If Robert Redford is Against You Then You Must be Doing Something Right

I saw the headline, “Joe Biden Gets My Vote in 2020.”  And the byline, “Robert Redford.”  How could I resist?  But save yourself the trouble.  It’s not worth the couple of minutes it takes to read.  It starts off with Redford hearkening back to when he was just a wee lad listening to FDR during WWII.  He heard a voice that combined strength with compassion and a call to unity.  Then he fast forwards to now and disparages President Trump for being divisive.  And then he ends up with an encomium of the FDR-like Joe Biden.  It’s quite a tour de force of nonsense.  FDR’s ability to bring everyone together must have been a real comfort to the Japanese that he interned.  And did FDR ever have J Edgar Hoover planting false evidence against his cabinet officers?  I doubt it.  And the idea of Joe Biden projecting a patrician dignity under any circumstances is not even a joke.  It’s more like a reversal of reality.  The idea that the hair-sniffing, shoulder-rubbing conqueror of Corn Pop could be anything other than a delusional sociopath is ludicrous.

It’s clear that Redford is just writing whatever sounds good in his own head regardless of the absurd divergence from reality.  A couple of sentences will highlight this departure from the real world, “You can see it in the peaceful protests of the past several weeks — Americans of all races and classes coming together to fight against racism. You can see it in the ways that communities are pulling together in the face of this pandemic, even if the White House has left them to fend for themselves.

Peaceful protests?  That might surprise those in the graveyard after the riots put them there.  And the pandemic has certainly given some blue state governors the chance to show how little they care for their constituencies.  Favoring rioters over churchgoers in terms of social distancing rules is just one example of how division is what the Left sows.

Robert Redford stars in two or three movies I really enjoy.  But true to form, he is a dishonest Hollywood nitwit.  If he were on my side, I would start to doubt myself.  But it is a good reminder to read what he has to say about important issues of the day.  Someone who can call the two weeks of rioting “peaceful protests” reveals all you need to know about the delusional nature of his thinking.  And this is right in line with what you’ll hear from the rest of the entertainment industry.  Actors and artists can paint pretty pictures out of thin air and try to convince the feeble-minded that it’s reality they’re providing.  And being delusional maybe they actually believe it themselves.  That’s harder to know.

But one thing I’ll guarantee, for all his talk about peaceful protests, if the mob ever came down his street and headed for his door, Mr. Redford would sell his soul and even his Oscars for a platoon of policemen with automatic weapons.  And if that meant he had to call Donald Trump on the phone and grovel through an apology for all the foul things he’s said about him, Redford would do it in a heartbeat.  After all what’s the good of being an actor if you can’t give the performance that’s needed?

The Natural – A Movie Review

The Natural is about Roy Hobbs, a midwestern farm boy, played by Robert Redford, who can play baseball better than anyone else who ever played the game.  The story is how this phenomenon of a ball player meets his fate and learns that life is more than just success or failure in the arena.

The story is a fairy tale set in the golden age of baseball, the 1920s and 1930s.  Roy lives on the family farm with his father who encourages him to become a baseball player telling Roy that he has a great gift.  In a quick sequence of scenes, his father dies of a heart attack, then lightning strikes the old tree in his front yard and Roy uses the lightning hardened core of the wood to carve out a baseball bat that he inscribes with the name, “Wonder Boy” complete with jagged lightning bolt symbol and finally he has a farewell tryst with his childhood sweetheart Iris (played by Glenn Close) whom he promises to call for and marry once he is established in Chicago.

On his train ride to try out for the Chicago Cubs, Roy meets a famous baseball reporter named Max Mercy (played by Robert Duvall) and Babe Ruth (or a look-alike stand-in for him called the “Whammer”) whom he strikes out on three pitches in a field near where the train is stopped for refueling. He also attracts the attention of a femme fatale named Harriet Bird who was following the Whammer as part of her insane mission to shoot great athletes with silver bullets.  When the train reaches Chicago, Harriet invites Roy to her hotel room where wearing a black veil she asks him if he will be the greatest baseball player of all time.   When he answers yes, she shoots him, then jumps out the window to her death.

