Sunday, November 2, 2014

Family Movie Night: The Princess Bride

Title: The Princess Bride
Director: Rob Reiner
Original Release: 1987
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 5 stars out of 5
via Amazon
Until this weekend, I had never seen The Princess Bride on a big screen.  It is easily one of my top ten favorite films as it is for so many of my generation, yet I fell in love with it through the late-'80s magic of VHS.  But this Saturday evening, our local movie theater and our favorite independent bookstore teamed up to present a screening as a promotion for Cary Elwes's new memoir, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride.  Luckily, we were smart and bought our tickets ahead of time because the event sold out, despite snow in the forecast.  With door prizes and costume and trivia contests on offer, the geeks of our stripe came out in full force, plenty of us with the next generation of devotees in tow.

This is how I first learned of the movie back in the day:


The Dread Pirate Roberts (aka Farm Boy/Westley/The Man in Black) must save his true love, Buttercup, from having to marry evil Prince Humperdink.  Meanwhile, master swordsman Inigo Montoya seeks to avenge the death of his father.  Their paths cross and Hollywood magic ensues.

The Princess Bride is a mix of everything that made movies great in the Golden Age of the 1930s: a swashbuckling romance worthy of Errol Flynn combined with witty dialogue to rival Billy Wilder or Preston Sturges.  It is, without a doubt, one of the most beautifully written films of all time.  Calling it quotable doesn't go far enough.  The script sings from beginning to end, every single line finding its mark.  William Goldman, Oscar-winning screenwriter of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All The President's Men, adapted the screenplay from his own novel of the same name.

The sword fight at the top of the Cliffs of Insanity isn't just the best scene in the film, it's one of the most perfectly scripted and acted scenes in the history of cinema.  I would happily skip the rest of the movie just to watch that one sequence over and over again.  The two actors did all their own fencing, especially impressive considering they had to do it with both hands.

For all the well-deserved praise the writing has received over the years, I believe the true genius of The Princess Bride is in the casting.  Billy Crystal was the only genuine A-lister at the time and even he was still a couple years away from When Harry Met Sally...  The story is led magnificently by two essential unknowns: Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin, well-trained and (particularly for the Tony-winning Patinkin) accomplished stage actors with relatively few screen credits to that point.  In the titular role, Robin Wright, another newcomer, combined with Elwes to create the most beautiful on-screen couple since Rhett and Scarlett. Many of the actors were better known for their work on television: Peter Falk and Carol Kane in the United States, Peter Cook and Mel Smith in Britain.  Andre the Giant was quite famous, indeed, but as a professional wrestler.  Every actor fits his or her role like hand to glove.

Predictably, many in the audience recited the most famous lines in time with the film.  There was rowdy applause at both beginning and end.  It's funny the things you notice when you've seen a movie over and over again.  For instance, of course Westley (Elwes) knows Inigo (Patinkin) isn't really left-handed because his scabbard is on the left side.  I also paid closer attention to the toys on the gradson's shelf: He-Man and Captain America action figures, a Return of the Jedi glass from Burger King, etc.

The film's music was composed by Mark Knopfler, far better known as the front man for Dire Straits.  He agreed to do the score on one condition: that Reiner include his baseball cap from This Is Spinal Tap somewhere in the movie.  Knopfler meant it as a joke but Reiner made good, creating a replica cap for the grandson's bedroom.  The end credits song "Storybook Love" garnered the movie's only Oscar nomination. 

38 comments:

  1. I can't believe you posted on this spectacular movie. We have watched this so many times, and my hubby enjoys it as much as I do. Love those fairy tales, and Mandy Patinkin is fabulous!

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    1. Patinkin is brilliant in everything he's ever done - definitely one of the under-appreciated actors in the biz.

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  2. This has been one of our all-time favorites through the years!

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  3. All this time, I've never realized the lead singer for Dire Straits wrote the music for The Princess Bride!

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    1. It was a while before I made that connection, too. It's amazing any of us knew anything before Wikipedia was invented.

