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A mountain man who wishes to live the life of a hermit becomes the unwilling object of a long vendetta by Indians, and proves to be a match for their warriors in one-on-one combat on the early frontier.
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. Written by
Keith Loh <firstname.lastname@example.org>
As a writer, I am often compelled to read the books on which my favorite movies are based. Since its original release, I have loved The Natural as one of my favorite movies of all time, but it was only recently that I read Bernard Malamud's novel on which the movie was based. I cannot tell you how disappointed I was.
Malamud was a great writer, and was best known for winning a Pulitzer and the National Book award for The Fixer. His award winning work usually dealt with themes closer to his own heart, and Malamud didn't seem to "get" baseball in this book. Either that, or he had some axe to grind about baseball, and wanted us to hate it and all the people involved in it.
The Natural was Malamud's first novel and, as such, it suffers from shallow, simplistic characters, a muddy, at times almost unintelligible plot, and poorly attenuated subplots that almost seem like afterthoughts or clumsy devices slathered on to shore up weak story objectives. He does, however, have a historical understanding of baseball, and most of the events related to baseball in this story are composites of everything from the Black Sox to Babe Ruth to Christie Matheson and a string of other legends.
The main character, Roy Hobbs, is almost certainly based on the real life character Eddie Waitkus, and Malamud does little to imbue him with likable traits that would deepen him as a literary character. He even throws in a little Joe Jackson to compromise the character even further. The fact that he is called "Roy" is an obvious allusion to Sir Thomas Malory's 15th century opus "Le Morte D'Arthur." (Recall that "roi" is French for "king.") Why Malamud chose this story as a model is a mystery, since although he goes to great lengths to reinforce the Aurthurian connection (the baseball team is called the "Knights", the bat, "Wonderboy" is obviously "Excalibur"), he creates little of the Arthurian heroism in Roy Hobbes, or, for that matter, the sport of baseball as an allegory for the jousting of Chivalric heroes.
The character of The Whammer, played in the movie beautifully, if all too briefly, by Joe Don Baker, is more Ruth than Ruth, but he's gone in a flash, leaving yet another heroic void in the original story. And the women in The Natural are shallow, conniving and cheap and I have never been able to understand Malamud's literary allusions with regard to Morgan LeFave and Guinnevere, the women in Arthur's life. The Bad Guys in the book are ALL Bad, everyone else is mostly neutral, and there isn't any real good, or anything uplifting or affirming or positive in the whole thing.
Thank god for the movie. Barry Levinson's direction is gilded and glowing, and the whole film has a luminous aura that seems magical and enchanted and, compared to the wooden novel from which it came, a satisfying recast of the Arthurian legend. The screenplay was done by Roger Towne, who recently gave us The Recruit, and the changes he made to the story make all the difference in the world; less literary, perhaps, but more beautiful and elegant and not nearly so cynical and pessimistic. Compared to the Levinson/Johnson magic, the novel is almost amateurish, and recalls Ayn Rand's facile characters and stories, didactic and pedantic, and almost completely obscuring the Arthurian magic that Levinson coaxes from the story.
Once, when I had the chance to mention personally to Mark Johnson how beautiful The Natural was, he responded with a sincere modesty that fit the innocent tone of the movie, and he even gave me a keepsake from the film that I have to this day as a reminder of just how amazing an achievement this movie was, coming from so flawed a novel.
This was the first movie in which I loved Redford. He was older and deeper as an actor, and this was the beginning of his real golden age. Glenn Close was delightfully virginal and beautiful as a character almost completely created by the screenwriter, not the novelist. Kim Basinger is gorgeous and dangerous as the femme fatal, a portrayal that she would echo in her Oscar winning turn in L.A. Confidential.
Randy Newman's brilliant score was recycled a dozen times in subsequent movies, but none captured the beauty and nostalgia of The Natural. There are only a handful of movies so magnificently driven by their score, and The Natural remains Newman's best and most satisfying work.
In short, this is the best baseball movie ever. Whereas Malamud wanted to show baseball as jaundiced and commercial, Towne's screenplay shows us the baseball we loved as kids, and more. Malamud's dark and wholly unsatisfying ending is also rewritten, and if you find the final scene a little sweet, ask yourself if you really wanted to see the dismal finale that Malamud supplied.
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