The Natural (1984)

PG | 137 mins | Drama | 1984

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HISTORY


       Darren McGavin, who played “Gus Sands,” does not receive onscreen credit. A 9 May 1984 LAHExam article explained that McGavin was the last to sign on for the film, and there was no room left for star billing. According to a 5 Jun 1984 DV article, McGavin opted to work for Screen Actors Guild scale pay instead of a larger salary, and no credit, as he was interested in doing the role for artistic reasons and was unsatisfied with the credit and compensation originally offered.
       According to a 21 Mar 1997 LAT news item, the character “Roy Hobbs” was partly based on Eddie Waitkus, a first-baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies who was shot in a Chicago hotel room by Ruth Ann Steinhagen, an obsessed fan, in 1949. Recovered, Waitkus played a full season in 1950 and won “the comeback-player-of-the-year award.”
       According to a 23 May 1984 HR article, Malcolm Kahn and Robert Bean purchased the rights to Bernard Malamud’s novel, The Natural , in 1976. A 5 Oct 1981 DV news item noted that the film was to be a production of Bean-Kahn Films International Inc., with Kahn set to produce and Bean set to direct. Bean and Kahn were described as being “television commercial producers,” according to a 5 Aug 1983 Publisher’s Weekly article.
       As noted in the 23 May 1984 HR article, after Phil Dusenberry wrote the first adaptation, Bean-Kahn hired Roger Towne to write a new draft in 1979. The script was a first-time project for Towne, brother of Academy Award-winning screenwriter Robert Towne. While Dusenberry’s script was more like ... More Less


       Darren McGavin, who played “Gus Sands,” does not receive onscreen credit. A 9 May 1984 LAHExam article explained that McGavin was the last to sign on for the film, and there was no room left for star billing. According to a 5 Jun 1984 DV article, McGavin opted to work for Screen Actors Guild scale pay instead of a larger salary, and no credit, as he was interested in doing the role for artistic reasons and was unsatisfied with the credit and compensation originally offered.
       According to a 21 Mar 1997 LAT news item, the character “Roy Hobbs” was partly based on Eddie Waitkus, a first-baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies who was shot in a Chicago hotel room by Ruth Ann Steinhagen, an obsessed fan, in 1949. Recovered, Waitkus played a full season in 1950 and won “the comeback-player-of-the-year award.”
       According to a 23 May 1984 HR article, Malcolm Kahn and Robert Bean purchased the rights to Bernard Malamud’s novel, The Natural , in 1976. A 5 Oct 1981 DV news item noted that the film was to be a production of Bean-Kahn Films International Inc., with Kahn set to produce and Bean set to direct. Bean and Kahn were described as being “television commercial producers,” according to a 5 Aug 1983 Publisher’s Weekly article.
       As noted in the 23 May 1984 HR article, after Phil Dusenberry wrote the first adaptation, Bean-Kahn hired Roger Towne to write a new draft in 1979. The script was a first-time project for Towne, brother of Academy Award-winning screenwriter Robert Towne. While Dusenberry’s script was more like Malamud’s novel, according to Towne in a 14 Jun 1984 NYT article, Towne’s version presented Roy as more sympathetic, a victim of an outside force rather than his own weaknesses. In both versions of the script, the writers offered a more positive ending than Malamud’s, which had a post-war dreariness supposedly unappealing to a modern audience. The NYT article clarified that Dusenberry and Towne, both credited as writers in the final version of the film, “worked separately and years apart.”
       According to a 23 May 1984 HR article, “nothing became of the project” before Towne’s draft. Following Towne’s involvement, several actors, including Jon Voight, Michael Douglas, Nick Nolte, and Rob Reiner, expressed interest in the project although no one was formally attached. A 6 May 1984 NYT article stated that director Barry Levinson became interested in directing a film version of Malamud’s novel after he finished Diner (1982, see entry), but the film rights were unavailable at the time. Later, Levinson met with Robert Redford to discuss working together, and Redford revealed that he had been interested in The Natural ten years earlier. Redford later sent Levinson Towne’s script, according to a 15 May 1984 LAHExam article.
