobbs refuses, but The Judge insists he take it, since he has also bribed another key team member. Hobbs later tells Iris that he regrets failing to achieve his full potential, but she insists he is a great player. Before the final game, Pop tells Hobbs that he is the best hitter he has ever seen. As the game begins, Hobbs realizes it's Fowler, the Knights' starting pitcher, who received the other bribe. Hobbs confronts him on the mound with his suspicion and urges him to pitch his best despite the bribe. Fowler replies, "I'll start pitching when you start hitting." In the stands with her son, Iris sends a message to Hobbs on the field via an usher, saying that Hobbs's son is there to watch him play. Hobbs redoubles his determination to play his best.
The Knights are trailing and Hobbs is at bat. The Pirates bring in a young, hard-throwing hurler who sees that Hobbs is bleeding through his jersey. Down two strikes, Hobbs hits a foul ball so hard it splits "Wonderboy" in two. Bobby, the bat boy, brings Hobbs the "Savoy Special," the bat that Hobbs had helped Bobby to carve. Hobbs hits the next ball into the stadium lights and the Knights win the pennant.
The film's closing scene shows Hobbs playing catch with his son on Iris's farm as 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
- 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
- Sibby Sisti as Pirates manager
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 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 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 38 critics give the film a score of 82%, 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."
- 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.
- 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 10, 2018.
- "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" (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. 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". 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.
- "Images for Randy Newman - The Natural". www.discogs.com.