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Friday Film Review: The Princess Bride


The Princess Bride (1987)
Genre: Fantasy/Fairy Tale/Romance
Grade: A-

“Death can not stop true love.”

“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

I’ve actually been a little scared to write this review. It’s been such a favorite story of mine – both the book which I read yonks ago as a teenager and the movie which I’ve loved for years – and a cult favorite of so many people that I admit the desire to do it justice almost tied me into knots. But finally I pulled out my DVD copy for my 451st watching, made copious notes and took a deep breath before sitting down at my computer. Here goes. Be gentle with me if I don’t quote your favorite line.

Buttercup (Robin Wright Penn) and Wesley (Cary Elwes) have finally admitted their love for each other when Wesley goes off to seek his fortune before they marry. But after he’s reported as having been killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts, Buttercup mourns for five years. At that point, she’s coerced into an engagement with Prince Humperdinck of Florin (Chris Sarandon) whom she doesn’t love.

When Buttercup is kidnapped by three mercenaries Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), Fezzik (Andre the Giant) and Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), a mysterious man in black follows them and defeats each mercenary with swordplay, wrestling skills and superior logic plus some advanced planning. It’s then that the identity of the man in black is revealed – though it’s hard to see why Buttercup didn’t catch on earlier.

But Prince Humperdinck, aided by his trusty six fingered man Count Rugen (Christopher Guest) has a nefarious plan which is only revealed when he catches up with the runaway pair. Now it’ll take all Inigo’s sword skill, Fezzik’s strength, Wesley’s superior intellect and planning skills plus a miracle pill, a holocaust cloak and a wheelbarrow to save the day.

“Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

William Goldman’s book is close to perfection. It’s an amazing adventure, it’s funny, it’s poignant and it rips fairy tales while paying true homage to them. For years it begged to be made into a movie but it took years before Rob Reiner, who also loves the book, took the helm and finally things got underway. Goldman adapted his own book into the script which mostly manages to retain its charm and wit and breathtaking adventure while not getting bogged down in all the details which are okay in a book but not a movie.

The casting is spot on. Elwes has the athleticism and humor plus the physical comedy needed to play Wesley. “This is true love – you think this happens every day?” He’s also damned good looking in an “Errol Flynn with a pencil thin mustache” kind of way. Robin Wright Penn is a good choice to play one of the most beautiful women in the world – after she scrubbed her neck a bit – and displays some gumption as Buttercup though as the titular character in the book/movie I wish Goldman had let her do a bit more than yell for Wesley. Count Rugen describes her as a touch simple and I tend to agree. Sarandon is both handsome and venial and can pout well in the end. I like how he can immediately convey that there’s something not quite right with his character but without giving it all away too soon.

Of the three mercenaries, Mandy Patinkin is my favorite though Andre is running almost neck and neck with him. Their obvious friendship and chemistry is one of the joys of the film. The effort that Patinkin and Elwes put into their sword practicing shows – which is a good thing since they engage in the best sword fight in history and Goldman had taken the time to get all the correct fencing styles mentioned. And when Inigo finally tracks down the man who killed his father and then dispatches him – I cheer madly every time.

“Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father. Prepare to die!”

Christopher Guest is delightfully evil as Rugen, the man with an interest in pain but who is still concerned about his Prince. “Get some rest. If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.” Billy Crystal and Carol Kane are side splitting as Miracle Max – “The King’s stinking son fired me, and thank you so much for bringing up such a painful subject. While you’re at it, why don’t you give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it?” – and his wife Valerie. “Have fun storming the castle!”

Peter Falk and Fred Savage are charming as the grandfather who reads the book to his grandson. This is also a fabulous way to convey information about the story which would have come off as an info dump any other way. “Is this a kissing book?” And look for Peter Cook in a funny bit part as the plummy voiced bishop. “Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam…”

One character who does not work as well for me is Wallace Shawn as Vizzini. Not only does he not look like the Sicilian he’s supposed to be but while everyone else deadpans the humor of the story and makes it work, he forces his lines which then come off as strident or smirky rather than sarcastic and funny. He does have a great exchange with Inigo though. Vizzini: “HE DIDN’T FALL? INCONCEIVABLE.”
Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

There are some cheesy special effects such as the climb up the Cliffs of Insanity, only two R.O.U.S.s in the Fire Swamp and the substitution of the Pit of Despair for the much more intricate Zoo of Death from the book but with only $16 million to spend, they still made it look pretty darn good.