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  4. Now I'm going to have to put that movie on this afternoon. I have the end song on my iPod and love the quotes.

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  5. This movie still holds up all these years later and is the gold standard for modern fairy tales. Light, funny, dark and twisted with tons of quoteable lines.

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    1. Such a small splash in its initial release, too: $30 million at the box office, not even twice its budget. It's become so much more than a cult movie, though. It's an important shared cultural experience for so many in our generation.

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  6. Classic film. I can recite most of it by heart.

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    1. The theater owner joked at the beginning that he'd leave the sound off so we could all recite the lines. Thankfully, he was only kidding.

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  7. One of the all-time best for sure.

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  8. I love this movie as much as you do. This post was so fun to read.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the post. I imagine you'd have felt right at home in that theater, Suze!

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  9. I know so many people who love this movie, yet I've never watched it. I feel no interest. What is wrong with me?

    Love,
    Janie

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  10. I've never really been able to see what all the fuss is about with this movie. It just doesn't do it for me.
    It's way more fun to quote than to actually watch.

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    1. I think quotable is an under-appreciated quality, for starters. There really aren't a lot of movies around with dialogue that resonates so strongly with so many. Back in the 1930s and '40s, when many films were adapted from stage productions, screenwriting was a lot more sophisticated. The only other movie from the '80s I can think of that's in the same league as PB is Bull Durham. There are plenty of baseball fans who could recite that movie line by line (side note: it's a lot better than a mere baseball movie).

      Also, the acting is superb. I am convinced the cast had an absolute blast making this film. Watch the sword fight scene: there is pure joy in both men's eyes. Yes, the characters are enjoying the moment but the actors clearly love working together - or they certainly made a convincing show of it, anyway!

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    2. Except for Elwes, the actual star. He's horrible. Which, honestly, is probably my reason for not caring so much for the movie. I mean, he's just a horrible actor. Princess Bride is almost the only thing he's decent in (Psych being the other thing).

      I'd have to quibble with you on quotable movies. Better Off Dead was always the most quoted movie among my friends, followed by Ferris Bueller. Princess Bride only came up in specific circumstances and still fell well below Monty Python's offerings.

      And I'm not even going to mention Star Wars.
      Oh, wait...

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    3. First, Elwes: I'm not going to pretend the guy has had a stellar career since but I do think he was a perfect fit for Westley. That's really what I mean by genius casting. Reiner found the perfect guy (I realize you disagree and I can live with that.).

      That's a fine list of movies you've got there. I love them all. I would still argue that beginning to end, PB has the best writing of the bunch. But even if it were the worst of them, that's still a very short list, which is sort of my point. There aren't many films from the '70s, '80s or beyond that owe their legacy to the power of memorable language. PB and Bull Durham are two which have been especially important to me.

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    4. Actually, I can agree that Elwes was a good fit for that role. His lack of acting ability combined with a charming smile made him work where a guy with more talent would have created a different movie.

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  11. I've never actually seen this movie. Eep! I guess I'll have to get on that right away!

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    1. Yes, you should! Then please let me know what you think.

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  12. I've loved this movie for a long time. Like Andrew mentioned above, it's so much fun to quote!!

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    1. I think this one will live on for future generations, too. Our daughter loves it.

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  13. I am so jealous! This is one of my favorite movies of all time- but I have never seen it on the big screen. I think it is so cool that a theater near you played it! Now I have quotes from the movie swirling around in my mind. :)
    ~Jess

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    1. It was fun. To be honest, though, I don't think it loses anything on a small screen.

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  14. This is one of my favorite movies that I rewatch from time to time. The book is great, but I believe the movie is pure magic.

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    1. I have never read the book. I own a copy. Never read it.

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  15. I adore this movie !
    Great review.

    cheers, parsnip

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  16. One of our favorites! Our "kids' were in their teens then, and have memorized most of the lines. My son has read the book twice. Peter Falk...Did you mention him?

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  17. Great movie, hands down! Great review.

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