       A 20 Apr 1983 Var news item announced that Gary Hendler, Redford’s former personal attorney, had become president of Tri-Star, the newly formed production entity owned by Columbia Pictures Industries, HBO, and CBS Inc. Hendler secured the rights to The Natural , which was to be Tri-Star’s first film.
       A 15 May 1984 LAHExam article speculated that the film’s budget was between $19 and $25 million. Redford’s salary was $6 million plus a portion of the film’s gross, according to a 9 May 1984 LAHExam news item.
       Levinson stated in a 6 May 1984 NYT article that he sought actors for the film who could play baseball, or baseball players with acting talent. Infield, outfield and pitching drills were held for anyone auditioning to play athletes.
       Mostly shot in Buffalo, NY, The Natural was the third major film shot there in four years, according to a 9 Aug 1983 Var article. War Memorial Stadium, the location used for Knights Stadium, was the real-life home of the minor league Buffalo Bisons. Production notes at AMPAS Library explain that the stadium’s 1930s architecture made it a perfect choice, although $500,000 in renovations had to be made before shooting. Another Buffalo stadium, All High Stadium, was used as Wrigley Field in Chicago. Several locations found in Buffalo served the film’s look perfectly, as much of the city’s architecture from the 1920s and 1930s remained intact. The Masten Street Armory, located across from the stadium, housed multiple sets and offices. Buffalo’s Central Terminal worked as the train station for Roy’s arrival in Chicago, and the Buffalo Psychiatric Center was used for hospital scenes. Production notes add that the locations for Roy’s family farm and Iris’ neighboring home were found in Stafford, NY, just an hour outside of Buffalo.
              Costume designer Bernie Pollack found the task of designing authentic wool flannel uniforms difficult, according to production notes, as wool flannel was hardly used anymore, and even the baseball caps were a different shape. Recreating costumes from 1918 to 1939 and coordinating clothing for over 3,000 extras, Pollack simplified things by directing extras to wear plain, dark clothes, to which he added 1930s hats for authenticity. The Knights uniforms were created as a blend of the old Giants and Yankees uniforms, with the numbers on the back modeled after the Yankees’ numbers. On the first day of filming, Pollack received the finished uniforms only to find that the color of the caps and stripes on the uniforms was closer to royal blue than navy blue. To correct the mistake, sixteen people used magic markers to darken the blues. Also concerned with authenticity, property master Barry Bedig worked to create 1930s baseball equipment, which included baseballs with red and black stitching, smaller baseball gloves, and larger bats.
       In a 6 May 1984 NYT article, Levinson discussed the difficulty of shooting the baseball-centric film, stating that “because of the baseball scenes and the crowds, we had to shoot so far out of continuity that most people never had any sense of a movie being accomplished.” Attracting extras for the crowd scenes proved difficult as well. A 12 Oct 1983 Var news item reported that the filmmakers had placed a local advertisement seeking 20,000 free extras for the last night of filming, but only 1,800 people attended.
       The 6 May 1984 NYT article also stated that Tri-Star insisted on releasing the film by 11 May 1984 to avoid being overshadowed by any other summer movies; therefore, post-production was rushed. According to the same article, though Malamud was not consulted during production, Levinson felt confident that the finished film captured the essence of the novel.
       The film opened to mixed reviews, and many critics complained of the happy ending, altered from Malamud’s novel. The NYT review complained of the film’s overly sentimental adaptation, “a big-budget commercial entertainment of the kind that is supposed to warm the heart, not shiver the timbers.” LAT ’s Sheila Benson critiqued Redford’s shallow performance, questioning whether Redford’s time off from acting had hindered his abilities. According to a 20 Apr 1983 Var news item, The Natural marked Redford’s first acting role in three years, as the actor had taken time away to direct Ordinary People (1980, see entry), which won four Academy Awards in 1980.
       Despite critical reception, the film achieved box office success, grossing $5,088,381 in its first three days, according to a 15 May 1984 LAHExam article. A 14 Jun 1984 NYT article reported that the film had earned $30 million in its first month of release. According to a 5 Aug 1983 Publisher’s Weekly article, Kahn, Bean, and Malamud were set to receive a portion of the film’s profits.             
       The Natural was nominated for four Academy Awards: Actress in a Supporting Role – Glenn Close; Art Direction; Cinematography; and Music (Original Score). Randy Newman won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition for the film’s score.

       The end credits contain the acknowledgement, “ LIFE title and format used with permission of Time Incorporated.” Also included in the end credits is the following statement: “The filmmakers wish to thank Buffalo Mayor Jimmy Griffin, The New York State Office of Motion Picture and Television Development, and, especially, the People of the City of Buffalo for their generosity and assistance in the making of this motion picture.”


The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Melissa Cleary, a student at Boston University, with Ray Carney as academic advisor.
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
5 Oct 1981.
---
Daily Variety
5 Jun 1984.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 May 1984
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
23 May 1984
p. 6.
LAHExam
9 May 1984.
---
LAHExam
15 May 1984.
---
Los Angeles Times
11 May 1984
p. 1, 14.
Los Angeles Times
21 Mar 1997.
---
New York Times
6 May 1984
p. 1, 17.
New York Times
11 May 1984
p. 15.
New York Times
14 Jun 1984.
---
Publisher's Weekly
5 Aug 1983.
---
Variety
20 Apr 1983.
---
Variety
9 Aug 1983.
---
Variety
12 Oct 1983.
---
Variety
9 May 1984
p. 10.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
and
Richard Farnsworth
as
Co-starring
as
Co-starring
Co-starring
The New York Knights:
Additional Knights:
[and]
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
Addl unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Exec prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Asst cam
Asst cam
Gaffer
Key grip
Still photog
Still photog
Still photog
Lighting equip by
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des, Los Angeles
Prod des, New York
Art dir, Los Angeles
Art dir, New York
FILM EDITORS
Addl ed
Addl ed
Addl ed
Asst ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Asst prop master
Lead man
Lead man
Set dresser
Set dresser
Painter
Const coord, NY
Const coord, LA
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost des for Ms. Close, Ms. Basinger and Ms. Hersh
Cost supv
Cost
MUSIC
Orch
Mus ed
SOUND
Prod sd
Prod sd
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Supv sd ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Asst sd eff ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Make-up artist
Make-up artist
Hair stylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod consultant
Prod consultant
Prod exec
Creative consultant
Casting
Addl casting
Addl casting
Extras casting
Extras casting
Prod accountant
Asst prod mgr
Loc mgr
Loc mgr
Loc mgr
Prod office coord
Asst prod office coord
Pub coord
Asst. to Mr. Levinson and Mr. Johnson
Asst to Mr. Redford
Asst to Mr. Duvall
Transportation coord
Driver capt
Baseball trainer
Baseball trainer
Baseball consultant
Baseball consultant
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Researcher
Furs by
Post prod facilities
Venice, California
Processing by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Natural by Bernard Malamud (New York, 1952).
SONGS
"Star Spangled Banner," performed by Kate Smith, courtesy of RCA Records.
DETAILS
Release Date:
1984
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 11 May 1984
Production Date:
began 1 August 1983
Copyright Claimant:
Tri-Star Pictures
Copyright Date:
21 May 1984
Copyright Number:
PA221855
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo in selected theatres
Color
Lenses/Prints
Lenses and Panaflex® camera by Panavision®; Prints by Technicolor®
Duration(in mins):
137
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
27293
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Roy Hobbs, a middle-aged baseball rookie, thinks back to his childhood, when he fell in love with the game. A young Roy runs through a wheat field, playing catch with his father, who coaches him in pitching and fielding while the young neighbor girl, Iris, watches. One afternoon, Roy’s father suffers a fatal heart attack while chopping wood under a tree. That night, as Roy stares at the tree from his bedroom, lightning strikes and splits the tree through its center. Roy later cuts it down and creates a baseball bat from the timber. He names the bat “Wonderboy” and chisels a lightning bolt on it. Years pass, and Roy, now a young man, visits Iris early one morning to inform her that he is going to try out for the Chicago Cubs. Roy proposes to Iris, promising to send for her, and the two make love in the barn. On the train to Chicago, Roy spots an attractive, well-dressed woman. Also on the train are a baseball star named “The Whammer” and Max Mercy, a sports reporter. The Whammer and Max discuss a newspaper article about a murderer who has shot two athletes with silver bullets. The Whammer brushes the incident aside as Sam Simpson, a talent scout, introduces Roy. Later, the train stops briefly in a town hosting a carnival, and the ballplayers show off by playing carnival games. Sam makes a bet with Max that Roy can strike out The Whammer with only three pitches, and a crowd forms by the train tracks to see the contest. Roy strikes out The Whammer, and the mysterious woman ... +


