Movies That Everyone Should See: “The Princess Bride”

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“The Princess Bride” is a fairy tale.

It’s a story from a storybook, read to a child, by a grandfather. Brought to life and put on the big screen for us to treasure.

It’s a blend of comedy, romance, and adventure, and it gets the recipe just right.

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“The Princess Bride” is an adaptation of a 1973 novel by famed Hollywood screenwriter William Goldman. Goldman has 29 credits as a writer on IMDb. Including this movie, his credits include “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, “Marathon Man”, “All the President’s Men”, “Heat”, and “A Few Good Men,” amongst others. That’s quite a résumé.

The actual roots of this story are in children’s stories – stories he used to tell his daughters. When he asked them what his new book should be about, one of them requested a story about a princess, the other wanted it to be a story about a bride.

“The Princess Bride” was born.

Goldman tried to bring the book to the screen for over a decade, coming close on several occasions. The project was greenlit multiple times, only to face studio closure, studio exec turnover and lack of financial backing. It wasn’t until Rob Reiner approached him seeking out the rights that the project actually happened. Reiner had read the book years earlier, and when his thoughts turned to doing an adaptation for his next project after “The Sure Thing”, “The Princess Bride” was the first book he thought of.

Rob Reiner is undervalued by pop culture as a director, in my opinion. He had a decade long run of MTESS worthy movies in the mid 80s to early 90s, including “This is Spinal Tap” (’84), “Stand by Me” (’86), “The Princess Bride” (’87), “When Harry Met Sally” (’89), “Misery” (’90) and “A Few Good Men” (’92), yet he never seems to get mentioned when the discussions turn to great directors. Certainly, he’s dropped off since, but six classics are more than most directors can boast, and there are any number of directors who get brought up before Reiner who actually have less jewels in their crowns.

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The movie is framed as a story from a storybook. A grandfather (the legendary Peter Falk), is reading the story to his grandson (Fred Savage). At the onset, the boy has little interest. He’s been playing video games… and having his cheek pinching Grandpa read to him is far less appealing. However, as the story progresses, the boy grows more and more attentive.

Like the audience, he falls under the story’s captivating spell.

The story is the tale of a young woman, Buttercup (Robin Wright), and a young man, Westley (Cary Elwes), who fall deeply in love. He is a farm hand on her farm, and for years says nothing to her but “As you wish”. However, every time he looks at her, he gazes at her with utter adoration. Eventually, she becomes smitten with him as well.

In order to provide for their livelihood, Westley sets out to find his way in the world. He is rumored to be killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts while at sea, however, and the news reaches Buttercup. She is despondent.

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Once he is believed lost, Buttercup is selected to marry Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon). It’s not her choice, but she believes Westley dead, so she agrees to the marriage. Before they are wed, however, she’s kidnapped by a trio looking to start a war (it’s a time-honored profession). As the trio make off with her, they’re tracked down by an indefatigable pirate. One by one, he out duels, out wrestles and outsmarts them and relieves them of the captive Princess to be.

Buttercup is irate. The pirate is the Dread Pirate Roberts, the same pirate captain who killed her love so long ago. The “Pirate” however, turns out to be her long-lost love Westley himself. Together, they flee Humperdinck and his men. They traverse the perilous “fire swamp”, only to be captured by the Prince and his men on the other side. The two are split up, with Buttercup being taken back to be married, and Westley taken off to the pit of despair to be tortured and killed.

But true love cannot be defeated. The two cannot be kept apart. Two of the kidnappers Westley defeated, the swordsman (Mandy Patinkin) and the giant (André the Giant), rescue him and take him to a local medicine man (Billy Crystal) to be healed. They then join with Westley in his effort to infiltrate the castle. For the swordsman, revenge awaits. For Westley, his true love. And Fezzik, the giant? Well, Fezzik helps them because it’s the right thing to do.

A storybook ending awaits.

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The production was memorable for the cast and crew in a variety of ways.

Mandy Patinkin claims he was able to imbue his infamous “You killed my father” line with such pathos because his own father was actually deceased by that point in his life. He was actually expressing his own remorse over the loss of his fathers whenever he uttered the line. He and Cary Elwes each learned to fence using either hand for their scenes in the film. They do all the sword fighting in the film themselves, save for the gymnastics flips. Remarkably, the only injury either of them suffered was when Patinkin bruised a rib trying to stifle laughter watching Billy Crystal do his Miracle Max schtick. He shared scenes with Crystal, so he couldn’t follow Reiner’s lead… reportedly, the director couldn’t refrain from laughing, so he would leave the set when Crystal’s was filming his part.

