- Movie Rating -

The Princess Bride (1987)

| September 25, 1987

Every once in a while you see a movie that you could swear was made just for you.  The Princess Bride, I feel, was made just for me.  It sounds strange but it seems to be the kind of movie that I’ve been waiting for.  One that is emotionally satisfying, wickedly funny and infinitely quotable.  I swear, I haven’t been this dizzy over a romantic comedy since Annie Hall.  

Directed by Rob Reiner from a novel by William Goldman, The Princess Bride is a whip smart fairy tale.  Like his now-legendary mockumentary This is Spinal Tap, which found it’s target in the overblown bravado of heavy metal bands, The Princess Bride targets those ridiculous fantasy epics of the early 80s like Krull and Legend. It contains the lightening quick kinds of dialogue of an Errol Flynn action picture of the 1930s. We get exchanges like this:

Swordsman #1: “You seem a decent fellow, I’d hate to kill you.
Swordsman #2: “You seem a decent fellow, I’d hate to die.

The Princess Bride is framed by a story of a grandfather (Peter Falk) who reads the titular story to his grandson (Fred Savage) who is sick in bed. The grandfather is played by Falk with a sass in his voice and a twinkle in his eye that signals that we’re in for something special.  The grandson is, at first, not so convinced and asks with a gloom: “Is this a kissing book?”

He relays the story of Buttercup (Robin Wright), born on a small farm in the country of Florin who spends her days ordering around Westley the hansom stable boy (Cary Elwes). His vocabulary only consists of the words “As you wish” which he says with a breathless passion (he’s really saying “I love you”, you see). Of course, they can’t be together without some sort of adventure, so she is kidnapped and he is presumed killed at sea. She is rescued later and reunited with Westley – who didn’t die but took up the long standing mantel of The Dread Pirate Roberts, a name that is passed along to the man who defeats or overtakes the previous Dread Pirate or when the former DPR wishes to vanish into retirement.

Buttercup is spellbound by the events that unfold while her true love Westley attempts to rescue her away from three crooks who kidnapped her. They include Vizzini (Wallace Shawm), a loudmouth who relies too heavily on his brain to get him out of trouble (he punctuates his sentences with a rapt “inconceivable!”); Inigo Montoya, a drunken swordsman who has spent the better part of his life looking for The Six-Fingered Man who murdered his father years ago; And Fezzik (Andre the Giant), a sweet-natured brute who lends his muscle to the cause.

Vizzini puts his men to work getting rid of Westley but he is craftier than any of them.  He out-swords the swordsman and out-muscles the muscleman and manages to put a twist on the old switcharoo cup game that leaves Vizzini dying laughing – literally!  Montoya and Fezzik, though defeated by Westley, never-the-less respect him so much that they join in his quest to rescue Buttercup from the snide Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon).  He wants to marry Buttercup, kill her and blame a neighboring country for it, or as he explains it: “I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it. I’m swamped.”

The joy of The Princess Bride is it does not have a busy plot.  The story is strung together in perfect little moments, in running gags and wise-ass dialogue that is cynical but not rude, funny but not obvious.  The characters have a manner of speaking that is not jokey but wells up out of an atmosphere made completely out of genteel characters who speak in a very relaxed way that is funny.

We can see this most especially in a scene after Westley is killed by a life-sucking machine and Inigo and Fezzik take him to the hovel of the wizened Miracle Max (Billy Crystal) who proclaims Westley not to be dead, but only mostly dead.  When Westley’s corpse wheezes the information that the only thing that can save him is True Love, Max denies it which brings his ragged crone of a wife (Carol Kane) out of backroom who proclaims to Max “I’m not a witch I’m your wife!”

The movie is a melding of fanciful fairy tale elements with a sense of humor. It doesn’t skewer the genre, it just doesn’t take it all that seriously. The story is only serious when it is absolutely necessary, in the love story between Buttercup and Westley and the love of Inigo for his late father.

What sets the film apart is the dialogue which exude timeless gems: “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!”; “Have Fun stormin’ the castle!”, and of course “Inconceivable!”. All of the supporting roles are filled with actors who know their parts and give performances that are probably far more than the roles demand. Casting is the key: Billy Crystal as the death-doubting Miracle Max; Mandy Patinkin as the vengeance-seeking drunken swordsman; Wallace Shawn as the brainy criminal Vizzini who punctuates his sentences with “Inconceivable!”; Andre the Giant as the soft-hearted brick Fezzick; Even Mel Smith as the wisecracking Albino who gets a frog in his throat just at the wrong time.

There are elements here that you never forget. This is a movie that includes a shop-talking swordfight, a screaming eel, rodents of unusual size, fire spurts, a holocaust cloak and a machine that literally takes years off your life. It contains sets that look like sets; trees look like rubber; rocks look like paper mache; sky looks all wrong; rooms look like sets and the ocean looks like it is in a tank. In any other movie that would be a fault but since the movie takes place within a storybook, we don’t mind. Like the matte painting in the backgrounds of The Wizard of Oz, it the cardboard look adds to the charm.  Like the Danny Kaye classic, The Court Jester, the movie is a mixture of brilliant comic invention and a tale worth telling.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1987) View IMDB Filed in: Action, Comedy