Sixteen years later Roy shows up at the home of the Buffalo Knights a last place National League team.  He has been signed to a minimal pay contract to play right field.  We meet the manager Pop Fisher (played by Wilford Brimley) and learn that Pop will lose his share of the team ownership to his dishonest partner, “The Judge” (played by Robert Prosky) unless the Knights win the pennant that year.  At first the old rookie is dismissed by Pop and rides the bench, but finally Roy gets his chance and shows the Knights that he is their ticket to compete for the pennant.  On his first at bat Fisher prophetically tells Hobbs to knock the cover off the ball, and he does just that.  By the time the remnant of the ball is thrown back into the infield it’s just a bunch of thread and Roy is the hero the Knights need to spark them.  He goes on a streak hitting home runs almost at will.  The Knights are inspired by him and they all start wearing a lightning bolt on their sleeves in sympathy with his Wonder Boy logo.  They climb out of the cellar and into contention for the pennant.  Now Fisher’s niece, Memo Paris (played by Kim Basinger) comes on to Roy and introduces him to her “friend,” Gus Sands (played by Darren McGavin wearing some kind of glass eye on his left eye), a professional gambler who uses Memo’s attentions to distract ball players from their play on the field and thereby wins him bets.  Between the two of them they distract Hobbs with a frantic nightlife to the point where his game falls apart and the Knights start sinking in the standings again.

But then fate and the strange magic that surrounds Roy steps in again.  On a road trip to Chicago Iris Gaines shows up at the game.  She’s heard about Roy’s emergence in the Major Leagues and wants to see him.  Unbeknownst to Roy she is sitting in the stands watching the game.  After another disappointing game is almost lost, Roy comes up to bat for the last time and on impulse Iris stands up in front of her seat in the bleachers and somehow, mystically, Roy at the plate senses something and it energizes him.  He hits a colossal home run that smashes the enormous glass face of the centerfield clock.  Looking up into the stands he tries to see her but the glare of the reporters’ flash bulbs blinds him.  But later she gets a note to him and they meet after the game at a coffee shop.  They talk about their lives and how fate separated them.  They are obviously still in love but they seem almost resigned to their separation.  As she’s getting into a cab, he asks her to come to the game.  She says she can’t because she has to work but he tells her again to come.

In this next game he hits four home runs and it’s the beginning of a resurgence for the Knights.  After the game he goes to Iris’s apartment and they talk some more and we find out she has a fifteen-year-old son (whose father lives in New York).  Things remain unresolved and Roy leaves to continue the road trip in Boston.

With Roy back in the swing, the Knights tie for first place but this doesn’t suit the plans of Memo, Gus, the reporter Max Mercy and the Judge.  They are all committed financially to the Knights losing the pennant.  So, Memo invites Roy over to a swank party where various inducements are pitched to convince Roy to throw the pennant race.  He refuses and shortly after Memo feeds Roy some kind of hors d’oeuvre he has a gastric attack and is rushed to the hospital.  He misses the remaining games of the regular season and now the pennant depends on a final playoff game.  While in the hospital the attending doctor tells Roy that the bullet that he was shot with sixteen years ago (a silver bullet) had worked itself loose and was recovered while they pumped the poison out of his stomach.  And the doctor tells him that the lining of his stomach has been seriously degraded and he shouldn’t play ball anymore for fear of a fatal rupture of his stomach.

The same day Memo visits him and pleads for him to skip the playoff game promising that Gus will pay him off for it.  Roy refuses.  Max Mercy threatens Roy with exposing the scandalous details of the murder suicide attempt that Harriet Bird perpetrated on him.  Roy refuses to quit.  That night the Judge shows up and attempts to bribe him with twenty thousand dollars to throw the game.

The next day, before the game, Roy goes to the Judge’s office and in front of Gus and Memo, he throws the money back at the Judge.  Gus calls him a loser and says it won’t matter, that the Knights will lose anyway.  And the Judge reveals that he already has another key player who will ensure that the Knights lose.  Memo grabs a pistol out of the Judge’s desk and fires a round into the floor but before anything else can happen Roy takes the gun from her and throws it away as he leaves.