Bill Goldman wrote the character of Fezzik based on the late André the Giant. He had seen him wrestle in Madison Square Garden. André had trouble enunciating his lines clearly, and was also coming off of serious back surgery, making his scenes difficult for him. For a character supposed to be so strong, he actually had difficulties lifting anything. The film had to use a variety of work arounds. But he was happy to participate in the project. His size had always made him a candidate for Hollywood bit parts – he made his acting debut in 1975 as Big Foot on “The Six Million Dollar Man”, and has 12 credits to his name on IMDb - but the role of Fezzik was always his favorite.

Not everyone came away with such pleasant memories. Mel Smith (The Albino) has never watched the movie, due to his painful experience filming the part. He wore coloured contact lenses and was actually allergic to the lens solution used. He was in constant pain and discomfort throughout the shoot. So much so he refuses to relive the memory.

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The dialogue for the film is legendary. Sharp witted and hysterical. It’s an infinitely quotable movie. Who hasn’t said, “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” at one point or another? Or mimicked Wallace Shawn’s squeaky voice and blurted out, “Inconceivable?” or deadpanned “Mawigge!” during a wedding? The script of this movie abounds with witticisms. “Have fun storming the castle!”

The dialogue isn’t the only example of clever writing, of course. The names and locations alone are worth the price of admission. The shrieking eels, the cliffs of insanity, the fire swamp, the lightning sand, the rodents of unusual size, the pit of despair.

But perhaps the best aspect of the script is the way it cleverly subverts genre clichés. The dueling swordsmen actually earn respect for each other and become friends. Even though it’s a dream sequence, the newly crowned Queen is booed as the Queen of Slime for betraying her true love. The hero arrives too late to stop the wedding, and immobile, needing to be carried. One of the main villains turns and runs when finally confronted. The captive princess contemplates suicide.

These are things that Fairy Tales don’t do.

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The movie boasts an abundance of charm. There may not be any sports in it, actually, and it does have kissing, but it’s a story that everyone can get behind. Even little boys. It has action, adventure, romance and humor. In ways, it feels like the classic fairy tales we’ve all been raised on. But then when you least expect it, it will take a clever turn and the result feels completely fresh.

The characters of this movie are indelible. The drunken swordsman, bent on revenge, Inigo Montoya. The lovable giant Fezzik. The smarmy, evil Humperdink. The weaselly Vizzini, the six fingered Count Rugen, Miracle Max and his wife, Valerie. And of course, the two young lovers, Buttercup and Westley.

The film has kidnapping, pirates, sword fights, monsters, storming a castle, and of course, an overwhelming, enduring, true love. And interspersed throughout, is the tender framework of a grandfather spending time with a grandson, reading him a story. It’s a movie full of comedy and adventure, romance and wit.

Though not a huge success upon its release, it’s earned a place of esteem in the collective consciousness. People who love this movie cherish it, and deservedly so.

It’s definitely a “Movie That Everyone Should See.”

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43 thoughts on “Movies That Everyone Should See: “The Princess Bride”

  1. Excellent review. Rob Reiner is indeed a criminally underrated filmmaker, as Stand by Me, Misery, This is Spinal Tap, When Harry Met Sally and The Princess Bride are incredibly good films. I’m utterly biased here, as like yourself I consider The Princess Bride to be one of my favourite movies. Mandy Patinkin became my hero off of this movie and I’ve since followed him through The Music of Chance, Criminal Minds and now the fantastic Showtime series Homeland. Will definitely keep tabs on your blog.

    • Patinkin’s in “Homeland”? Damn, I’m going to HAVE to check that thing out… so many people are raving about it. I watched like 1/4 of the first episode, wasn’t all that impressed, and bailed. I guess its catching on though, people love it.

      Meanwhile, Reiner, yeah… It’s been awhile, I think since his best offerings. But the run he had was incredible. Just a really solid block of filmography.

      Thanks for stopping in Rohan, and yeah, please do check back. We’ll all be here, talkin’ movies. :D

  2. One of my favorite movies of all time. This one has produced so many remember-able quotes it’s not funny. Like a Monty Python film, everyone can come up with some quote from the movie. “Never bet with a Sicilian with death is on the line” “I am not the real Dread Pirate Roberts” “Have fun storming the castle”

    You summed this up real good, keep up the writing Dan.

    • That’s the plan, man, that’s the plan :D

      Glad you like this one too. Its definitely a great one. I had fun rewatching it. It IS completely quotable. So many great lines. Of cours, my favorite is the infamous “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

      He says it like 20 times in the flick, and I never get sick of it.

  3. Dan,
    Another great write up and one I agree with completely on all counts. My favorite quote to repeat is “Have fun storming the castle!”. When I first saw the movie I got upset at Fred Savage for how dismissive he was of his Grandfather, but he plays the kid perfectly and I enjoyed watching his perception and interest in the story evolve as well as thoroughly enjoying the whole movie. This one and This is Spinal Tap are in my home collection, among a whole bunch of older ones that I will never grow tired of watching. This IS a movie everyone should see! Thanks for the great write up!
    Pam

    • Cool, Pam. Thanks for the support.

      Yes, This is Spinal Tap will definitely have its day in the sun here eventually. I try to keep the order completely haphazard.

      But yeah, on the Fred Savage part, I love the part where he’s like “Wait. What? The bad guy WINS? Jesus, Grandpa! What kind of a story are you telling me?” LOL That cracks me up.

  4. The film’s title is a bit misleading. Buttercup doesn’t receive much character development, more a McGuffin than a character, which is unfortunate. As for the romance, it’s only a plot device to get the action rolling–and it makes for a better movie that way. The post’s title is dead on. Everyone should see it.

    • Thanks Oliver, I figured this would be one that people would get behind.

      I hear what you’re saying about Buttercup, but she did have the whole suicide thing, and the dream sequence… so I think she got just as fair a shake as the others did. It’s not exactly “the Godfather” in terms of character development, but hey, few are.

      Meanwhile, fun fact! If you Wikipedia “Character Arc” for good non-Godfather examples, you get Shannon Boone from Lost, Gargoyles the animated series, That 70s show and Xena: Warrior Princess. I kid you not! :D

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Character_arc

  5. This is also a favorite of mine, for the joy of storyline and wit. Although I must mention that I was a latecomer to this movie. In the early 90′s people were discussing this film and I was at a loss, because I hadn’t heard of it. I think I rented a VCR tape and finally watched it. To this day my wife and I joke about all the memorable lines, especially the “prepare to die” quote because my wife fences! My response is “Stop saying that!” I love the “anybody want a peanut” by Andre. Great movie.

    • Tons of fencing lines in this, geez! That entire fight between Westley and Inigo is loaded. “You seem a decent fellow… I hate to kill you” and “Who are you?… No one of consequence.” come to mind.

      But yeah, no one caught this in the theatre really. It was one of those “Found its audience on home video” movies, like The Big Lebowski.

  6. This is my go-to film if I ever feel a little bit low or down about anything. It doesn’t FAIL to put a smile on my face. Well, great big grins! Bloody love it so damn much. In fact reading this has made me want to stick the DVD on.

    I met Cary Elwes last year and he’s still so enthusiastic about the film. Love it!

    Have you read the book? If not, you really HAVE TO!

    • Ohhh, boy. Now I’ve got homework? LOL. Is this a kissing book? Are there any sports in it? :D I’m sure it is a great book. But I read novels so rarely… although I will grant it’s love of film that usually drives me to them. Fight Club, American Psyhcho, No Country for Old Men… but I’ll probably just settle for the movie on this one.

      Isn’t it great when Celebrities are happy with their own work, and enthused about it? I’ve had enough autograph encounters and panel sessions to realize that that’s not always the case. In fact, a lot of times these folks are downright surly about it. Ugh. Who wants that? Glad it went well meeting him! If you swing back, where did you get to meet him? He’s from Britain, isnt he? Has an accent I thought, from watching the DVD special features…

      • The book’s like a fake behind the scenes look at the making of the Princess Bride book/film as well as the book itself along with a bit extra stuck on the end for everyone. It really is an amazing read. If you love the film, the book will just add to the love. It’s not a straight movie-isation. (That’s a word, right?!)

