Derek Begins…#3 Barry Levinson's "The Natural"

Number 3 | Barry Levinson's The Natural

Directed by Barry Levinson
Produced by Mark Johnson
Screenplay by Roger Towne & Phil Dusenberry
Screenplay by Roger Towne
Music by Randy Newman
Cinematography Caleb Deschanel
Editing by Stu Linder

Starring
Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Barbara Hershey, Robert Prosky, Richard Farnsworth, Michael Madsen

A 35 year old rookie, seemingly from nowhere, makes it back to the big leagues and makes an immediate impact on and off the field with the people he encounters.

I am probably going to take a lot of heat on this one for listing this as number 3 on my list where as every single critic has seemingly listed this movie as one of the all time greatest sports movies of all time but my reasons is a personal.

For starters I am always "iffy" on movies where one man controls the entire outcome. As silly as it may seem, I don't like it because it doesn't give room for other characters' development and closure. I think the Pops Fisher character played by Wilford Brimley could have used more scenes.

The other being that I did not like the way the Bump Bailey character, played by a then unknown Michael Madsen, was killed off compared to a real life scenario. I knew it from this movie that Madsen was a talented actor and his character could have had a better fate to successfully break him in as an actor. It wouldn't be until a few years later when he got his big break in acting on a national scale in an entirely different role. In this movie, his character is simply killed off early on when there seems to be a competition for the right field spot played by the star of the movie, Robert Redford.

I feel Bump was killed off "sitcom-style" so the rest of the movie could go on with the other major problems that were about to occur.

After he dies crashing through the outfield wall trying to catch a fly-ball, a funeral service for him is held on the field prior to the next game and his character is really never mentioned again.

  • Not a single patch is worn on the sleeves of the players' uniforms to honor their fallen teammate for the rest of the season as is usually a sports custom.
  • Padding wasn't added to the outfield walls to prevent another tragedy. In real life in the 1970's and 1980's, outfielder concussions began to rise because of them crashing into walls.

As a result it became mandatory that all walls in MLB parks have padding on them in the 1990's throughout today's day in age. You would think that a death resulting in a crash of the wall would have required this rule much sooner. The setting of the movie at the time of his death was around 1939. I just didn't like the resolution of this whole scenario.

As for the rest of the movie and cast it was flawless and almost perfect.

The score which was composed Randy Newman has been often been compared to the works of Aaron Copeland. It has become a staple at every single ballpark and arena around the world played when a dramatic event occurs. Whether it would be a game winning dramatic walk off home run or the introduction of the all century team in 1999 or a movie trailer that features a dramatic occurance where one man overcomes all odds and succeeds, this score has become a masterpiece in today's time and many do associate it with The Natural.

Yes this is the very same Randy Newman that would have a hit single that same year with "I love L.A".

The storyline was loosely based on a novel. I am yet to read the novel in its entirety, but the movie version decided to go in a different direction for a more happier and justified ending. I agree 100 percent with this direction. The novel had an ending that was similar to the Black Sox scandal of 1919 and I could not imagine Robert Redford playing Roy Hobbs as a greedy character like the Roy Hobbs of the novel was. The movie adaptation and characters is loosely based on the writings of Homer of Greek mythology. I have not brushed up of Greek mythology since the 3rd grade, but those who have will most definitely find themselves at home with the plot.

The cast was phenomenal in a pre 1940's setting for the movie (1923 & 1939 to be on or close to exact).

The characters are as follows:

Roy Hobbs played by Robert Redford.
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In greek mythology he is Odysseus who is trying to find his way home and that's what Roy spends most of the movie doing.
He is the main character of the movie and his story begins as a young boy on a farm. He loses his supportive father to a heart attack when he is young. His childhood love is Iris who he leaves behind when he gets a call to the big leagues when he is 19.

Roy makes quite the impression when he strikes out the games best hitter on 3 pitches during a side bet at a traveling carnival in front of the press and curious fans.
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Roy is confident that he will be the best that ever played the game by the time his career is over.

Shortly afterwards he encounters an intriguing but mysterious woman (Played By Barbara Hershey) who has now become interested in Roy.
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She shoots him in his hotel room leaving him for dead. It is revealed later that she stalked superstar athletes and shot them dead.

16 years later Roy resurfaces in the dugout of the fictional New York Knights seemingly recovered, but older. His new manager is hesitant on taking on a 35 year old rookie...
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But he eventually relents.

Now older, soft spoken but wiser, Roy makes an immediate impact with his bat once he is inserted as the everyday right fielder.

Fame, fortune and greed do not sidetrack Roy this time around. He is determined to help win the Pennant for his manager so he could get his own club back. Roy's strength and weakness seems to be the women he encounter.

