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Celebrating 30 Years of The Princess Bride

by Sean Patrick 5 years ago in movie
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A near perfect comedy with an absolutely perfect cast, The Princess Bride opened 30 years ago this week, September 25.

The Princess Bride is one of the most rewatchable movies in history. This rich, robust, and homey comedy never ages and never falters. Rob Reiner’s direction, aside from a truly terrible film score, is unassailable in every comedy beat. Then there is the absolutely perfect casting. Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Andre the Giant, and each of the supporting players, from Chris Sarandon as the evil Prince, Christopher Guest as the evil six-fingered henchman, and Billy Crystal’s cameo as Miracle Max, could not be better.

This weekend, September 25, The Princess Bride turns 30 years old and I am happy to tell you that I have probably seen this movie more than 30 times in that 30 years. The film feels like home to me with these wonderfully erudite characters, their supreme code of conduct, and the wonderfully generous laughs. I can’t call The Princess Bride a perfect movie, once again I will mention that terrible film score, but it’s damn near perfection.

Westley (Cary Elwes) is a young farm boy in the employ of the family of Buttercup (Robin Wright). Though Buttercup attempts to annoy her farm boy with one silly task after another we are told in Peter Falk’s wonderful voiceover that Westley’s constant refrain, "as you wish," to each of her requests is his way of confessing his love for her. Eventually, Buttercup realizes that she’s been annoying him because she’s been trying to hide her feelings for him and the two fall madly in love just as Westley is about to leave.

Westley is to take to the seas to seek his fortune so that he may soon return and give Buttercup the life she richly deserves. Unfortunately, it’s reported that Westley’s ship was attacked by a pirate legend known as the Dread Pirate Roberts and he does not take prisoners. With Westley thought dead, Buttercup becomes distant and lonely and when the Prince (Chris Sarandon) arrives at her door wanting to make the most beautiful girl in the kingdom his future Queen she accepts knowing that she is only giving her body to the task but not her heart.

What Buttercup doesn’t know is that the Prince is merely using her and plans to kill her with his first plan to have her kidnapped and killed in the fields of the rival kingdom of Gilder. The princess’s captors are a wonderful comic mixture with the leader Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) claiming to be the smartest person in the world, while his henchmen, