"The Natural" by Bernard Malamud, c. 1952. Movie directed by Barry Levinson, 1984. I bring it up partly to follow baseballgirl's lead and do a book talk of sorts, and partly because Albert Pujols did his own Roy Hobbs impersonation last night.
The movie I saw when I was about seven, probably when it was in the theaters. What seven-year-old boy wouldn't like that movie? The book I heard as a book-on-tape, a couple months ago; and I thought it was ... weird. Definitely a lot of what was great about the movie came from the book. But there was also a whole lot of strange crap in the book that left me just sort of puzzled.
NOTE: Stop reading now if you don't want to find out how either the book or the movie ends.
So if you've seen the movie and not the book--here's how they're different:
In the book there's a lot more sex--starting with when he first meets Memo (Kim Basinger's character in the movie). She comes into his hotel room where he's having some weird dream and starts doing it with him, apparently not realizing until it's too late that he's not her boyfriend Bump Bailey. Roy is pretty openly horny throughout the book--he wants to take the ladies' clothes off and get busy. Later, when he starts dating Memo after Bump dies, he's constantly irritated when she won't let him put his hand under her shirt, or whatever. This is just one of the ways in which Roy's character is a bit more unsavory in the book.
As for the woman in white, Iris, in the book she is not his childhood sweetheart, but a woman he meets for the first time at that game where she stands up for him. When he takes her out later, it's clear from their conversation that she is the better woman for him; she's honest, she's open, she's real. It's clear to everyone but him; when he finds out that Iris is a grandmother, he thinks "I don't wanna be romantically linked to a grandma!" Never mind that she's pretty much his age. He doesn't call her back after their first and only date.
As in the movie, Roy is hospitalized after eating something not-quite-right at a pennant-winning "victory party" prematurely held. But in the book, he went along with the party (against the advice of a teammate) because Memo had promised him long-awaited sex afterwards. Also, he ate with insane hunger at the party, making multiple trips to the buffet table loading up on everything, then running off to a diner downstairs and eating six hamburgers ... it was weird. Anyhow, he finally joined Memo in her bedroom for the promised sexual encounter, but then collapsed before he could perform.
And finally, in the book, Roy enters the climactic game planning to throw it, with promises of $35K upfront plus a contract for the next season--Memo has told him that she needs to be provided for, that she likes material things, and so he needs to take the bribe. And his initial failures in that game were on purpose. But in the sixth inning or something, it's grating on Roy, and there's this annoying fan who makes appearances throughout the game yelling at Roy, and Roy starts hitting foul balls at him to shut him up. I guess one of these foul balls then hits Iris in the stands and injures her; at Roy's insistence she's rushed into the clubhouse where he makes sure she's alright he realizes the wrongheadedness of his ways. He goes back out to take his at-bat, and he smashes a titanic homer ... just foul. And "Wonder Boy" splinters on the play. In the book, there is no batboy with a replacement "Savoy Special."
He strikes out to finish off that at bat (I think--or gets out in some other way), and then he comes up again in the ninth. Relief pitcher is in to face him. And, he ... strikes out.
There is this bizarre revenge scene where he goes up to the tower where Memo, the Judge and Gus the bookie are counting their money, and he basically starts whooping ass. Memo pulls a gun on him and then points it at herself, but he pulls it away from her, empties the chamber, and then starts kicking some ass. It's really weird; here he's been so impotent against these people for months, and now he exercises this strange physical revenge. But it's clearly no medicine for what ails him; he goes out into the street and a paper boy is holding a newspaper that breaks a story about Roy accepting a bribe to throw the game. "Say it ain't so, Roy," the paper boy says.
I will say that maybe I would have dug the book more if I had read it instead of heard it on tape, or if I had heard it read by a better narrator. It's funny how much of a difference that can make; you hear "books on tape" and you figure the reader will be neutral and unimportant, but he is as important as the actors in a movie, and the narrator of my particular book-on-tape was definitely over-acting.
But still, when you read the above mess describing the book's plot, how could the movie's revisions NOT be an improvement? I mean, clearly you would have to admit that the movie's ending is a Hollywood ending. And maybe the Iris character is more complicated and real in the book; she's pretty corny in the movie. (Oh yeah, did you notice?--she isn't the mother of his son in the movie. No son.) And maybe Roy's raging fluctuation between impotency and dominance is a great metaphor for his on-field fluctuation w.r.t. performance. I guess I'm still just stunned that he struck out.