Envision a film with Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, Peter Falk, and Peter Cook that is absolutely hilarious, yet none of them appear in the lead roles. “Inconceivable!,” you cry and I reply, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.” Yes, indeed, we are talking about The Princess Bride — the wildly successful movie based on the wildly successful book of the same title. Both book and screenplay were written by William Goldman which explains two things; 1) why they match up so well, and 2) why they’re both so very, very good. Fast-paced adventure and laugh-out-loud humor are combined to wonderful effect.
If you’ve read the book–and you should, often–you’ll love the movie for its bits of new business and spectacular cast. Andre the Giant as strong, shy Fezzik; a trim and fit Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya, the world’s greatest swordsman; and Wallace Shawn as the evil genius Vizzini are the villainous trio of kidnappers. Cary Elwes portrays the dashing and amazingly capable Westley, the true love of Robin Wright’s Buttercup. Chris Sarandon oozes royal disdain as the smarmy Prince Humperdinck and Christopher Guest’s Count Rugen is cold and calculating. The movie stands on its own. You can view it, enjoy it, love it and best of all follow it. This is not a screen adaptation that left out crucial details because you should have known these things already or where the producer got slap-happy in the cutting room.
What launches this wonderful vehicle of action, adventure, comedy, true love, and Rodents of Unusual Size? A sports loving boy (Fred Savage), sick in bed, gets a visit from his grandfather (Peter Falk). Grandpa prepares to read a treasured story when he is stopped cold with the question, “Does it have any sports?” Grandpa replies that it’s full of “fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…” and the hook is set. He begins and we are taken into the action with occasional interruptions (most notably when a kissing scene is about to occur) bringing the audience back to the sickroom.
Buttercup lives in Florin and her life makes the Perils of Pauline look sedate. She agrees to a loveless marriage with Prince Humperdinck after receiving word that her true love Westley was killed by The Dread Pirate Roberts on his journey to seek his fortune. Alas for Buttercup, someone wants to incite a war by framing neighboring Guilder with her death. Buttercup is carried off by kidnappers and they are immediately pursued by a mysterious man in black. All this happens less than 10 minutes into the film.
After that the action really picks up with scaling The Cliffs of Insanity, a thrilling sword fight with comic running commentary on technique, a wrestling match with a giant (again with fun commentary), and a fatal contest of wits with the wily criminal mastermind. The man in black reveals himself to be The Dread Pirate Roberts, a.k.a.Westley. The lovers are reunited, but Humperdinck is in hot pursuit. They flee into the Fire Swamp, land of lightning sand, fire spurts and ROUSs (rodents of unusual size). Cliffhanger follows cliffhanger, both thrilling and amusing along the way. Each adventure builds on to another as true love is thwarted, evil triumphs over good, despair wins the day, and everything looks hopeless. Don’t be fooled for one minute! After all, miracles can be bought and the difference between “dead, mostly dead, and all dead” makes all the difference in the world.
Be sure to have the remote handy during viewing. You will need to keep hitting rewind to catch the bits that you missed the first time when you were laughing too hard to hear what followed. And get your snacks and bathroom breaks taken care of before you start because once it gets going you won’t want to stop.
(20th Century Fox, 1987)