The game goes poorly because Roy is badly hurt and as it turns out the Knight’s pitcher is secretly throwing the game.  Roy calls time out and confronts the pitcher on the mound and he relents.  But by the end of the eighth inning the Knights are down several runs.  Up in the stands Iris is desperate to help Roy so she sends a message to him letting him know that her son is at the game with her and that Roy is his father.

In the climactic at bat, with men on base and Roy as the potential winning run, the opposing pitcher is replaced with a young phenom from Nebraska and even Wonder Boy is broken in half hitting a foul ball off his incredible speed.  And at last with a full count and everything on the line Roy hits the fast ball down the middle of the plate so hard that it’s seen driving straight through the enormous out field lighting display used for night games.  In fact, once the first light is struck all the rest of the lights explode in an extended chain reaction that continues until well after Roy has rounded the bases to win the game and the pennant.  The last scene of the game shows the home run ball continuing through and past the lights, still rising.  The scene shifts to daylight and a baseball is caught by Iris’s son in a farm field and then he throws it back to Roy.  And Iris is in the dress of a farmer’s wife and they all live happily ever after.

 

The Natural was released in 1984.  That was an amazing year.  Reagan’s re-election was a high-water mark for this country in a lot of ways.  After the hopelessness of the Jimmy Carter presidency there was incredible optimism and enthusiasm by the end of the first Reagan term.  The Natural fit that era.  It could not be made today.  It’s too optimistic and has no moral ambiguity.  The characters are clearly either good or evil.  That would never work today.  Granted, it is also ridiculously sentimental and improbable.  But fairy tales usually are.  The soundtrack by Randy Neuman has some themes that are used during some of the more stirring baseball scenes that are reminiscent of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for The Common Man and are remarkably dramatic.

Tastes, of course, differ.  I could see some people finding the Natural not nuanced enough, almost cartoonish.  It’s true.  It’s a fairy tale.  How can a man slay a tremendous monster?  Impossible.

I like the Natural.  It cheers me up.  Give it a try if fairy tales interest you.

OCF Classic Movie Reviews – The Sting

Can a movie made in 1973 be a classic?  Hell yeah!  The Sting, to my mind, is one of the last identifiable big studio system type movies.  Everything about it exudes quality.  The cinematography, music, actors, sets, sound and script show attention to detail and professionalism.  The only thing that sets it apart from earlier productions is a little profanity that wouldn’t have gotten past the Hayes Code censors of twenty years earlier.

The plot is grifters versus mobsters in 1930s Chicago.  Revenge for a murdered grifter has the two stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford partnering to orchestrate a “big con” against a vicious mobster played by Robert Shaw.  Supporting cast includes Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan and a host of familiar faces.  George Roy Hill directed it and the ragtime music of Scott Joplin suffuses it from beginning to end and reinforces the feeling that you are immersed in an earlier era.  I cannot think of a false note in the whole movie.  Newman is at his best.  Redford is very good and Shaw chews up the scenery with his best Irish gangster characterization.  His mannerisms are fantastic.  One of his best bits has one of his henchmen asking if it’s worthwhile hunting down the grifters who stole such a small amount of his money.  Shaw’s on a golf course and he points to another golfer and says to the hitman, “Ya see that fella?  He and I went to fifth grade together.  If he finds out that a two-bit grifter got away with stealing from me I’m gonna have to have you kill him and every other small timer from here to Atlantic City.  Yafalla (which means do you follow)?

The plot is intricate involving Newman’s crew of con-men, Shaw’s gang, hired hitmen from out of town, local police and even FBI agents after Newman.  There are twists, turns and surprises.  The movie combines comedy, action and some drama in a fast-paced and highly entertaining way.  It’s an homage to the gangster movies of the 1930s that feels like it could have been written by O’Henry or Ring Lardner.  But there’s a modern feel to the pessimistic tone of the ending.  When Newman asks Redford what he’ll do with his cut, he says he doesn’t want it.  “I’d only lose it anyway.”

Give it a try if you’ve never seen it.  Highly recommended.