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First there is Memo (Kim Basinger) who is the manager's niece, but on the Judge's payroll.
Her job is to distract Roy so he slumps and the Knights stop winning.

 

Roy runs into his childhood love and eventually finds his way out of his slump.

Despite the attempts to sabatoge Roy's playing contributions, or to pay him off not to play, Roy eventually realizes his true love and his story ends right where it begins with Iris and his son right back on the farm.

Roy Hobbs is somewhat based on real life legends Eddie Waitkus, Ted Williams and to a lesser extent, Babe Ruth. Eddie Waitkus was nicknamed "The Naural" in his early playing days for his natural playing abilities. Much like his movie counterpart, he is shot by a female stalker in his hotel room. Waitkus would recover and come back from his injuries but never reached his full potential.

The Babe was a similarity in positions played by Hobbs. He started out as a pitcher, then moved to right field. Ruth is loosley partrayed in this film by actor Joe Don Baker who's nicknamed "The Whammer" although he is portrayed as a right handed batter in the movie and Ruth is left handed.

Robert Redford worked really hard for this part and I couldn't imagine anybody else playing the role of Roy Hobbs the way Redford did. A former player himself in college, Redford modeled his swing after Red Sox legend Ted Williams.

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Many have noticed the resemblance. Like Williams, Roy Hobbs plays right field, wears number 9, bats left handed and homers in his final game in his final at bat. Roy's final at bat is one of the most dramatic at bats in all of sports movies and in real life.

He faces a young left handed pitcher who is a spitting image of Roy when he was a young man. He fouls a ball right through the press box sending Max Mercy scrambling for his life. He swings and misses at the next pitch making it strike 2.

Then Roy hits a ball that has home run distance, but hooks foul breaking his hand made bat "Wonderboy".

After his bat boy gives him his very own bat "The Savoy Special" that Roy helped him make by hand (not filmed),

 

Roy sends the next pitch into the lights for a walk off 3 run home run setting off fireworks from the exploding lights in the process. I thought the whole lights scene was a bit too dramatic and a bit too Hollywood, but I liked it.

 

[***Um, sorry to interrupt,but i need to disagree with my brother here...Derek...this was fucking excellent. Too Hollywood? Maybe...Aweomse? Fucking right.

Sorry, I would never interrupt someones article to throw in my two cents, but between this film being one of my top 20 of all time and this scene alone always making my hairs stand up...along with this being my brother...I had to,

I digress.]

I personally would have liked it if he hit it into the Judge's office located beyond the right field wall, but that's just me. Roy's story and the movie ends where he is playing catch with his son on the very same farm Roy was raised on. A very proud Iris watches.

 

Robert Duvall as Max Mercy.
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In Greek Mythology his character is based on the Vulcan, or God of Fire, who could make or break you. This is exactly how Robert Duvall plays this part. He is after the ultimate Roy Hobbs exclusive. He is one of two characters in the movie who could link Roy from the past to the present day 1939. He always goes where the odds will favor him. He was close with Bump Bailey before his death. He was close with the whammer. He seems to be on the side of the Judge with the ownership dispute with Pops. He is the one who uncovers the fate of Roy's stalker who leaves him for dead only to jump out a window herself to her death after the shooting. He tries unsuccessfully to create a love triangle between Roy, Iris and the stalker. Iris refuses his interview. Roy's refusal to an interview and exclusive ultimately has Max label Roy as a goat before Roy's final dramatic at bat. Like a lot of reporters are, he plays all sides but his ultimate goal is for self importance the exclusive.

 

Wilford Brimley as Pops Fisher.
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Pops' true love is the New York Knights. Hard times has forced him to sell his share of the club to the Judge. A loop hole in the agreement said that if the Knights won the pennant, Pops would regain his shares and the Judge is out. If the Knights didn't win the pennant, then Pops would be out. Faced with the Judge stocking the roster with unknown players, his very own niece seemingly a jinx on his best player and the Knights in dead last, Pops starts to get used to the idea of life outside of baseball and running a farm. Then Roy shows up. Pops refuses to let Roy play and practice with the club at first thinking it's another one of the Judges unknown bad players.

When he finally lets Roy take batting practice, he along with the rest of the team is impressed.

The "Wonderboy" bat may be Roy's, but the lightening bolt symbol on it definitely represents Pops. It represents the jolt he needs to help win back his team.

The look on Pops' face during Roy's final home run trot is priceless. Pops' character is helpless throughout most of the movie. His success seems to depend on Roy's success.

He is aided by his loyal bench coach Red played by Richard Farnsworth.

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I would have personally liked to see a scene or two where Pops blows up at the Judge to no avail to show his frustration. He is definitely one character who does not get portrayed to the fullest as I would have liked to have seen it. But either way, a 4 and 1/2 star performance by Brimley.

