The Natural is a 1984 film adaptation of Bernard Malamud's 1952 baseball novel of the same name. The film was directed by Barry Levinson and stars Robert Redford. 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.
The Natural 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.
It was the very first movie produced by TriStar Pictures.
At age 19, Hobbs is recruited by the Cubs. On the train to the tryouts, he wins a wager to strike out "The Whammer" (Joe Don Baker), the top hitter in the major leagues. Back on the train, the naive Hobbs is seduced by Harriet Bird (Barbara Hershey), an alluring but sinister woman who gravitates to him after judging that he, rather than The Whammer is now the best baseball player in the world. Bird lures young Hobbs to a hotel room and shoots him.
The story skips forward 16 years. A fictitious and bumbling team called the New York Knights has signed the now 35-year-old Hobbs to a contract, to the ire of the team's gruff manager and co-owner, Pop Fisher (Wilford Brimley). For a time Pop will not allow him to play, but after impressing in batting practice, Hobbs literally knocks the cover off the ball in his first major league game. Hobbs rises to stardom and reverses the Knights' fortunes.
The corrupt principal owner of the Knights, The Judge (Robert Prosky), tries to persuade and bribe Hobbs to fail. A contractual agreement will enable The Judge to gain full ownership from Pop if the team fails to win the pennant. Hobbs refuses to throw any games, but a gambler associate of the judge introduces Hobbs to the beautiful Memo Paris (Kim Basinger). The beginning of their relationship marks the beginning of a decline in Hobbs' baseball performance. He is turned around by a chance encounter in Chicago with his childhood sweetheart, Iris (Glenn Close), but the old bullet wound is aggravated 3 days before the end of the season. Hobbs is sidelined, and the Knights fall from first place, needing to win a one-game playoff to take the pennant.
Roy comes to bat in the bottom of the ninth with, a chance to win the game. Lightning flashes as Hobbs hits a long drive that twists foul, and sees that Wonderboy, his "magical" bat, has shattered. The young bat boy brings Hobbes a bat that they made together. Hobbs hits a towering shot, a pennant-winning home run, which soars into the stadium's lights and starts a chain reaction of sparks that rain down onto the field. The Knights won the pennant. The final scene shows Hobbes playing catch with his son in a sun-dappled wheat field, with Iris proudly standing by.
This is in spite of the fact that Malamud's novel ends with Roy Hobbs striking out, rather than hitting a home run. A young boy later approaches Hobbs, aware of speculation about gambling, and says, "Say it ain't true, Roy," a reference to Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Chicago White Sox throwing the 1919 World Series to gamblers. Roy's response to boy's imperative reads thusly: "When Roy looked into the boy's eyes he wanted to say it wasn't but couldn't, and he lifted his hands to his face and wept many bitter tears." This despondence contrasts sharply with the film's home run victory and familial denouement.
Darren McGavin was cast late in the process as gambler Gus Sands and was uncredited in the film. Another uncredited actor was the radio announcer heard from time to time throughout the picture; Levinson stated on the DVD extras for the 2007 edition that there had been too little time to find a bona fide announcer during post-production, so Levinson himself recorded that part of the audio track (and probably also that of the scout, who appears in just two lines, over the phone).
Many of the baseball scenes were filmed during the summer of 1983 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, with post-production alterations, stood in for Chicago's Wrigley Field in a key scene in the film. Other scenes were filmed in South Dayton, New York.
Roger Ebert fairly savaged it, calling it "idolatry on behalf of Robert Redford." Ebert's television collaborator Gene Siskel praised its themes and acting performances, giving it four stars, and also putting down other critics that he suggested might have just recently read the novel for the first time.
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 a female stalker, paralleling 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.