        I’ve had a couple of encounters like that. Awkward and just eh. I met him at a signing event here in London last year. I think at the time he was doing the promo rounds for Saw 3D. I even talked about his couple of episodes of Psych with him and he was happy that somehow was talking about that with him! Just made me fall a bit more in love with him *sigh*

        He was born in England and went to school here but after that he was America bound. It’s why his accent is impeccable! Almost ;)

        Randomly, I’m watching Days of Thunder right now and Cary Elwes is in it doing his best impression of Val Klimer in Top Gun. Heee! I totally forgot he was in it!

  7. I love this movie. For the longest time, my girlfriend claimed she *hated* The Princess Bride, much to the chagrin of our friends. I made her sit down and watch it one more time, and she liked it. Now all is right with the world — I just don’t see how anyone can actively dislike this film.

    Great post!

  8. “Think it’ll work?” “It’d take a miracle.”

    Love this movie, and you can bet it’ll be the topic of one of my own “Favorite Films” posts eventually. It’s got something for just about everyone, and everything about it is just absolutely brilliant. Even the kid. He expresses openly the doubts that any young male would have about seeing a movie entitled “The Princess Bride”, and he gets caught up in it just as surely as the audience did. I don’t think I could pick a favorite part of this… it’s all just too good.

    My junior year of college, I started to take a fencing class. (I had to stop because my asthma decided to come back, and the doctors forbade any strenuous exercise for three weeks. And believe me, moving quickly while holding a foil and wearing a fencing jacket is a lot more work than it looks like.) Early on, the instructor had us sit down and watch the “Chatty Duelists” scene from The Princess Bride. There’s a lot of inaccuracies in it, because like most movie fencing scenes, they’re “Flynning” rather than fencing for real (though they do use the names for actual fencing techniques in the dialogue), but the instructor thought it was a great fencing scene even despite that, as it at least involved actual skill and paid lip service to the notion of technique.

    • Yeah, funny how a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. My martial arts training pretty much undermined a lot of the Karate Kid for me :( I learned that the “Crane Kick” is actually a really easy kick. Although to his credit, its not that easy standing still as he does. Much easier to step into it

      • Yeah… I can overlook it with something like this, partly because I’m not super knowledgeable about fencing (just a little bit), and partly because it manages to be entertaining regardless. Flynning is practically an art form by itself anyway.

        But in a lot of other areas, knowledge on the subject can really make it hard to watch a movie that was clearly done by less-knowledgeable people. I usually have to button my lip on movies involving computers, and my father spends a lot of time ranting at movies that have period-inaccurate firearms.

  9. Indigo “you have a great gift for rhyme.”
    Fezzik “yes, yes some of the time.”
    I’ve endured these puns for years. The Princess Bride is to blame! But wait till you play “Storming the Castle” the card game. There is no end to the madness!

    • Forget fairy-tale princess movies, this movie has lines that stand up to any movies! I mean…. thats some funny shit right there. Love this flick. If I’m remembering correctly, isnt this one of your faves? Or do I have cross Hallsination? I remember arguing with someone who thought it was the best movie ever…. I thought it was you.

  10. a fantastic write up for such a worthy film of the 80′s! man what a great movie!

    (love the banner you put at the end btw)!

    I think I’m gonna watch that movie right now actually!

    • Yeah, on the banner, I’m trying to encourage people to share… but I’ll do my part by making the banners funny and new all the time so that theyre fun and not just “begging”, you know? Thanks for noticing though man, and thanks for the kind words on the review.

  11. “Sonny, true love is the greatest thing, in the world-except for a nice MLT – mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe…they’re so perky, I love that” – Miracle Max (Billy Crystal)

    • Glad you’re having fun catching up sith these Sster. (most nicknames are shortenings, impossible with your handle :))

      I’m going to resume posting new ones this Sunday after the MAJOR Awards are all handed out :D

  12. After being made to watch this last year ( turning it down multiples times after my girlfriend suggested it, as I was sure it would be a chick-flick) I have to say it is now up there on my greatest films list. Funny, witty and fantastically directed. Anyone who does not like this movie does not have a heart (Also Mandy Patinkin plays Saul in Showtime’s Homeland…I was astounded).

    • I’ve heard good things about “Homeland”, I never really gave it a shot though, I’ve been too wrapped up in movies nowadays.

      Glad you finally gave it a shot though, it is a great movie, isn’t it? A lot of fun, and I love the way it subverts the typical fairytale cliches. :D

      Thanks for sharing, Shaun!

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