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An unknown middle-aged batter named Roy Hobbs with a mysterious past appears out of nowhere to take a losing 1930s baseball team to the top of the league in this magical sports fantasy. With the aid of a bat cut from a lightning struck tree, Hobbs lives the fame he should have had earlier when, as a rising pitcher, he is inexplicably shot by a young woman.
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. 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.
About the Story
A young Roy Hobbs plays baseball with his father on the family farm. Roy’s father dies suddenly under a tree. That tree is split in half by lightning, and Roy carves a baseball bat from it. He burns a lightning bolt on the barrel and calls it Wonderboy.
In 1923, Hobbs, now 19 years old, is trying out for the Chicago Cubs as a pitcher. At a carnival, Hobbs is challenged to strike out “The Whammer”, the top hitter in the Majors. Sportswriter Max Mercy, traveling with Whammer, draws a picture of the event.
Hobbs also encounters Harriet Bird, an alluring woman, 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 rising athletes, having already murdered two others.
Sixteen years later, the New York Knights sign the now 35-year-old Hobbs, 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.
During the next game, “Bump” Bailey’s careless playing results in Hobbs becoming a pinch hitter. Hobbs literally knocks the cover off the baseball, winning the game. When Bump later dies after crashing through an outfield fence, Hobbs becomes the league’s sensation, turning the Knights’ fortunes around.
Hobbs’ success prompts Mercy to try to unearth Hobbs’ background. Later, Hobbs is summoned to a meeting with the principal owner of the team, The Judge. 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. To ensure the team loses, the Judge had a scout stock the roster with unknown players like Hobbs.
When Hobbs refuses a bribe to throw the season, gambler Gus Sands and the Judge sends Memo Paris, Pop’s niece and Bump’s former girlfriend, to trick Hobbs. Mercy finally remembers where he had seen Hobbs before. 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 playing slump.
At Wrigley Field in Chicago, Hobbs comes to bat. A woman dressed in white rises in the stands, and Hobbs, seeing her, promptly hits a game-winning home run. The woman is his childhood sweetheart, Iris. They meet later and Hobbs confides to her about the shooting and how he lost his way in life. Iris tells him she has a 16-year-old son and says the boy’s father lives in New York.
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. During a party at Memo’s, Hobbs collapses and awakens in a hospital a few days later. Without Hobbs, the Knights have lost their last three games, setting up a one-game playoff against the Pittsburgh Pirates for the pennant. The doctor informs Hobbs that his stomach lining has been deteriorating due to his old gunshot injury. If he continues to play, the physical strain could kill him.
The Natural (1984)
Directed by: Barry Levinson
Starring: Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Barbara Hershey, Robert Prosky, Richard Farnsworth
Screenplay by: Roger Towne
Production Design by: Mel Bourne, Angelo P. Graham
Cinematography by: Caleb Deschanel
Film Editing by: Stu Linder, Christopher Holmes
Costume Design by: Gloria Gresham, Bernie Pollack
Set Decoration by: John Sweeney, Bruce Weintraub
Music by: Randy Newman
Distributed by: TriStar Pictures
Release Date: May 11, 1984