Sheltering in place goes best when there is something to read and something to watch. For Viewers Advisory, it is entertaining to read, but it is essential to watch. Lucky for us, SJPL has a robust collection of online books and movies, and lucky for you someone has taken the time to map out some of the best book-to-movie pairings available.
Hero or Hooligan: the Legendary Roys
Folks, it's only natural to start with the film adaptation on this one. Who here grew up watching The Natural? This question's for you, '80s and '90s kids. Roy Hobbs embodied the epic comeback story. We ran around the bases in our back yard, as imaginary fireworks showered down on us from the imaginary stadium lights that we shattered with our walk-off bomb. Some of us might have even hummed the theme music as we ran our miniature diamonds in slow motion. It's completely fine to admit if that was you. You are not alone. This 1984 movie, for the most part, holds up. It was nominated for four Academy Awards: supporting actress (Glenn Close), cinematography, art-set decoration, original score (Randy Newman). Robert Redford totally got snubbed by the academy and foreign press. But, in this situation it's kinda fitting. Redford plays a mysterious man-of-few-words with no known past who can't possibly be entering the big leagues for the first time at age 35, but apparently is. His teammates are baffled. The skipper is resistant to giving him a chance, mostly because he wasn't consulted on signing Hobbs. It doesn't help that Hobbs exclusively bats with his homemade bat that is inscribed "Wonderboy," making him that much more perplexing and hard to take seriously. But, the whole team stops laughing once they see Hobbs in action. Max Mercy, the reporter who never forgets a face cannot shake the feeling that he's forgotten Hobbs'. And, Kim Basinger makes some of her best crying-faces in this role. I simply cannot recommend this film enough. While there is a unresolved debate regarding whether or not Hobbs actually struck out before his iconic home run, there are some non-errors I did unearth in re-watching this week. For instance, before the 1950s, photographers used to actually be on the field about 10-15 feet from plays. As technology improved, cameras could shoot from farther distances and eventually the photographers were banned from being on the field. So, when you cringe at the gaggle of photogs directly behind the home plate Ump, that part is accurate! Watch The Natural for free at IMDb TV.
Now, for those of you who know Roy Hobbs as the hero, Bernard Malamud's version of this character might be a hard pill to swallow. To be fair, Malamud created Roy Hobbs, so perhaps we should all observe that the real Roy Hobbs is a little less hero and a little more hooligan. I alternated between reading and listening to The Natural on Overdrive last week. Being that 90s kid, it was hard going, but I also couldn't put the thing down! First off, If you are a fan of baseball, this book has it all. Published in 1952 and set sometime before that (no date given), it captures an era in which baseball was America's sport. It captures the dark side of the sports betting world. It captures the superstition, for which no other American sport compares. The baseball is written beautifully in this novel, with the exception of at least two impossibilities that might irritate legit students of the game. I recommend listening to the audiobook, because the narrating is authentic for the setting and time in history. I enjoyed listening to the baseball jargon like, "Wham it down is whammy!" or "Cut his throat with it!" And there's an abundance of the priceless threat, "You'll get yours!" I'm not going to get into the female characters and how disappointing they all are, because that's just not a good use of my time. The bottom line is, the film is so different from the book it's hard to reconcile. While I can't get into the details of all the ways the adaptation differs, just know this: in the book there's no feel-good epilogue of a father and son playing catch in a golden field of wheat. Sorry, '80s and '90s kids.
Rob Roy is another complicated character that through the years has been regarded as both hero and hooligan. The main difference between Roy Hobbs and Robert "Roy" MacGregor is that the latter is actually a historical figure. What historians know of the famous Scotsman was that he lived through two Jackobite uprisings, and was both revered and feared by Highlanders. The historical Rob Roy was a cattle thief and also a contracted cattle thief hunter. Yeah, it's complicated. I opted to read the comic version of Sir Walter Scott's Rob Roy. Frankly, I didn't have it in me to read 400 pages of 19th Century text, but I like to think I will read this at some point in my life. This story is told indirectly through the perspective of a young Englishman named Francis "Frank" Osbaldistone, and portrays Rob Roy in a sympathetic light. Frank learns that his father's estate has been swindled, and McGregor helps Frank track the culprit through the Highlands, narrowly dodging capture by English soldiers. I am no historian, but I've read enough about Scottish, Irish and Welsh history to know that they all had a common enemy in English oppressors. So, it is not hard to sympathize with Rob Roy, in Sir Walter Scott's version. In reading historical accounts of Robert MacGregor, he could have been a real punk. For instance, there are accounts that the MacGregors sold protection to surrounding Highland clans, even the clans who didn't want protection. Sounds like an organized crime family to me. Macgregor eventually found himself in prison in 1722. But, after reading a fictionalized account of MacGregor's life in 1927, King George I pardoned him! Now, that is the power of the pen. Forevermore, Rob Roy will be remembered as the Scottish Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to the Highland's poor. Rob Roy, Issue #118 is available on Hoopla.
Okay, so the adaptation is so good. As was revealed earlier, I am a '90s kid. Rob Roy and Braveheart both came out in 1995. I blame the back-to-back release of those two films for my current Outlander obsession. My point is, I am helpless when it comes to a good underdog story featuring a kilt-wearing Scotsman. And for the record, I always have been Team Rob because Team Will is so mainstream. But, where was I? The title role in Rob Roy is played by Ireland's national treasure, Liam Neeson. Naturally, I assume Neeson leaned right into the MacGregor role because of a shared loathing of English tyrants. His performance speaks for itself. I do not care what The Scotsman, a daily news site based out of Edinburgh, says about Jessica Lange's Scottish accent. I still love her in the role of Mary MacGregor. She is loyal to her man Rob, even when he is duped by an English henchman and loses all their money. She doesn't care if he smells like the rotting cow guts he had to hide inside to survive the night. He is still so fine to her! In re-watching this film, I still love the duel scene. There is quality sword fighting, that seems pretty realistic -- at least to my untrained eye. This is the version of Rob Roy I chose to celebrate. He will always be a hero in my eyes. Thanks, Liam. Watch it on Hoopla.