Oprah Movie Club Baseball Pick #1: The Natural

1984 ultra-sentimental baseball story

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Prospective baseball great Roy Hobbs, led by his penis, winds up shot in the abdomen before making his big league pitching debut. Fifteen years later, he tries to make it back as a slugger while ghosts from the past hurl bean balls at him. Cue Randy Newman music.

I'm surprised this isn't on the blog somewhere because it's one of those movies I've seen a whole bunch of times. I could almost hum it note-for-note. Apparently, I've not seen it in the last however-many-years-I've-wasted-my-life-away-writing-this-movie-blog-that-nobody-reads though.

Anyway, here are my real-time thoughts on this, the first of four Oprah Movie Club baseball picks. Next up, if you're playing along at home, is The Sandlot. The National Anthem's been belted out, the umpire's bellowed a hearty "Play ball," and the increasingly-popular Movies-a-Go-Go is ready to roll.

Oh, I think I had completely forgotten that Randy Newman did the music for this. Now that I think about it, I do remember reading about how “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” was originally written for this movie, but they couldn’t figure out how to animate the Roy Hobb’s baseball bat’s lips for the big musical number so he recycled it for that little Pixar movie.

I wish I had enough time to just stand around enjoying flashbacks of playing catch with my father. This dad’s advice was all about not relying just on your natural abilities. My dad’s advice had more to do with how I should find something other than baseball to do with my time because I “threw like a fucking crippled girl.” His words--not mine.

Note: My father never said that. I should probably make that clear. 

This daddy death scene is the exact reason I’ve never chopped wood. At least in a non-euphemistic way.

Great. First his father dies while chopping wood, and now his favorite tree has been struck by lightning. No wonder he appears to be so pensive.

And there’s that main theme. It makes more sense when Roy Hobbs is circling the bases in slow motion after a dramatic home run. Here, during the making-of-a-baseball-bat-out-of-a-tree-that-was-struck-by-lightning-the-day-your-father-died-while-chopping-wood montage, it’s a little bit ridiculous. You know what I'm talking about, right? That six-note thing? Doo-doo. . .doo-do-do-do. It's what I hummed every time I popped out to the second basemen when I played little league.

Who am I kidding? It still sounds awesome.

Wonderboy? Before burning that into his new bat, he probably should have spent a little more time thinking about that name.

Oh, you’re not hiding anything from me, Levinson. I recognize the look Roy and Iris are giving each other after the proposal as the screen fades to black. She’s about to experience Roy’s other Wonderboy.

“Hang on to the water wagon, old timer.” Why don’t people talk like this anymore?

Roy Hobbs is such a terrific baseball name. It’s simple but effective, the kind of name that you could hear and say, “Yep, baseball hall of famer.”

I think Whammer here is supposed to be based on Babe Ruth, but it’s hard to be sure. I think I need to see a better shot to see if he has little-girl legs are and maybe watch him run. Or maybe drink himself to death.

Shit-kicker? Huckleberry? That’s not very nice, Whammer.

Just how dry was Whammer’s granddaddy’s scalp anyway? I won’t know if Roy’s throwing spitballs or not until I know for sure.

A Joe Don Baker deleted line: “Try striking me out without my hat and after I’ve spit all over my hands, poopy-pusher!” Maybe he should have taken off that vest.

The Whammer’s swing is not very good. That last pitch was a straight fastball, and it looked like he was completely fooled by it. I'm not trying to brag or anything, but I think I could have hit Robert Redford in my prime.

Great, Roy. With that strikeout, you just got yourself murdered.

This conversation about whether Roy Hobbs has read Homer is a great example of two people who don’t have a clue what the other one is talking about. He doesn’t know what a book even is, and she’s not sure if a homer in baseball is a good or bad thing.

By the way, Barbara Hershey's character's got crazy eyes here. I'd probably still be interested, but I'd be on my toes.

Robert Redford’s performance as young Roy is the greatest performance by an older guy playing a kid since Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Ok, it’s not just striking out Whammer that got Harriet's murderous juices flowing and led to attempted murder. One has to blame the fact that he also can't control the little Wonderboy in his pants.

Hold on, readers. There are likely going to be several Wonderboy/penis references in this.

Harriet keeps disappearing. Is she supposed to even be real? What’s she symbolize exactly?

Wilford Brimley, because they didn’t have the technology in the early-80s to have a CGI walrus play the coach.

Here’s a coach--wanting to be a farmer, talking about choking to death, raving about the water fountain, calling his players snakes--who really knows how to inspire confidence.

I love Red. And the Red/Pop combination is really great.

Doctor Dizzy? Sounds like a vertigo specialist.

In my opinion, Major League Baseball should retire the number 9 just like they have 42. Is that politically incorrect?

