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Film / The Natural

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Roy Hobbs: I coulda been better. I coulda broke every record in the book.
Iris Gaines: And then?
Roy Hobbs: And then? And then when I walked down the street people would've looked and they would've said 'There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in this game'.

A 1984 American period sports drama film adapted from Bernard Malamud's 1952 novel of the same name, directed by Barry Levinson and starring Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs, a supernaturally gifted young baseball talent whose career is derailed when he is shot in the gut by a deranged fan (Barbara Hershey). Sixteen years later he makes his belated big league debut, but his dark secret threatens to destroy him.

Also in the cast are Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Robert Prosky, Richard Farnsworth, Joe Don Baker, Michael Madsen, and Darren McGavin.

Notable as the first movie to be produced by TriStar Pictures (but not the first released, that honor having gone to Where the Boys Are '84).

This film provides examples of:

  • The Ace: Roy in his younger days. He develops into a (very downplayed) Broken Ace after the incident that ruined his early career.
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: One that proved very controversial at the time, at least among fans of Bernard Malamud's book. In the novel, Roy accepts the Judge's bribe to throw the game (though he later regrets it and starts playing legitimately, but still strikes out), the Knights lose, and his career ends in defeat and disgrace. In the movie, of course, Roy hits the mammoth Happy Ending homer.
  • Adaptational Heroism: In the novel, Roy eventually accepts a bribe from the Judge and Gus to throw the game, whereas in the film he's too decent and proud a man to do any such thing.
  • Adaptation Personality Change: Memo is a dog-kicking absolute Gold Digger in the book but in the film seems to have some genuine feelings for Roy, being upset when he throws her aside as opposed to her throwing him aside in the book.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: A male version with Roy, who expresses interest in Harriet (until she reveals herself to be a Loony Fan) and pursues a relationship with Memo despite being cautioned against it. The trope is ultimately subverted when he chooses Iris in the end.
  • And Then What?: Both Harriet and Iris pointedly ask Roy at different times what his plan is for after becoming "the best there ever was in this game."
  • Armor-Piercing Question: "Did you ever play ball Max?"
  • Artistic License – Sports: After the starting pitcher falls behind in the count to Roy 2-0, in the last at bat, the opposing manager calls in a different pitcher. Although this is not against the rules, substituting a pitcher in the middle of an at-bat virtually never happens unless the pitcher that started the at-bat is injured. However, it has happened before, especially in important games, when the manager felt the pitcher was too wild, too nervous or both.
  • The Benchwarmer: Roy Hobbs is a talented player who spends a long time warming the bench because manager Pop Fisher resents having to field anyone as old as Roy. He proves himself as soon as a player shortage gives him a chance to.
  • Betty and Veronica: Iris and Memo, one sweet and innocent, one a sexual temptress.
  • Big Game: The National League pennant race comes down to the last day, with the Knights and their rivals facing off in the last game.
  • Blackmail Backfire: The Judge tries to do this to Roy with the photos of the attempted murder-suicide when Roy was a young ballplayer, but, after Roy declines his offer, the Judge in his shock declares that he thought he could rely on Roy's "honor"—which Roy then replies to with "you're about to" before heading back to the field to hit the pennant-winning home run.
  • Bland-Name Product: The Knights are obviously the New York Giantsnote , but with the Arthurian theme.
  • Book Ends: The movie begins with young Roy playing catch with his father in a field on their farm, and ends with adult Roy playing catch with his son in what appears to be the same field.
  • Call-Back:
    • Roy, a young natural talent, strikes out The Whammer early in the film, right after Max calls Whammer the best there ever was. Roy becomes determined to earn that title for himself, and during the climax of the film he is almost struck out by a young pitcher who the radio announcer describes as "a natural", and who will clearly one day become a legend in his own right. The man even looks a little bit like a young Robert Redford.
    • About a third of the way through the film, the Knights' bat boy Bobby Savoy comments that he wishes he had a bat of his own, and Roy agrees to make one with him. After Wonderboy breaks in the climactic game, Bobby loans him the bat he and Roy made — named "Savoy Special" — and Roy sends the next pitch crashing into a lighting tower.
  • Calling Your Shots: Subverted: The Whammer (a Babe Ruth expy) calls his shot in an impromptu showdown with young Roy Hobbs, but goes down on strikes.
  • Career Not Taken: New York Knights manager Pop Fisher is introduced lamenting that he should've taken his mother's advice and become a farmer, instead of the manager of a dead-end, consistently losing team. Before the league pennant game, hero Roy Hobbs overhears this, and reminisces at length to Fisher about having grown up on a farm.
    Fisher: I didn't care nothing about the Series. Win or lose, I would have been satisfied. I'd have walked away from baseball and I'd have bought a farm.
    Roy: Nothing like a farm. Nothing like being around animals, fixing things. There's nothing like being in the field with the corn and the winter wheat. The greenest stuff you ever saw.
    Fisher: You know, my mother told me I ought to be a farmer.
    Roy: My dad wanted me to be a baseball player.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Roy has a nightmare involving the woman who shot him (while in bed with Memo), and jerks awake in fright.
  • The Conspiracy: A bit of exposition reveals that Pop Fisher owes a lot of money to the Judge, and bet his share in the New York Knights franchise against the forgiveness of the debt that the Knights would win the league pennant. The Judge conspires with a bookie and Fisher's own niece to fix the Knights' games so Fisher loses the bet, but Hobbs' talent and personal integrity become the Spanner in the Works.
  • Darkest Hour: Wonderboy is shattered on a foul ball.
  • Dark Is Evil:
    • Harriet Bird is dressed in all black when she shoots Roy.
    • Implied with the Judge, who refuses to light his office. Roy doesn't hold this belief, saying that the only thing he knows about the dark is "you can't see in it."
  • Deadpan Snarker: Roy likes to sneak these into conversation now and then.
    Max: You read my mind.
    Roy: That takes all of three seconds.
  • Demoted to Extra: Roy's agent Sam dies of a heart attack from a ball to the chest when Roy strikes out the Whammer in the book and gives his last money to Roy to get to Chicago while later appearing to him in a dream. In the film, he still sets up the match with the Whammer but has no other role.
  • Destructive Savior: Roy may have saved the Knights and Pop Fisher's career, but he smashes up a hell of a lot of ballpark with his home runs in the process.
  • Disney Villain Death: Of the family-unfriendly variety. Harriet Bird jumps out a high window in a black negligee after shooting Roy. The Judge later shows Roy the gory crime scene photographs in an attempt at blackmailing him to stay out of the league pennant game.
  • Down to the Last Play: Roy's walkoff homer off the lighting tower to win the pennant.
  • Ethereal White Dress: Iris standing in the stands in her white dress, looking angelic as the sun sets behind her (her translucent white hat looks like a halo as the sun shines through it).
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: The Judge and Max are completely baffled by Roy.
  • The Film of the Book: Bernard Malamud's novel is considerably darker in tone (Hobbs becomes an arrogant Jerkass as a result of his sudden fame, whereas he remains a goal-oriented Nice Guy in the movie) and has a Downer Ending in which Roy turns out to be completely useless without the Wonderbat at the end, striking out and is about to be disgraced by Mercy's (highly-inaccurate) report, whereas in the movie, he gets the Knights to the World Series.
  • First Girl Wins: Roy refuses to throw the game and run away with Memo, and the final scene shows him playing catch with his son while Iris watches with a smile.
  • Fisher King: No, not Pop Fisher. Roy — the team goes has he goes. When he's on a hot streak, everyone plays well (and acrobatically, no less!). When he's slumping, everyone gets mired in a slump.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Max is introduced reading a news story about two famous athletes who were both shot with silver bullets. Harriet enters the train-car moments later and begins eyeing Whammer. After Roy strikes out the Whammer on a bet, she switches targets and shoots him instead.
    • The first time we see Roy miss a pitch is at the carnival when Harriet (along with Max and Whammer) comes over to watch his throwing. This foreshadows the slump he goes through later, during his relationship with Memo.
  • Forgotten First Meeting: Max forgets meeting Roy 16 years earlier (though insists he knows him from somewhere), but Roy remembers him well and tries hard to avoid him. When Max figures it out he tries to use it as blackmail.
  • Friend to All Children: Roy goes out of his way to be kind and friendly with every child he meets.
  • Funeral Cut: After Bump Bailey crashes through the outfield wall while chasing a deep fly ball and doesn't get up, it cuts directly to his funeral.
  • Gaussian Girl: A male example for the early scenes where 48-year-old Robert Redford is asked to play a teenager.
  • Give Me a Sword: A baseball bat, this time, when Roy finds himself in need of a bat after Wonderboy shatters on a foul ball. "Go pick me out a winner, Bobby."
  • Going Home Again: Roy Hobbs finishes his lone season of Major League Baseball after hitting a dramatic, pennant-winning homerun to be with his Childhood Sweetheart and son at his family farm.
  • Hero of Another Story: The young pitcher who faces off against Hobbs in the final game, and who nearly strikes Hobbs out, is described by the game's radio announcer in the same terms that Hobbs is described at the beginning of the movie. This pitcher is another "Natural", and its clear that, given time, he'll end up being one of the greatest players in the game, just like Hobbs.