Roy Hobbs, a middle-aged baseball rookie, thinks back to his childhood, when he fell in love with the game. A young Roy runs through a wheat field, playing catch with his father, who coaches him in pitching and fielding while the young neighbor girl, Iris, watches. One afternoon, Roy’s father suffers a fatal heart attack while chopping wood under a tree. That night, as Roy stares at the tree from his bedroom, lightning strikes and splits the tree through its center. Roy later cuts it down and creates a baseball bat from the timber. He names the bat “Wonderboy” and chisels a lightning bolt on it. Years pass, and Roy, now a young man, visits Iris early one morning to inform her that he is going to try out for the Chicago Cubs. Roy proposes to Iris, promising to send for her, and the two make love in the barn. On the train to Chicago, Roy spots an attractive, well-dressed woman. Also on the train are a baseball star named “The Whammer” and Max Mercy, a sports reporter. The Whammer and Max discuss a newspaper article about a murderer who has shot two athletes with silver bullets. The Whammer brushes the incident aside as Sam Simpson, a talent scout, introduces Roy. Later, the train stops briefly in a town hosting a carnival, and the ballplayers show off by playing carnival games. Sam makes a bet with Max that Roy can strike out The Whammer with only three pitches, and a crowd forms by the train tracks to see the contest. Roy strikes out The Whammer, and the mysterious woman Roy spotted earlier shifts her attention to him. Back on the train, the woman introduces herself as Harriet Bird, and they flirt. When Roy arrives at his hotel, he receives a call from Harriet. Roy visits her room, where he finds the door open and Harriet dressed in all black. As she lowers her veil, Harriet asks Roy if he will be the best player in baseball. After Roy answers “yes,” she shoots him, then vanishes. Sixteen years later, in 1939, a middle-aged Roy arrives at Knights Field in New York. He explains to Pop, the manager, that he is their new right fielder. The Knights are in last place in the league, but Pop is reluctant to take on Roy because of his age. In the locker room, Roy meets some of his teammates, including the overconfident Bump Bailey, the current right fielder. Also present is Max Mercy, who fails to recognize Roy from his contest with The Whammer years ago. Leaving his hotel for dinner, Roy meets Memo, Bump’s girlfriend and Pop’s niece. At a restaurant with Red, the assistant coach, Roy remains vague about his background. Pop later tells Red that he never intends to play Roy. The Knights continue to play poorly, while Roy sits on the bench. When Pop decides to send Roy back to the minor league, Roy argues for a chance to play. Convinced by his passion, Pop tells Roy to prove his talent at the next practice. To everyone’s surprise, Roy hits homerun after homerun during practice. During the next game, Bump ruins a play, and an angry Pop sends Roy to bat in his place, ordering Roy to “knock the cover off the ball.” Roy scores the winning run and actually removes the leather covering from the ball. The baseball community takes notice of Roy, as does “The Judge,” the corrupted owner of the Knights. After a game, the young batboy, Bobby Savoy, admires Roy’s “Wonderboy” bat, and Roy promises to help him make his own. When Pop gives Bump another chance to perform before replacing him with Roy, Bump runs through the stadium wall, in an attempt to make a catch, and dies. The team warms to Roy as he takes Bump’s place, and they even don lightning bolt patches on their uniforms in hope of improvement. With Roy’s help, the team rises in league standings. One afternoon, Red tells Roy that Pop had to sell The Judge ten percent of his shares, making The Judge the majority stockholder of the Knights. However, as part of their deal, if Pop wins the pennant this season, he can buy back the shares, and The Judge will give up his ownership. If the team does not win, Pop must sell his shares and leave. During practice, a teammate asks Roy to pitch to him. When Roy fires a fastball, Max, who watches from the stands, finally remembers him. After a game, The Judge asks to meet with Roy. In his dark office, The Judge offers him more money. However, Roy senses an ulterior motive and leaves. Max tracks down Roy and offers $5,000 for his real