Bump Bailey’s quote about not wanting to slide because he had a cigar in his pocket is probably based on reality. Players in the 80s didn’t want to slide because they had vials of cocaine in their back pockets.

That's right, Tim Raines. I'm talking about you. 

I’d say any time Roy Hobbs leaves a hotel without an extra hole in him, he should count it as a success.

“Pretty good food, huh? You can’t spell it, but it eats pretty good.” Oh, that Richard Farnsworth.

This Bad News Knights montage is great, punctuated with Red’s “That’s kind of a bad play there” that made me laugh. I love Red! Every team should have one.

Who plays the “Losing is a disease guy”? Losing is like polio? Losing is like cyphillis? The bubonic plague? If I ever coach middle school softball again, I'm quoting this speech verbatim.

Batting practice scene...more slow motion, and I think the chubby bat boy just shat his pants. I love the echos in this scene. Clangs and cracks, cracks and clangs.

Michael Madsen hit a home run and made sure his girlfriend saw it. Hobbs hit and made sure the chubby bat boy saw it.

I'm not going to say this is the result of steroids, but Hobbs is obviously juiced. Ask Jose Canseco because he would know.

Pop is not impressed with the name Wonderboy either.

“Hey, I lost it in the sun.”

This Wilford Brimley shower scene is just as horrifying as the one in Psycho.

Chubby bat boy’s voice is terrible. Obviously, his baseballs haven’t dropped, so to speak.

George Wilkosz played him, and it was his only acting role. They probably needed to find him a hat that fit properly. 

Another deleted line--Iris in the coffee shop listening to guys talking about Hobbs knocking the cover off the ball: “Wonderboy? I was once boinked with Wonderboy!”

The lesson from Bump Bailey’s death is clear: The harder you try at something, you more likely it is to kill you, especially if a wall is involved.

Bump Bailey’s death is really convenient.

“Seems to be a slight mistake--Olson’s hitting the ball.” I love baseball banter.

Robert Redford has a pretty nice swing in this movie. And he still looks like a middle-aged man. And that’s what makes it all so perfect.

I’d love to know what Hobbs’ statistics are for this season.

“Hey, Roy, what’s it take to be a big leaguer?”
“Well, try not to get shot in the abdomen by the first pretty woman you meet on your way to join your big league ball club."

Now Robert Duvall is disappearing!

Judge’s story about the dark…

“A pure canard.”
“What’s a canard?”
“A prevarication.”
You’ve got to know your audience, Judge. This is a guy who didn’t know what a book was earlier.

This movie has a great cast.

Hey, I want to see Kim Basinger’s gorgeous silk pajamas, too!

I want it to be known that I have refrained from making two Wonderboy jokes during these scenes with Kim Basinger. I think that’s a sign of maturity or something.

I’m not sure how they got the light to look like this during this beach scene, but it’s impressive.

Be careful, Roy, or you’re going to get some sand in your Wonderboy.

Kim Basinger is bad luck? The last guy she dated only ran through a wall and killed himself. It's probably a coincidence.

What’s the message about women supposed to be in this movie? It’s almost bizarrely mysogynistic, isn’t it?

Keep playing like this, Roy, and they’ll replace you with Bump.

The Walrus just got booted for arguing a play at third. If only they had instant replay.

Shit! Now Iris disappears at the train station as Roy watches her from his seat! First Harriet, then Duvall, and now Iris?

Quick text-only Harry Carey impression, since they’re at Wrigley: “And here’s Roy Hobbs at the plate. Roy Hobbs’ name backwards would be Sub-bah yor. Budweiser! Holy cow!”

Hobbs isn’t keeping his eye on the ball. That’s the reason for his slump. If I was the Knights hitting coach, I could tell him that. And I'd add that losing is like polio.

No wonder the crowd seems so irritable here. One, they’re rooting for the Cubs. Two, they probably are all coming off experiences using the troughs in the Wrigley restrooms.

Well, you’re going to have to pay for that clock, Roy.

Glenn Close or Kim Basinger?

“What happened to you, Roy?”
“Well, after getting engaged to you, I decided to chase the first piece of tail I saw on the train ride. . .”

I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m pretty sure it would be hard to pick Basinger’s character over Iris. I mean, her name is Memo.

You can keep giving Roy hints that the kid’s his, Iris, but you have to remember something: You’re not dealing with the brightest individual in the world here. You might need to spell this one out for him.

Why would the chubby bat boy have homework? Isn’t it the middle of summer?

“Goodbye, Mr. Spalding!” is a good home run call. I've often dreamed of being a baseball play-by-play guy, and have come up with a few of my own:

"Adios, baseballio!"
"Look out, bleachers! This ball's a-comin' at ya!"
"Wazzle dazzle! That ball skidooed!"
"Get the fuck over that wall, bitch!"

Man, post-win celebrations have apparently gotten less rowdy. I don’t remember seeing this much underwear dancing after modern pennant clinches.