I love that since its release, it’s become a classic that adults and children can both enjoy. It’s a charming, very funny, very witty fable. But it’s also “not just your basic, average, every day, ordinary, run of the mill, ho-hum fairy tale. It’s got “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…” in short, it’s got almost everything and it’s one of my all time favorites. A-

“There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.”

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

26 Comments

  1. Lynne Connolly
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 06:40:03

    Now you’re talking!

  2. Jane Davitt
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 06:41:03

    I remember buddy-reading it when we were about twelve with my best friend and we both thought there really was an original Princess Bride book with the boring bits in for the longest time…years later, we went to see the movie together which brought it full circle.

    Loved book and movie, but probably the book the best.

  3. April Books & Wine
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 07:16:18

    I cannot ever resist reading or commenting on a ‘THE PRINCESS BRIDE’ post. I love that your love of the film shines through this review, although I have to disagree about Wallace Shawn, but that’s fine.

    As far as this review goes, ‘truly you have a dizzying intellect!’

    :-)

  4. Jayne
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 07:36:05

    @April Books & Wine: Thank you! I think that’s one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever gotten about the movie reviews. I love Wallace Shawn in “Clueless” but here, alas no.

  5. Sunita
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 07:47:35

    Jayne, I know you were apprehensive about reviewing such a beloved movie, but you hit it out of the park. Now I just want to spend today watching it over and over.

    I believe I have more than once uttered the words “never get involved in a land war in Asia” while teaching South Asian Politics.

  6. Darlene Marshall
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 08:02:38

    As much as I love the movie, when the novel was first published I’d grab friends and say, “You have to read this! It’s amazing, it’s wonderful, it’s funny and it’s about true love!”

    The movie’s good, but the book’s better. For many years my sig line was “Life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all”–The Princess Bride.

    There are also a few ancillary pieces surrounding the book, such as the letter Goldman sent to his fans explaining why he couldn’t write a sequel (I’ve got my copy somewhere) and the short story “Buttercup’s Baby”.

  7. Lisa J
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 08:27:08

    This is one of my favorite movies. A couple of months ago two people I work with told me they hadn’t seen it, I immediately brought in my copy for them. They’re believers now.

    I bought the e-book when it was available for $2, this reminds me I need to read it.

  8. Caro
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 08:59:39

    @Sunita: First time my father-in-law saw this film was at a family get-together when it was thrown in the player. When Vizzini said that, his reaction was “What?!” which cracked everyone else up.

  9. Caro
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 09:40:48

    I’ve loved this film since I first saw it in the theater when it came out. Went back several more times because it was just too much fun. Funnily enough, I was at the location they used for the castle exterior just a month before and have pictures of the bridge Buttercup rides over as well as the courtyard (they really did just hang a few banners and populate it). It really is that lovely and it’s funny to think the docents were casually saying, “We had a film crew here several months back…” and no one there realizing the filming was for something that would become so beloved.

  10. RowanS
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 11:21:25

    Yeah, Shawn is probably the weakest one. But Vizzini has the BEST death scene ever…

  11. Jayne
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 11:53:50

    @Caro: In the commentary of the DVD edition I have, Reiner says they basically crennelated up the castle so it would look more like a “typical” castle. He also said that the scene in which Inigo is begging for his father to guide his sword was shot beneath a flight pattern into and out of Heathrow and Mandy only had a minute or so between flights for them to shoot each take.

  12. Little Red
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 12:06:24

    I have this movie on DVD but I’ve never watched it. Everybody tells me that I would love it and that it’s right up my alley but I’m scared to watch it and not love it.

  13. Lori
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 12:14:36

    This movie doesn’t get old. My 11 year old watches it now and we both love saying the lines that make us howl.

    I shall forever be in love with Mandy Patinkin.

  14. library addict
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 12:35:21

    This is one of those films I feel I should love, but I find merely okay.

  15. hapax
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 13:42:56

    When I saw this on the screen, I was terrified that the review would not love this movie with the unconditional adoration I hold for it. (Although I agree with everyone, the book was EVEN BETTER).

    My daughter’s fencing coach says that this movie is the best recruitment tool for fencers ever created.

