The Princess Bride is a film like few others. It combines fantasy, humour, romance and drama seamlessly. William Goldman’s script sings from start to finish, and Rob Reiner’s direction realises this wonderful yarn with golden clarity.
It tells the story of two lovers, Westley and Buttercup (played by Cary Elwes and Robin Wright), who face much peril and heartbreak, but also wonderful adventure. Westley begins the story as a simple farm boy, and Buttercup the young lady that he serves. But their love grows, and they promise to be faithful to one another forever more. However, Westley must make his fortune, and leaves Buttercup, promising to return. He seemingly dies at sea, and Buttercup is devastated. Prince Humperdink (played by Chris Sarandon) wants to marry Buttercup, but she is revolted by the prospect and vows to kill herself rather than marry anyone but Westley. But is Westley really dead? And who killed Inigo Montoya’s father? And, the most important question of all: Does true love really exist?
The fantasy elements of the film are wonderfully framed by Grandpa (played by Peter Falk) and his Grandson (played by Fred Savage). The grandson is sick at home, and so his Grandpa decides to read him a story. Although he is initially adamant that the kissing scenes be skipped, the grandson eventually comes to quite like the idea of Westley and Buttercup’s love. Peter Falk shines as Grandpa, with his usual dry humour. One of my favourite parts is when he tells his Grandson to be patient and wait to see what happens, instead of getting really upset. Although, of course, he can see this as a sign of the little boy being hooked on the story.
The entire cast is brilliant. There isn’t a person who gives a bad performance, no matter how small their role. This is shown to perfection by Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, Wallace Shawn and Peter Cook, who all have smaller supporting roles, but provide brilliant support to the leads. Peter Cook’s lisping clergyman is probably one of the most quoted parts of the film (I think we all known which part is the most quoted). And this is what makes The Princess Bride such an unique film and a pop culture phenomenon. Every detail is paid attention to, with seemingly throw away lines made memorable and scenes that could have been ridiculous, like the torture scene, some of the most remembered of the movie. It’s a film that realises that it doesn’t need to take its self too seriously, but also that it owes its audience in delivering entertainment and flair.
Mandy Patinkin plays Inigo Montoya, the expert swordsman on a mission to avenge his father’s death. Patinkin has always been a favourite actor of my mother’s since she saw him in Yentl, and in The Princess Bride, he shows why he’s had such a long and successful career. He carries off a character who could have been made utterly ridiculous or silly by any other actor, but in the hands of Patinkin, Montoya becomes an unlikely hero, who both endears himself to the audience and also provides some of the best deadpan humour of the film. The final sword fight between he and the murderous Count (played by Christopher Guest) is perhaps my favourite of the film, with Inigo refusing to give up, and finally recognising his life’s ambition. Although a joke about what he’ll do now is made towards the end of the film.
We cannot discuss Inigo without his trusty friend, Fezzik (played by André the Giant). If there is a buddy team in film that I love more, I have not found them. Fezzik is the most pure hearted character in the film, wanting only to protect those he loves. He lacks the ambition of Inigo and the intelligence of Westley, but he endears himself so utterly to the audience, that he is easily one of the most beloved characters in the film.
Buttercup is a character who turns convention on its head, although she actually harkens back to the warrior queens of the past, and some of the heroines of popular fiction, like Maid Marion in Robin Hood, in terms of her sassiness and bravery. She saves herself from Prince Humperdink with the help of Westley, rather than solely relying on him, and the whole damsel in distress gambit is poked fun at throughout the film. In the end, Buttercup becomes a figure as important as any of the men in the story, and is firmly Westley’s equal.
Westley is a character who also aligns with and defies tropes. He is like Zorro, a mysterious swordsman of great renowned. Although his mysterious identity does not last long. But it is his wit and cunning that is as important as his ability as a swordsman, which is shown to hilarious effect when he is rendered paralysed by the Count’s excessively villainous torture tactics. Cary Elwes plays Westley’s paralysis scene with such sardonic wit that you don’t have time to despair of Westley’s fate.
Overall, this is a film that deserves its place in the hallowed halls of the greatest films ever made. There is really nothing like it, and its influence in popular culture is almost incalculable. When I first watched it as a teenager, I quickly came to see it as one of my favourite films, and many years later, it still is. It never fails to fill me with happiness and hope for fairytales made reality. It is a film that encapsulates the magic of cinema, and shows why the medium is so powerful.
This is my belated contribution for The William Goldman Blogathon, which was hosted by Taking Up Room. Please visit Rebecca’s wonderful blog to read everyone else’s entries dedicated to this wonderful writer.