Saturday, March 10, 2012

Book and Movie – The Princess Bride (1987)

At some point, when people find out we “like movies” all of us are almost immediately asked, “What’s your favorite movie?”  I’ve always found this a little difficult to answer.  The sheer number of movies I’ve seen would make it tough to pick any single one of them.  When asked, it is tempting to go with some critically acclaimed film such as Citizen Kane or The Godfather (both of which are great, but not for everyone).  If I had to pick a single favorite movie that I have watched more than a dozen times, that has been loved by everyone I have watched it with, that is eminently quotable, that can be enjoyed by all ages, and that is completely entertaining from beginning to end, then that movie would be The Princess Bride.

True story:  I was at my dentist’s office about a year ago.  A different hygienist than usual was filling in for my appointment.  She struck up a conversation.  It turned to movies and I got asked the inevitable question.  I responded much like I wrote in the first paragraph.  When I concluded by saying “The Princess Bride”, the woman blurted out, “Oh my God!  I love you!”  She then got a little embarrassed and explained that she and a friend had watched that movie all the time when they were younger and that it was her favorite movie, too.

I actually had read the book a few years before the movie came out.  It was supposedly author William Goldman’s adaptation of a real book that his father had read to him when he was sick.  As he explained, when he tracked down the book as an adult, he found his father had skipped over the boring parts and had just read him the exciting scenes.  Goldman decided to edit down a “good parts” version for the rest of us.  I completely believed all of this.  It wasn’t until many years later that I found out that Goldman had made up the entire story about this book’s origins and that he had written the whole thing himself.  Those of you who have seen the movie will now recognize where the grandfather reading to the sick grandson comes from.

I probably read the book two or three times in the 1980s.  When I heard there was a movie coming out based on the book I was ecstatic.  I went to see it in the theater when it opened and enjoyed myself greatly.  The only two things I was originally disappointed by was the casting of Westley (from the book’s description I had pictured a big, beefy farmboy), and the fact that they skipped the initial romance of Westley and Buttercup.  I quickly got over those things as I watched the movie a couple more times when it came to video.  Eventually, the movie became the “real” story to me and the book is a little bit of a fading memory.

For those who are not familiar with the story in the movie:  A grandson (a pre-Wonder Years Fred Savage) is sick and his grandfather (Peter Falk) comes to visit.  The grandfather brings a book with him titled The Princess Bride and he is going to read it to his grandson to cheer him up.  The grandson isn’t sure he wants to hear it because it sounds like it might be a “kissing book”, but the grandfather persists.  We now see the movie transition into the story from the book.  There are times, though, where the movie breaks back to the grandfather and grandson reacting to the story.

The Princess Bride is a girl named Buttercup and she is played by newcomer Robin Wright.  Her true love Westley is played by Cary Elwes.  He was definitely channeling 1930’s swashbuckler Errol Flynn (The Adventures of Robin Hood), both in looks and in manner.  Westley goes off to seek his fortune so that he and Buttercup can marry, but reports come back that he was killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts.  A few years pass and in despair Buttercup agrees to marry the Prince (Chris Sarandon) instead.

Just before her wedding she is out riding and comes upon three strange men (Wallace Shawn as Vizzini – the brains, Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya – the swordsman, and Andre the Giant as Fezzik – the brawn).  They kidnap her.  While making their escape they notice a ship is chasing them.  They reach The Cliffs of Insanity, which only Fezzik is strong enough to climb, yet a man from the other ship starts to climb after them.  Vizzini sets Inigo Montoya and then Fezzik to stop the man.  Both are defeated, leaving Vezzini to try to deal with him.  He fares no better.  At some point they figure out that this must be the Dread Pirate Roberts that is chasing them and trying to take Buttercup away from them.  Several secrets end up getting revealed, both with the Pirate and with the Prince, who has also been pursuing everyone to get his bride back.

Other characters that we meet are Count Rugen (Christopher Guest), Miracle Max (Billy Crystal), his wife Valerie (Carol Kane), and an impressive clergyman (Peter Cook).  This movie single handedly revived Crystal’s acting career.  Directing this movie was Rob Reiner who was right in the middle of a great run of movies with This is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, and A Few Good Men.  William Goldman, screenwriter for such films as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, and Marathon Man, adapted his own novel for the movie.

I mentioned above that I felt the casting was almost spot on.  When Vezzini, Inigo Montoya, and Fezzik appeared on screen, standing in a line with each of them a foot taller than the next, I think I actually said “yes” out loud because they were perfectly brought to life from the book.  And then when Wallace Shawn verbally got going he was Vezzini.  It would be “inconceivable!” to me for anyone else to have played the role better.  And for anyone not old enough to remember the 70s/80s, Andre the Giant was absolutely the first, last, and best choice to play Fezzik.  Mandy Patinkin was unknown to me at the time, but he completely embodied the character from the book, too, especially during his showdown with Count Rugen.

