The Princess Bride – 1987
Director Rob Reiner
Starring Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, André the Giant, Christopher Guest, Fred Savage, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, Mel Smith, Peter Cook, Peter Falk
Screenplay William Goldman
There may be no more perfect story told for the benefit of an entire family than The Princess Bride. Cleverly, it disguises itself as something we would likely not care for by its narrator. Giving one the chance to jump early, and then giving us only “the good parts” to watch throughout, we are given a precious jewel of a story which boils the romantic story down to its wonderful essence: love. If there is a more honest story meant for all ages, Lord knows we haven’t seen it by now.
Starting out with a little boy (Savage) alone, sick in bed, playing video games. What he is employing unsuccessfully to fight his boredom will change throughout time. What works as a cure to his boredom should work for all time. His grandfather (Falk) arrives, gift in hand, and the boy rolls his eyes. A book. It might just as well be clothing, for as boring as it seems. The old man reels him in and we’re all the better for it.
The book Grandpa reads is the story of Wesley (Elwes) and Buttercup (Wright), two beautiful people who don’t have enough to get money. The rub is that they really do have what it takes, in the uttering of a simple phrase: “As you wish.” Life tells us that marriage requires security as well as love, so off Wesley goes to get married. Something happens on the way to paradise, and the next thing we know, Buttercup is betrothed to Prince Humperdinck (Sarandon). If that is not enough of a challenge, the now Princess Buttercup is kidnapped by a criminal genius (Vizzini) and two remarkable henchmen. Inigo (Patinkin) is a remarkable sword fighter. Fezzig is played by a literal giant.
On their way across the border in pursuit of a foolproof plan to do away with the princess and start a convenient war, the kidnappers find that they are not alone. Indeed, they are being followed…inconceivable!
Part of the genius of The Princess Bride is that the style of the film matches the tone set forth by the narration. It skips the sap, pushes the action forward like a male would estimate things happened and the love is the kind that stares right into your soul, bravely and passionately. If you need proof, just look at how intensely Buttercup stares into Wesley’s eyes. It’s more serious than any of the action scenes, by design.
Every character is memorable and has at least one signature moment.
- Everyone know’s Inigo’s moment.
- Wesley has his “As you wish.”
- Buttercup falls ungracefully down the hill after her love.
- Vizzini: ‘Inconceivable!”
- Miracle Max’s speech upon opening the door.
- Valerie (his wife): “Liar! Liarrrrr!!!!”
- Max: “Have fun storming the castle!”
- Fezzig: “I’m on the Brute Squad.” and “Anybody want a peanut?”
- Count Rugen (Guest) running away when obviously outmatched.
- Humperdink: “I’m swamped.”
The special effects look like they are thought up by genius underfunded college students and likely fake, but still achievable by human beings. The movie dialogue is spoken with distinguished accents that are ludicrous, absurd and hard to make out. Even so, you hang on every word. These people are odd and ridiculous, but they are perfect in for this world as it is presented.
Robin Wright is an incredible actress. She gives more with fewer words than most actors could with a soliloquy written by Shakespeare. That her career is not littered with Oscar nominations or blockbusters does not diminish from what she has accomplished. In fact, if she had made no more films than just this one, she would still be on the short list of best actresses. She provides the serious ballast to counter the goofiness that surrounds her. She is the epitome of an idealized view of a heroine, presented by the grandfather to his grandson. This is the kind of woman adventure seekers picture in their stories. Wright knows this and she nails the character.
Wesley, as presented, is the perfect counter to our heroine. He bends where she stays focused. His goal is all he lives for, but unlike his pessimistic love, his goal is never out of reach, even when he is MOSTLY dead. That he has reached such proficient levels in every aspect of swashbuckling reflects once more how optimistic the narrator is about life. He knows the power of love and it gives him everything else he would need. Elwes is that once in a lifetime actor whose style could fit in any era, and this gives the film as much a sense of timelessness as any other cause. His sense of comic timing exceeds his charm and physical prowess. This is something that would be more formally employed Mel Brooks half-baked Robin Hood farce years later.
Patinkin is a multi-talented jewel of a performer. His work here is understated and would have been the best thing about any other film. Upon hearding Vizzini’s constant exclamation of the word “Inconceivable!” he states, honestly and humbly:
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
The passion that Patinkin feels for his cause is played brilliantly, and without irony. He has stated several times since that he was channeling the pain he felt over losing his own father. His story alone provides enough grist for a good movie. That it is somehow relegated to a subplot shows the depth of the story. Even better, his work with André The Giant shows a longstanding relationship that seemingly exists off-screen. Their rapport is easy and filled with loving kindness and the type of brutality that can only be achieved with complete comfort. The way Fezzig pulls Montoya out of his stupor is inelegant and delightfully lacking in heroism.
What does The Princess Bride mean to people? It became a family tradition in our family. My wife and I were teenagers when it came out. Only I saw it in the theater. First viewing told us it was special, but with each successive viewing something else would stand out. Many lines have been quoted, trying to emulate the characters out of pure adulation. Every viewing sets the tone for the day. And it’s a wonderful tone. Reiner is one of the best directors of the last 50 years. Even now, he puts out quality material in the most economical way. Most importantly, he tells a wonderful story each time out while rarely treading over the same territory.
Having never seen this as a child, it’s tough to evaluate this story from their perspective. To get this, Em and El were brought in as ringers.
What is your favorite part of the film?
Em: I am going to have to say when he tied Prince Humperdinck in his bedroom and he (Wesley) got up and almost fell.
El: My favorite part is when Inigo beat the guy who killed his father.
What is the scariest part of the story?
Em: The part where Wesley almost chops off Inigo Montoya’s head off.
That was scary to you? I did not think it was scary at all.
Em: The first time I watched it I thought the guy was going to die.
El: When the small guy with the bald head was threatening to kill Buttercup. He put the knife up to her neck?
But you know she wasn’t going to die, right?
El: Yeah, but it was intense, because she could have died.
You think that they would have killed her at the beginning of the movie?
El: Well, I thought…but now I don’t.
Who is your favorite character?
Em: Either Wesley, the King or Inigo.
El: The Giant, Fezzig.
What is your favorite line?
Em: When she (Buttercup) says “I will be killing myself…” and then the King says “Won’t that be nice…she kissed me!”
What does “As you wish” mean to you?
Em: I will do as you said?
Em: Because I never heard it used in the way of “I love you.”
Doesn’t it make sense that it means I love you?
Em: Kind of because he kept saying it over and over and never said anything else to her.
El: That means, okay, I’ll do that right away! (She laughs)
You don’t think that it means something else? (She laughs louder)
El: Well he said it in the movie. But then they said that he actually meant, “I love you.”