Fantasy, Romance

The Princess Bride (1987)

There are some films that you automatically grab from the DVD shelf when you’re sick, or when you are feeling sad and are in desperate need of something comforting to turn to. The Princess Bride is one such film for me. This film never fails to leave me with a smile on my face. In this film wrongs are made right, love conquers all and good triumphs over evil.

Rob Reiner directs this film which is based on the 1973 novel (which I’ve yet to read)by William Goldman. The film presents us with a fairytale filled with romance, action, adventure, courage, revenge, giants, pirates, fun and magic. It is also a very clever parody of the various genres contained within it. The film has you laughing at lines and scenes that are clearly sending up these sorts of stories. Children will love this for the story, adults will also love it for that, but can pick up the parody side of the film and find even more to laugh at.The film also brings to mind the swashbuckling films of the 30’s and 40’s.  This and Stand By Me are my favourite films from Rob Reiner.

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The film begins in the bedroom of a young boy (Fred Savage)who is sick in bed. His granddad (Peter Falk)comes over to read him a story. That story is The Princess Bride. The first few lines make the boy think this is a romance story, and he is far from interested in it. As the story continues he starts to enjoy it and he (and us too)are soon completely hooked by the story. We see the story he is being read unfold before us on screen.

The Princess Bride tells the story of the beautiful Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright in her film debut). Buttercup has been chosen to marry the handsome, vain and cold Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), but she does not love him. Years ago, Buttercup was in love with the gentle farmboy, Westley (Cary Elwes)who has long been believed to be dead after a ship he was on was attacked at sea.

When Westley returns to her (now in the guise of  a mysterious man dressed all in black)their love cannot be denied. When Buttercup is kidnapped by Vizzini( Wallace Shawn)an intelligent, criminal mastermind who is desperate to start a war with Prince Humperdinck, Westley sets out to rescue her. Vizzini is helped in his kidnap plot by gentle giant, Fezzik (Andre the Giant) and the athletic, and super skilled swordsman, Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin). Inigo is also searching for a six fingered man who murdered his father. Inigo has perfected his sword skills, not for fame or for glory, but so he can be good enough to fight and kill his fathers killer.

Cary plays Westley as a mix of Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks, athletic, suave, cool in the face of danger and certain death, throwing witty lines around all over the place. He  steals every scene he is in and gets you wanting to know more about his character. Westley is heroic, intelligent, perceptive and brave. All he does, he does for love.

Robin is enchanting as the young woman desperate to be with her true love. For a film debut, Robin gives an amazing performance. You would not guess this was her first time in a film. Her performance is all in her eyes, and she steals many a scene with just a look. Buttercup is a strong woman and is true to her only love throughout the film, wealth and status mean nothing to her, only her one true love means anything.

Mandy Patinkin gives my favourite performance in the film, as the man desperate to avenge his fathers murder. Mandy has your heart breaking for his character one moment, and then has us all cheering when he fights and stands up to injustice the next. I love the way he delivers that famous line throughout the film “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father. Prepare to die!” He says it differently throughout, but each time he delivers it, the line packs an emotional punch and is truly one of the great lines in cinema history. Apparently Mandy pictured the six fingered man as the cancer that killed his own father, so when he says that line it’s like he is seeking revenge on that vile disease.

Chris Sarandon plays Humperdinck as a villain who you love to hate. He is vain and pompous, and yet he is also intelligent, a skilled fighter and tracker, and is not someone you want to cross. He steals every scene he is in. I love the way he says this line “Tyrone, you know how much I love watching you work, but I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan. I’ve got my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it. I’m swamped.” Cracks me up every time.

Chrisopher Guest is perfectly cast as the Princes right hand man, Tyrone. A skilled torturer and swordsman, he takes immense pleasure in killing and inflicting pain. Christopher plays the character so well that you want to boo and hiss each time he makes an appearance on screen.

Andre The Giant is loveable as Fezzik. He makes him brave and strong, but has Fezzik has slow reactions so isn’t much use in a fist fight, but he tries hard! It is a credit to Andre that he doesn’t let you see how much pain he was in. He was suffering back pain and was in agony throughout the shoot, but you would never know it to watch him. Andre died in 1993.

Wallace Shawn is hysterical as the cunning man of great intellect whose wit and words are his greatest weapons. I love the way he says “inconceivable!” all the time. He’s always been one of the great character actors and this is one of his greatest performances.

Peter Falk is perfect as the granddad who you wish was your own. This man knows the power of a good story and he knows the boy will soon be drawn into this tale. Falk acts as the narrator and guide in the film and is a welcome presence throughout.

Small appearances by Mel Smith , Peter Cook and Billy Crystal add to the comedy in the film, with Crystal  coming up with much of his own dialogue.

Fred Savage does a good job as the young boy who starts to see that books are magical, and reading is just as good (if not better in many cases)than watching TV or playing video games. I love the bit where he’s disgusted by the fact that this could be a kissing book. 🙂

The film was made on location here in the UK. I think that was a good choice as the landscape brings to mind a fairytale/medieval land. I recently visited Haddon Hall, in Derbyshire which was used as the location for Humperdinck’s castle. That was quite an experience, and I urge you to visit not only because it was in the film, but as it is one of the few remaining medieval castles. This was also featured in Jane Eyre (2006)and The Priory School(an episode of the Return of Sherlock Holmes TV series.)

A beautiful score by Mark Knopfler adds greatly to the film. This is such a fun film and is one that can be enjoyed over and over again and never gets old.  Isn’t this true of all fairytales? I also really like how the film captures how you see a story in your head when reading a book.

My favourite scenes are the following. Inigo in the forest asking his father’s spirit to guide his sword. Westley and Buttercup’s conversation on top of the hill where he says “life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” The sequence in the fire swamp. Westley and Inigo’s swordfight (both Cary and Mandy practiced for months and became very skilled with swords, and that really is them both for the whole of that exciting sequence.) Vizzini and Westley matching wits over the poisoned cups. Buttercup in the eel lake. Inigo finally getting to face the six fingered man.

I also think that if the events of this film had been a reality that the ending would have been considerably different. Towards the end of the film you get a sharp slap from reality as characters start dying or getting seriously injured. In reality I think Inigo and Westley would have died from what happened to them, Buttercup would have gone through with her threat and Humperdinck would no doubt have passed himself off as the big hero. I’d say the ending we get in the film is much better, even if it is only a crowd pleasing fantasy. Hey, aren’t dreams always thus?

Writing all of this has made me eager to watch this again. “As you wish”, my DVD player says to me. Alright then, I will. 🙂

What are your thoughts on this film?