  16. Char
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 14:11:26

    The Princess Bride is my all time favorite movie. I wore out my VHS copy but what makes it’s very dear to my heart is I met my husband with the help of that movie. We met online through a meeting service. On both our profiles it asked what your favorite movie was. We both had the Princess Bride down. He saw it on my profile and sent me a two sentence email. I figure any guy who loved The Princess Bride had to be okay. I emailed him back. Eight days later he drove all the way across the state to meet me. (He was an Airman in the USAF stationed at a base in my state.) Our first date we watched the movie together on my VCR. I was 21, he was 24 and we’ve been together 13 years now.

  17. Jayne
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 14:35:52

    @Char: Okay, that officially choked me up a little. What a great story!

  18. msaggie
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 18:19:56

    Jayne, your review is spot-on, and makes me want to watch it again. I wanted to mention the film score, which I love. I am a great fan of Mark Knopfler, and his score for this movie and Local Hero are so memorable. Even as I was reading your review, the music for The Princess Bride kept going through my head! It really has become a classic movie of our generation. My brother and I attempted to fence with broomsticks calling out “my name is Inigo Montoya..”

  19. sula
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 19:32:27

    “All dead and there’s only one thing you can do.”
    “What’s that?”
    “Go through his pockets and check for loose change.”

    I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve watched this movie. A classic in every sense of the word. :)

  20. JessW
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 19:58:36

    Jayne, thanks for the nice description and review of The Princess Bride, one of my favorite movies. I’ve released many belly laughs while watching Miracle Max and Valerie work on the (mostly) dead Wesley.
    On Oct 2, the NY Film Festival showed The Princess Bride in honor of the 25th anniversary. A talkback was held after the movie. Participants included William Goldman, Rob Reiner, Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Wallace Shawn and Chris Sarandon. I found two red carpet cast interviews on YouTube.
    Entertainment Weekly also did interviews with the cast last year; video available on EW.com.
    Now I have to purchase the 25th anniversary edition DVD for the new extras.
    Spread the Princess Bride love!

  21. Reading Wolf
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 23:03:31

    Billy Crystal is on the David Letterman show right now talking about his character Miracle Max and the recent screening he went to where fans were yelling out the lines. I wish I had been there. I love this movie so much.

  22. Taryn Elliott
    Oct 06, 2012 @ 02:28:43

    *sigh* One of my all time FAVORITE movies. Even have the Inigo shirt with the famous line. My boyfriend used to leave those lines on my voice mail all the time instead of a call me. LOL LOVE, LOVE, LOOOOVE this movie.

    It never gets old.

  23. Pamela Sherwood
    Oct 06, 2012 @ 20:43:28

    One of my favorite films of all times, and one of my favorite memories too. When it first came out, I actually ditched my college Spanish class–something I’d never done before–to slip into Westwood Village one afternoon and see it with one of my closest friends (I think she cut a class as well). We never regretted it.

  24. dri
    Oct 07, 2012 @ 18:49:11

    Oh I love you, Jayne. How can you help but not adore anyone who adores the Princess Bride? :p

    At uni as part of my writing degree, we had to do a semester on screenwriting and had to go away for a weekend camp. The first night our tutor said “Okay, we’re going to watch a movie.” I tensed a bit and thought, “Argh, I hope this isn’t going to be something I’m going to hate and then be forced to make noises as if I liked it.”

    She put on The Princess Bride. I was in heaven. And it was the first time I realised I wasn’t alone in my fierce and abiding love! Hee hee.

    Also, one of those rare films that has a fourth act and still works! :p

  25. pooks
    Oct 07, 2012 @ 20:06:35

    One of my most cherished possessions is a “red-letter” edition–first edition (book club, which makes it far less valuable, but still) of The Princess Bride. If you didn’t read that edition–all the author intrusion/narrator’s voice is printed in red ink.

    That’s the way I read it when I checked it out of the library the first time, and always wanted to own it that way. I found a bargain online and bought it. Still not sure if it should have been as low a price as I paid, but the book club could be the reason why.

  26. Susan/DC
    Oct 08, 2012 @ 20:50:35

    “All Things Considered” on NPR had an interview with Mandy Patinkin on Friday. When the interviewer asked if he ever got tired of people asking him to repeat Inigo Montoya’s lines, he very graciously said “no”, and then repeated them for her.

    If only American policy makers and politicians had followed the advice Sunita quotes.

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