Director: Rob Reiner
Writer: William Goldman (Book and Screenplay)
Starring: Robin Wright, Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Andre the Giant, Peter Falk, Chris Sarandon
Release Date: October 9th, 1987
Runtime: 1 hr. 38 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG
Released the year I graduated from high school, twenty-seven years ago, I didn’t actually see The Princess Bride until it came out on VHS; however, from the first time I saw it, it became one of my go-to movies, one of those films that, if I’m surfing through the channels and see it on, I’ll stop, sit back, and enjoy it to the end. There are only a handful of films that are in this category for me, and although it isn’t technically or artistically one of the best films out there, it’s one of my favorites, and can hold its own, thank you very much.
Directed by Rob Reiner between two of his more critical and commercial successes (Stand By Me (1986) and When Harry Met Sally (1989)), The Princess Bride is based on a novel written by William Goldman, who also wrote the screenplay. The story, both novel and film, uses the overarching device of a story being retold to the listener. Reiner casts Peter Falk (familiar as TV’s Columbo) as The Grandfather, who is telling his grandson a story of pirates and princesses, swordplay and giants, written by the estimable S. Morgenstern. The grandson is worried that there will be kissing (there will), but is willing to listen to his grandfather’s telling of the tale.
The story revolves around Buttercup [Robin Wright] and the young man who works on her family farm, Westley [Cary Elwes]. He loves her, but he never says so, only replying to all of her demands with the three words, “As you wish.” He leaves the farm to make his fortune, and is presumed dead when his ship is captured by the Dread Pirate Roberts. Skip ahead several years, and Buttercup is now destined to marry the heir to the throne of Florin, Prince Humperdinck [Chris Sarandon]. There is more to this marriage than meets the eye, however, as Humperdinck has no intention of staying married, instead hiring the Sicilian Vizzini [Wallace Shawn] and his two henchmen – the Spanish master swordsman Inigo Montoya [Mandy Patinkin] and the giant Fezzik [Andre the Giant] – to kidnap Buttercup, steal her away to neighboring Guilder, and murder her, framing the rival nation and thus bringing a war that Humperdinck desires.
On their tail is the very Dread Pirate Roberts, who is not exactly who he seems to be, and is able to challenge each of the three kidnappers in the areas of their own expertise. His identity is pretty obvious to the audience, but Buttercup doesn’t realize who he is until, having pushed him down into a gorge, she hears him shouting out those three magic words: “As…you…wish.” The story is full of high adventure, with the Cliffs of Insanity, the Fire Swamp, lightning sand, The Machine, wise men, magic, love, swordfighting, friendship, revenge, and, of course, ROUSes (Rodents Of Unusual Size). The movie throws one interesting situation after another at its heroes, and the cast is simply amazing. A particular favorite of mine is Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya, whose catchphrase, “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die,” is one that will still elicit a laugh and a warm smile from many of my friends who also hold this movie near and dear. In addition, the casting of Andre the Giant as lovable Fezzik was a piece of genius, and Andre brings all of his wonderful humanity to a role that could have been a throwaway. It’s just a shame he died so soon after the movie was made. The leads, Robin Wright and Cary Elwes, have great chemistry between them, and here show early some of the acting chops that would become apparent in their later bodies of work (she most recently won a Golden Globe for her work in Netflix’s series, House of Cards). Even the cameo roles are well cast, with Miracle Max [Billy Crystal] and his wife Valerie [Carol Kane] very nearly stealing the movie with their five minute sequence.
Like I said, this is not technically one of the greatest films of all time, but it is one that I can watch over and over, and never get tired of seeing. It doesn’t reveal deeper nuance in the same manner as, say, a Mulholland Drive, but it does grow on the viewer, much like mold on fine cheese (I mean tasty mold). If you haven’t seen The Princess Bride, watch it; if you have, watch it again – it only gets better with age.
Steve’s Grade: A-
A magical fantasy-romance, wonderfully told, with an A-list cast of actors and a real sense of adventure, that not only survives multiple viewings, but gets better with age.