At the climax of baseball season, Laemmle Theatres and the Anniversary Classics Series present a screening of the film regarded as one of the greatest of all baseball movies, Barry Levinson’s THE NATURAL.
Adapted from the acclaimed 1952 novel by Bernard Malamud, the film earned four Academy Award nominations in 1984: Best Supporting Actress Glenn Close, Best Cinematography Caleb Deschanel, Best Musical Score Randy Newman and Best Art Direction.
The beautiful, impeccably designed recreation of an earlier era in American sports history also scored at the box office. Robert Redford plays the title character, and the all-star cast also includes Robert Duvall, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Barbara Hershey, Richard Farnsworth, and Joe Don Baker.
Malamud’s story, adapted for the screen by Roger Towne and Phil Dusenberry, tells the story of a young baseball prodigy named Roy Hobbs (Redford) who travels from his bucolic Midwestern home to try out for the Chicago Cubs. On his journey he is assaulted by a mysterious woman, and disappears for some 15 years. When he reappears and tries out for a New York team, the owners and manager are skeptical that a middle-aged man can ever succeed in the majors. But Roy’s skills as a slugger silence the skeptics and encourage the owners to give him a shot. His rise to the top is complicated by his romance with a rather shady woman (Basinger) and by the reappearance of his childhood sweetheart (Close), who has a surprise revelation that disorients Roy.
In addition to the rousing baseball scenes and the poignant personal story, the film captivates as a lush evocation of a more innocent American past. Cinematographer Deschanel, who had made his mark with his work on Carroll Ballard’s ‘The Black Stallion’ and Philip Kaufman’s ‘The Right Stuff,’ made a major contribution in bringing the era to life. Levinson also made an unconventional choice in selecting new composer Randy Newman to create the rousing symphonic score.
Although the filmmakers altered the dark ending of Malamud’s novel, they retained his piercing insights into some of the contradictions of the American character. The film earned mixed reviews at the time, but its reputation has grown. James Berardinelli of ReelViews called THE NATURAL “arguably the best baseball movie ever made,” and ESPN also called it one of the best sports movies of all time. On its original release Gene Siskel declared, “Redford scores in an uplifting celebration of the individual.”
Deschanel has earned six Oscar nominations over the course of his career. In addition to nominations for THE NATURAL and ‘The Right Stuff,’ he was cited for his work on Mel Gibson’s blockbuster, ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ and for ‘The Patriot,’ ‘Fly Away Home,’ and last year’s Oscar nominee for best foreign language film, ‘Never Look Away.’ This year Deschanel shot Disney’s smash-hit live-action version of ‘The Lion King.’
Our 35th anniversary presentation of THE NATURAL (1984) and Q&A with cinematographer Caleb Deschanel and screenwriter Roger Towne screens Thursday, October 24, at 7PM at the Royal in West LA. Click here for tickets.