story, having recalled Roy’s defeat of The Whammer years ago. Roy remains mum, but accompanies Max to a club where he meets Gus Sands, a bookie who admittedly has been betting against Roy. Suspicious of Gus, Roy leaves with Memo, who had been Gus’s date. At the beach with Memo, Roy continues to withhold information about his background, while she openly confesses to being with Gus only for his money. The two passionately kiss. When they return to the hotel, Pop warns Roy that Memo is bad luck. Roy does not heed the warnings, and, in turn, his game suffers. In Chicago, Iris reads that the Knights are playing the Cubs that day. She attends the game, and Roy seems to sense her presence from the field, but he does not see her when he looks into the crowd. At bat, Roy has the opportunity to score the winning run. After two strikes, Iris, appearing angelic in her white dress, stands up despite angry yells from surrounding fans. Roy then hits a homerun that shatters the stadium clock. In the locker room after the game, Roy receives a note from Iris. The two meet at a luncheonette, and confirm that neither is married. Iris asks what happened to Roy, but he does not respond. Roy begs Iris to attend the game the next day. Later, Roy receives a call from Memo, who read about Iris, “The Lady in White,” in the newspaper. Memo pretends that she is at home missing Roy, but after she hangs up, Gus commends her performance and reminds her to stay in control of her feelings. Led by Roy, the Knights win against the Cubs the following day. After the game, Roy walks with Iris and reveals the truth about the incident with Harriet and subsequent years he spent in the hospital. At Iris’ apartment, Roy spots a baseball and glove, and Iris explains that they belong to her son, whose father lives in New York. Iris and Roy embrace, but she encourages him to leave. A winning streak takes the Knights to the playoffs, then one game away from the pennant in a seven-game series. At a party, Memo acts coolly toward Roy, claiming that he has behaved differently since Chicago. Gus suggests to Roy that he throw upcoming games in exchange for money, but Roy refuses. As the team sings around a piano, Roy collapses. Days later, when Roy regains consciousness in the hospital, the doctor informs him that they removed a silver bullet that has been causing Roy’s stomach lining to deteriorate and advises him not to play baseball, claiming that his stomach could explode at any moment. While Roy has been in the hospital, the Knights have lost three games in a row and must win the next in order to gain the pennant. Memo visits the hospital and begs Roy not to play, promising that Gus will pay them if he skips the game. Roy refuses and sneaks out to practice in the stadium at night. Max is there, photographing Roy from the stands. Roy hits each pitch towards Max with perfect aim, breaking the reporter’s camera. The Judge watches as Roy collapses once again. The Judge then visits Roy at the hospital, blackmailing the athlete with photographs from the crime scene sixteen years ago, and threatening to frame Roy for Harriet’s murder. Roy argues that Harriet committed suicide. Unfazed, The Judge hands Roy an envelope filled with money, trusting that he will either throw the game or skip it. The following day, Iris visits, and Roy laments that he should have foreseen the incident with Harriet. The night of the final game, Roy arrives at The Judge’s office, where he also finds Memo and Gus, and realizes they are all in cahoots. As the men try to negotiate with Roy, who refuses to cooperate, Memo fires a revolver into the floor, crying that she hates him. Arriving at the locker room, Roy convinces Pop to let him play. Feeling weak, Roy strikes out on his first at-bat, while Iris and her son watch from the crowd. Roy realizes that the Knights’ pitcher is throwing the game and calls a time-out, telling the pitcher to play fair. At bat again, Roy strikes out, collapsing as he swings. Iris sends Roy a note explaining that his son is in the stands. Surprised, Roy tries to spot them but cannot. With new determination, Roy approaches the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning. With two men on base, Roy misses two strikes and hits two foul balls, the second breaking his bat. Bobby gives Roy the bat they made together as a replacement. Roy winces in pain at the plate, and the catcher sees spots of blood seeping through his uniform. On the final pitch, Roy hits a homerun that smashes the stadium’s lights, creating fireworks as he runs the bases. The Knights win the pennant. Roy returns to the farm from his childhood with Iris, where he teaches his own son the game of baseball.
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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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