  • His Story Repeats Itself: Memo pulls a gun on Roy during her Villainous Breakdown. She doesn't shoot him, but he's understandably unnerved at the sight (considering what happened to him sixteen years before), and he visibly relaxes after taking it away from her. Then he hangs a lampshade on the parallel by telling her she was right; they have met before.
  • How We Got Here: A subtle example. The film opens with a scene of Roy boarding a train as an adult, then flashes back to his childhood and days as a young, up and coming pitcher. After the incident that ends his career before it even starts, the film cuts to sixteen years later and shows Roy arriving at the Knight's ballpark in the middle of a game, wearing the same clothing as the opening scene.
  • Hypocritical Humor: The Judge berates Roy for turning down his bribe to throw the game by declaring "I thought I could rely on your honor!"
  • I Call It "Vera": "Wonderboy", Roy's bat. And later, Bobby's "Savoy Special".
  • I Coulda Been a Contender!: A main theme. Roy had the makings of a superstar and was only able to show it late in life.
  • Laser-Guided Karma:
    • Gus and the Judge. The Judge loses his share of the team to Pops in the film and gets a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown in the book. Gus also loses a lot of money he bet on Roy (having made a phone call earlier saying to bet "everything), although its implied he makes and loses big bets regularly.
    • Max is making a drawing of Roy striking out, depicting him as the goat — Roy fouls a ball straight back into the press box, glass shards flying everywhere, as if he knew what Max was doing and is sending him a message.
  • Lighter and Softer: The movie has a Happy Ending, unlike the book.
  • Living Legend: Becoming one is Roy's biggest dream in life. He succeeds.
    "There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in this game."
  • Loony Fan: Of the very creepy variety. Harriet Bird turns out to be the briefly-mentioned lunatic responsible for killing star athletes with silver bullets.
    "Are you the best there ever was?"
  • A Master Makes Their Own Tools: At the beginning of the movie, lightning strikes an oak tree outside the family home. Obviously, the thing to do is to turn the wood into a regulation baseball bat and use it to start a career as a professional baseball player.
  • Missing Mom: Roy's mother is never seen or mentioned, which raises some interesting questions about who exactly took care of him after his father's death.
  • Mood Whiplash: Bump Bailey's death occurs during a game where he's playing exceptionally well, and the coaches are congratulating each other on successfully motivating him to play better. Then he crashes through the outfield wall while chasing a ball and it cuts to a radio announcer describing his funeral while his ashes are scattered on the field. The whole thing comes completely out of nowhere.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: The film makes games in which Hobbs plays seem like Ragnarok. Hobbs knocks the cover off of balls, wedges the ball into the net when he pitches, and at the end his home run hit destroys the lighting fixtures, causing explosions of sparks to rain down on the field as he rounds the bases.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • "The Whammer", played by Joe Don Baker, is obviously inspired by Babe Ruth: they look an awful lot alike and the Whammer has a reputation as a tremendous home run hitter (though this is an Informed Attribute courtesy of Roy's right arm).
    • Roy Hobbs is something of a Composite Character inspired by both Ruth and Ted Williams. Both are a tremendous pitcher and a fearsome slugger, much as Ruth was in real life. Williams was also a decent pitcher who was quickly changed to a left fielder while still in the minors, wore the number 9, and hit a home run in his last at bat of his career. Williams also said that he wanted people to see him walking down the street and say "There goes Ted Williams, the best there ever was."
    • Max Mercy was basically "what if Walter Winchell did sports instead of gossip?".
  • Noodle Incident: Baseball players are renowned for being hilariously superstitious. For the Knights, the number 11 is unlucky for some unexplained reason, and their supply manager warns Roy off.
  • Oh, Crap!: When the reliever comes in, Roy gives one — the pitcher is basically himself, 20 years ago. He's obviously thinking that only a natural can defeat a natural.
  • One Season Athlete: Although Roy did play semi-pro ball and was on his way to a tryout with the Chicago Cubs, his time with the New York Knights can be considered as an example of the trope.
    Fisher: Most guys your age, they retire!
  • Paparazzi: Sportswriter (and sports cartoonist) Max Mercy comes off as this, seemingly just as interested in baseball scandals and scoops as in baseball itself, and unknowingly aids and abets The Conspiracy on a number of occasions.
  • Put Me In, Coach!: Knights manager Pop Fisher is initially highly reluctant to let his absurdly old rookie play in a game. He finally relents for batting practice after Hobbs loses his temper at him when Fisher announces he's sending Hobbs down to the Knights' minor league farm team, and Hobbs' talent for long fly balls convinces Fisher to let him try it for real.