I’m not sure what’s more arousing--the bow on the back of Basinger’s dress of Darren McGavin’s voice.

“You’re standing awful close, Gus. I can’t tell if it’s your toes I’m feeling or mine.” I’m really perplexed by that line.

Clearly, Roy Hobbs doesn’t know the lyrics to “Darktown Strutters Ball” or whatever this song is.

A lot of his on-field heroics have been impressive, but Roy Hobbs becoming the first man to give birth to a silver bullet at Tower Maternity is probably his most impressive feat.

Must have had a snoot full? Umm. What?

That's what she said. 

Of course it was a great party, Roy! It’s not a great party unless you end up nearly dead in a maternity ward.

You’re not going to convince him with money, Memo. You’re going to have to go straight for his Wonderboy.

Wait, does Robert Duvall’s character live at the stadium? Does he live on peanut shells and Crackerjack or something?

It’s unclear to me why Harriet killed herself after shooting Hobbs.

I’m sorry, but it’s a little distracting to have Roy in the maternity ward.

Well, if you can’t be the best at baseball, you can at least be the best at having women attempt to murder you. I'm not sure they keep those statistics on the back of baseball cards though.

I’m not going to argue that this isn’t one of the cheesiest movies ever made if you want to think that, but that “God, I love baseball” line gets me every time.

Apparently “Pick a spot and work at it” and “Confidence and concentration” are pieces of advice that work in any sport. Baseball. Fly-fishing. Thanks, Dad!

Luckily, Memo is a much worse shot than Harriet. She came closer to shooting her own foot than hitting Roy.

Brimley’s got a strange chest hair thing going on in this “Best damn hitter I ever saw” scene. It’s like he has a stuffed animal shoved down the front of his t-shirt.

Note: I now have "Wilford Brimley chest hair" in my Google search history. 

I know I was joking about people disappearing earlier, but I really like how some of the characters are like ghosts in this. They are more shades of something rather than actual somethings. It gives this kind of a haunting quality that adds to the mythos.

That was a nasty pitch by Youngberry to strike out the guy who hit before Hobbs.

I remember I once called time from left field in a little league game in order to confer with the pitcher, and the coach took me out of the game and called me a "little moron." Times have certainly changed.

The Knight with the bat logo isn’t quite as iconic as my team’s birds-on-the-bat, but it’s a good one. Has a minor league team adopted that? If their hat was more interesting, I’d love to have one.

Oh, man! You know what’s going to happen, but you still can’t wait for it to happen. That’s the mark of a great movie scene, isn’t it?

A pitcher change in the middle of an at-bat is a little unorthodox.

Lightning? Really?

Not Wonderboy! Oh, this game is fucking over!

Don’t worry, Hobbs. That’s nothing a little Viagra won’t fix.

“Go pick me out a winner, Bobby.” That one gets me, too.

Savoy Special. It looks like Redford is trying his best not to laugh. Like the chubby bat boy (and countless other young boys who saw this movie and had aspirations of being a big league star), I carved my own bat as a kid. It was misshapen though, and the knob looked like a deformed baby's foot. And I got splinters every time I touched it. I called it The Quality Smacker.

The most amazing thing about this movie, other than Hobbs getting some kind of record for women trying to kill him, is that he used a single bat for almost the entire season.

Kirk Gibson didn’t bleed! And we all know Curt Schilling was faking that bloody sock thing in '04. And that makes Roy Hobbs a greater hero than either of those clowns.

I’m not sure why all the scoreboards are exploding, but still, what a great ending. Randy Newman’s theme, a slow-motion rounding of the bases, the shots of the reactions of all the main characters. What a great movie moment that is.

Wait a second. If that home run ball hit a light in fair territory, it would have to be around a 900-foot blast, right? That's something like 450 Wonderboys!

Other than wanting to know how many home runs Hobbs hit this season, I’d love some statistics on how much financial damage Hobbs caused to stadiums during the season.

This final shot of Roy playing catch with his son is touching and all, but you know the kid’s going to have to see his father die the first time he tries to chop lumber. And that makes it bittersweet.


Anonymous said...

all i read of your review was accusations against tim raines. i'm offended.

Barry said...

One of my friends absolutely loves this movie (I like it too.) His theory is the last scene, with the game of catch, is heaven. Hobbs dies on the run around the bases. The last scene never really worked for me, until he mentioned this.

Anyway..a 19 from me. Great damn motion picture.

Shane said...

I believe you're the one who shared that story about Raines, Anonymous.

Barry, as you probably know, I'm a sucker for theories like that. Similar ideas have crossed my mind. I think I would buy that but ONLY if the entire thing is Hobbs in heaven or some sort of lucid dreaming sequence in his hospital room as he perishes. Maybe. Maybe I wouldn't like it as much then.