Rob Reiner took a bit of a risk casting two unknowns for the leading roles of Westley and Buttercup, but he probably could not have picked a better looking young couple to put on screen.  They got a chance to shine in this film and the fact that twenty-five years later both are still working all the time shows that they were far more than just pretty faces.  They played the romance and the drama very well, and they had great comedic timing, too.

When it comes to action in the film, everyone talks about the swordfight at the top of the cliffs.  Even though it is played for some laughs it can stand with the best swordfights in cinema history in terms of swashbuckling, too.  Both Patinkin and Elwes practiced for months, with both hands and both sets of footwork.  Every second of swordplay you see in that scene is the two actors; no stunt doubles were used except for the two gymnastics moves.

Having read the book, this was probably the scene I was anticipating the most because I knew what was coming up with the left hand/right hand thing.  The book spent some time on Inigo Montoya’s back-story, explaining how he had spent twenty years training in every kind of swordfighting there was in order to prepare for the day he finally found the Six Fingered Man who had killed his father.  By the time the book came back to the top of the cliffs you were itching to see what was going to happen.  Well, the same thing occurred in anticipating the movie scene based on what had been in the book.  I’m here to tell you that the movie really delivered.  I couldn’t imagine a more perfect translation of the scene from the book to the one in the movie.

Of course, the scene that affects just about everyone is the later swordfight between Inigo Montoya and the man who killed his father.  I’ve known quite a few people who have teared up over than scene.

There are so many great lines from the film, not the least of which is the one from this scene – “Hello.  My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die.”  I could probably quote this film for five minutes straight and each one would get the reaction “I loved that line” from someone else.

I’ve only ever met one person in my life who hated The Princess Bride, and she is also the only person I’ve ever met who hated Field of Dreams, too, so make of that what you will.  There is absolutely no reason for anyone to skip seeing this movie.  I really don’t have a single bad thing to say about it.  Even the song that plays over the closing credits (“My Love is Like a Storybook Story”) is great.  If you love the movie, then I highly recommend you check out the book, too.

So, if you were to ask me “Chip, what is your favorite film?”, then I would answer “The Princess Bride.”  I give it my highest recommendation.

Chip’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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  1. For me, it's among what I consider to be a rare perfect film. It's got everything you could want in a movie. Romance. Funny one-liners. Great fight scenes. Terrifying suspenseful moments. Heroes to root for. A princess to fall for. Interesting villains to despise and enjoy. All told from by Peter Falk to a young Fred Savage.

    Is there anything else you want in a film like this? Other than a MLT?

  2. @thevoid99 - Yeah, one where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe? Actually, I don't think I'd care for one of those sandwiches, so I guess the movie really does have everything I could want.

  3. It sounds amazing and I can't believe I didn't watch it yet....or maybe I did, when I was younger, and I don't remember it! Hmm...I will get the DVD soon! Great post, I always love people who are passionate about a movie!

  4. Yes, yes, and again yes. I can't think of a single thing I would change in this film. It's a rare film that is just about perfect from start to finish.

  5. @Diana - Thanks. Please do check it out. I really think you'll like it.

    @SJHoneywell - "It's a rare film that is just about perfect from start to finish." I agree. Guess which movie was my first nomination for the 1,001 Movies Blog Club?

  6. This is a great article! Like SJHoneywell I think the film is almost perfect - one of the really rare movies that almost everyone can watch (with only a little editing for young kids even). Even the changes Goldman made from the book were - in some ways - improvements (the patronizing of Buttercup as an example).

    This year is the 25th anniversary of the film, too.

  7. @Princess Bride Quotes - interesting site. Thanks. It hadn't occurred to me about this being the 25th anniversary of the movie, but you are right.

    Another change that was probably for the better was Inigo and Fezzik finding Westley so easily. If they had tried to do what was in the book, the movie would probably have bogged down some (and cost a lot more to shoot).

  8. This is one of those perennial favorites. It's chock-full of quotable lines, and it just never gets old. A true classic.

    I laughed when I read your opening paragraph. Whenever I'm outed as a movie nut, people will inevitably ask what my favorite movie is. I usually freeze up when I get this question, because it's impossible for me to narrow things down to just one title.

  9. @Barry P. - Thanks for sharing. I figured with the number of times it had happened to me then a lot of other movie folks must have experienced the same thing.

  10. I love the dialogue. It's hysterical. "Rest well, dream of large women." "But only slightly LESS well known is this!"

    It's amazing that this film engenders so much love from so many people. It's really a testament to the filmmaking.

    Great review!

  11. @Siochembio - Thanks! "The first is never get involved in a land war in Asia." "I do not envy you the headache you will have when you wake up."

  12. This has definitely convinced me to watch The Princess Bride and I'm really looking forward to it haha

    1. I hope you enjoy it. If you get a chance, please let me know what you think of it.