  • Redemption Quest: After a terrible mistake and tragedy end his baseball career before it begins, Roy finally makes his way back to the game and hopes to redeem himself before it's too late.
  • Running Gag: "I shoulda been a farmer." Fisher says this whenever he's annoyed.
  • Scary Shiny Glasses: The Judge's dimly-lit office allows him to do this pretty often, better seen when he tries to bribe (and blackmail, just to be sure) Roy to take a dive.
  • Serial Killer: Unfortunately for Roy, his whole life is turned upside down by running into one of these. We never find out why is it that Harriet Bird hunts down great athletes to shoot them dead with silver bullets beyond the obviously implied "she's nuts".
  • Shout-Out:
    • Roy's statement that he wants people on the street to say "There goes Roy Hobbs, the greatest hitter who ever lived" was something Ted Williams stated.
    • The whole plot appears to be heavily influenced by Greek Mythology and Homer's writings. Roy is Odysseus, the hero trying to find his way home. Max Mercy is Vulcan, the God of Fire and Forging; he can "make or break" upcoming ball players and is always seen in red or brown clothing. Pop Fisher is Zeus, King of the Gods; his uniform is #1 and both the oak tree and lightning bolt are his symbols. The Judge is Hades, God of the Underworld; he is always in the dark a.k.a. death, and the dead are "judged" in the underworld. Memo Paris is Kalypso, a sea nymph who had an affair with Odysseus and held/distracted him from returning home. Gus Sands is the Cyclops with the one strange eye. Iris Gaines is Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, who patiently and faithfully waited for her true love to return home. Lampshaded early in the film when Harriet Bird compares Roy striking out the Whammer to something out of Homer. However, Bernard Malamaud explicitly stated it was a King Arthur pastiche.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Iris has a secret.
  • Sore Loser: The Whammer is pretty sore that he got struck out by Roy.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: To keep the Knights from winning their next few games, Memo offers an unsuspecting Roy a bite of drugged food at a party. He ends up ill and has to be rushed to the hospital, where he spends several days recovering.
  • Tempting Fate: When he finally lets Roy have a chance to bat, Pop says "Knock the cover off the ball." Roy proceeds to do exactly that, hitting the baseball so hard that he literally knocks its cover off.
  • Timeshifted Actor: Paul Sullivan Jr. as Young Roy, and Rachel Hall as Young Iris.
  • Throwing the Fight: The Judge wants his own players to throw the climactic game so that he can force out Pop Fisher and take total control of the team.
  • Truth in Television: Players have indeed hit home runs into scoreboard clocks, light arrays, and through the outfield fence. When Greg "The Bull" Luzinski was playing for the Phillies back in the 1970s, he hit a ball off the Jumbotron. It started smoking and they had to turn it off.
  • Unluckily Lucky: The Whammer would have been the one Harriet stalked and shot if not for Roy striking him out.
  • The Vamp: Pop Fisher's niece, Memo Paris, is in cahoots with the conspiracy trying to fix games to take the NY Knights franchise away from Fisher, using her attributes to distract the Knights' top players and cost them games.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story:
    • Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Eddie Waitkus was shot in the chest in his Chicago hotel room by deranged 19-year-old fan Ruth Ann Steinhagen in 1949. Waitkus recovered from his wound and played for six more seasons in the big leagues, starring with the 1950 "Whiz Kids" Philadelphia team that won the National League pennant. Steinhagen was judged insane and committed to a state hospital for three years, then lived in quiet obscurity until her death in 2012.
    • Bump Bailey's penchant for suffering injuries was based on Brooklyn Dodgers outfielder Pete Reiser's propensity for accidents. Bump's fatal crash was based on that suffered by Philadelphia A's catcher "Doc" Powers in 1909. (For the record, Reiser suffered a skull fracture after crashing into a wall as well, but survived.)
  • Villainous Breakdown: Memo pulls a gun on Roy when he tells The Judge that he's not going to throw the game, since it also means that he's refusing to run away with her like she begged him to.
  • Watch Out for That Tree!: How Bump Bailey meets his end, courtesy of an outfield wall.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: To Le Morte d'Arthur, right down to the manager's name being Fisher (Fisher King), the team being called The Knights, Roy's bat being named (as Excalibur was), broken, and "healed" (in this case, a replacement). Except unlike Arthur, in the movie Roy Hobbs wins his final battle and lives to retire in apparent happiness.
  • Wound That Will Not Heal: The bullet in Roy's gut, which is still bleeding nearly 20 years after he got shot.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Max gloats that he'd be happy seeing Roy get crushed but has a story even if he wins.