Kim Basinger as Memo Paris.

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In Greek Mythology her character is the sea nymph who prevents Odysseus from returning home.

Memo's character is more or less the same thing to Roy as she distracts him from playing well. She is the niece of Pops, but on the Judges payroll. She was romantically linked to Bump Bailey before his death. She goes to such extremes to get Roy to accept the Judge's payoff that she poisons him and has him hospitalized. Bookmaker Gus and money is probably her true love, but Roy's loyalty towards the Knights clearly has thoughts of morality split.

Kim Basinger turns in a 5 star performance here. My favorite Memo scene is towards the end where she fires the gun downward in the Judge's office towards the end. She is in tears and heartbroken. It is unclear if she was heartbroken because of Roy's refusal to the payoff, or Roy's refusal meant that they couldn't be together. Her final words to Roy is "I hate you" in a whisper.

 

Glenn Close as iris Gaines.

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Roy's true love and childhood sweetheart. It is Iris' presence that helps Roy find his way back home.

When Roy is struggling at the plate in a game in Chicago, she stands up and Roy hits a go ahead 2 run home run in the 9th inning shattering the clock in center field in the process (Based on a real life incident).

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She loses touch with Roy in his 16 year absence from the game later to reveal that she was raising a 15 year old son. When she reveals to Roy through a letter during the game that her son's father is actually Roy himself, Roy is overjoyed and it sets the stages for Roy's dramatic final at bat.

Glenn Close is not too persuasive in her role which is what I liked about it. It helps Roy make the right decisions on his own. Her character is the other of the 2 that could link Roy's past to present day 1939. In a scene after a game in Chicago, he walks with Iris and tells her what happened in the 16 years that he was absent from the game. The audio is very bleak so you have to really listen for it. It is the only time in the entire movie that Roy opens up about his past and whereabouts.

 

Robert Prosky as the Judge.

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His first and last name are never revealed in the film. He is the films main antagonist. His main goal is to retain ownership of the Knights after the season and he has to make sure the Knights lose to do so. He stocks the roster with unknown players and pays off the good players to keep the Knights losing. Roy's refusal to a payoff clearly irritates him. Once Hobbs' health becomes a factor towards the end of the film, he is a little more at ease but still increases his offer to prevent any Hobbs' dramatics. Robert Prosky is convincing in his performance.

The Judge hates a lit up office.

 

My favorite Judge scene is a rare comical one for this movie when Roy refuses his first offer and turns on the lights on his way out of his office sending the Judge into a rage.

Barbara Hershey as Harriet Bird

Hershey's screen time was minimal, but her impact was literally a bang.

Bird is a woman who stalks young athletes and murders them for her own personal comfort. Her original target appeared to be the Whammer, but after Roy struck him out on 3 pitches, her attention turned to Roy who was about to become baseball's next golden boy.

After she shoots Roy, it is never said what happened to her afterwards until later in the movie when she was said to have jumped out of the very same hotel room window that Roy was lying on the ground shot. She jumped to her death. It could be most likely assumed that she worked alone and had a mental illness which was unheard of at the time.

 

Darren McGavin plays bookmaker Gus Sands in an uncredited but critical role. McGavin was cast late in the process and refused to take a lesser billing so he chose to go uncredited. Gus represents the money behind the Judge and probably would have had a much bigger role if the movie decided to go in the direction of the book.

 

The movie and the novel differ in a lot of ways. In the book, Roy accepts the payoff and strikes out in his final at bat. Max Mercy discovers the bribe and publishes it. Roy is banned from the game and all his records are removed. Roy was a little more greedier in the novel and had a yen for women that ultimately doomed him and forced him to live the rest of his life as a forgotten man in baseball.

 

The ending had Roy approached by a young kid saying "Say it isn't so Roy" much similar to the way Shoeless Joe Jackson was approached in real life after the 1919 White Sox threw the World Series.

Roy and Iris' relationship is also portrayed much differently in the book as Roy refuses to settle down with her because he is turned off by the fact that she is a grandmother. In the movie they are portrayed as childhood friends that lost touch for a while until Roy resurfaced in the Major Leagues again. I believe the movie changed the tone to a more positive, upbeat and justifying ending to attract more of a general audience because Baseball movies at the time were either hit or miss at the box office and were regarded as a risky investment.

I have to agree with legendary writer Robert Towne on this one. I couldn't imagine Robert Redford playing the part of Roy Hobbs any other way.

The special edition dvd and blu ray has some added scenes originally deleted and seems to round out Roy's story in his 16 year absence from the game. I am yet to see this version but I do hear from others that it is one to not miss at all.

I hope to see it soon.

Derek

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