Movie #70: The Princess Bride (1987)

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Director: Rob Reiner

Starring: Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, Fred Savage, Billy Crystal, and Peter Falk

A grandfather (Falk) reads his sick grandson (Savage) a love story that his father had read him, and he had read his grandson’s father.  It is the story of the beautiful Buttercup (Wright) and Westley (Elwes), the farm boy she falls in love with.  Westley leaves to make a fortune so they can get married, but his ship is attacked by pirates and he is presumed dead.  Buttercup agrees to marry Prince Humperdink (Sarandon), though Westley isn’t dead, and has returned to be with her.

Along the way Westley encounters Vizzini (Shawn), Inigo Montoya (Patinkin) and Fezzik the Giant (Andre), a trio that’s been hired by Humperdink to kidnap and kill Buttercup in order for Florin, his kingdom, to go to war with Guilder, a rival country he wants to go to war with.  Through the various obstacles (The Cliffs of Insanity, Screaming Eels, the Fire Swamp), Westley bests the three outlaws and eventually reunites with Butterup, revealing he has overtaken the role of the Dread Pirate Roberts, the leader who attacked Westley’s ship.  They eventually confront Humperdink, and in the end live happily ever after.

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Reiner does a great job of preserving the narrative format of this film, and Falk and Savage work well together as grandfather and grandson.  It’s nice to get small breaks in the story and return to present time and offer commentary from both a child’s and adult’s perspective.  I think this helps keep the story engaging and relatable for both young and older audiences.

The first time I watched this movie from start to finish was probably about 6 or 7 years ago.  It’s one that a lot of people have raved about, and while I knew some of the quotes and had seen bits and pieces, it’s just one I hadn’t taken the time to see all the way through.  It’s one that I haven’t seen enough times to have gotten stale or old, and I think the entertaining and funny antics throughout play a large part in that.

William Goldman, the book and screenplay’s author, said in one of the documentaries on the DVD that he came up with the name The Princess Bride because he asked each of his two daughters what kind of story he should write.  One said a story about a princess, the other a bride.  Funny how something so simple could make for such a fun story.  It’s also nice to enter an alternate reality because it’s done in an entertaining and engaging way.  That has a lot to do with both the script and the director.  The Princess Bride and This is Spinal Tap are probably two of Reiner’s best films, in my opinion.

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Without two strong leads this film wouldn’t work.  Although this was early on in Elwes and Wright’s careers, they work well together.  It’s been interesting to see where each person’s career has gone.  It’s been interesting to see Wright’s resume over the years.  Though she hasn’t necessarily had a whole lot of major roles, she’s been consistent and her performances have been very good.  Though Elwes hasn’t had as consistent or bit of a career as Wright, his performance in The Princess Bride is great because he does well with the youth and somewhat innocent charm of Westley.

 

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“Hello.  My Name is Inigo Monotoya. You killed my father; Prepare to die!” is a quote forever associated with Many Patinkin and this film.  It’s so simple, and yet it is so universally know.  Patinkin does a great job in this film as a troubled Spaniard out for revenge because his father was murdered by a six-fingered man, Count Rugen (Guest).

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Another thing I remember from a documentary is how Goldman was thinking of Andre the Giant when he wrote the character of Fezzik the Giant.  Something a number of the other cast members and crew noted was how Andre loved working on the film because he was treated like one of the guys.  His size didn’t set him apart from the other actors in their eyes.  Though a giant, he was an equal.  He does a great job in this film with some unexpected quick wit to his acting chemistry with Patinkin.  Though a big galoot, he’s got a soft and caring heart.

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Wallace Shawn’s Vizzini is also a fun character.  He fits the mold of that short guy who calls the shots and constantly insists on flaunting his intellectual superiority, largely because it’s the only card he has to play.

This film performed moderately at the box office, but since then has gained a strong cult following.  Goldman noted how the film got its wider audience once the film was released on VHS (and subsequently DVD and Blu-Ray).  Some have said it’s a Wizard of Oz for a new generation.  I can see some validity in that: the fantasy world, the young innocence yet wider appeal.

The Princess Bride has a good balance of appealing to a child’s young fantasy-seeking story while at the same time telling a nice love story.  It’s probably not for everyone, but it’s one I still enjoy watched semi-regularly.  I would recommend this one, and will probably see it again a few more times.  The screenplay, direction, and engage-able acting makes this a story that’s funny and a nice little escape from the real world.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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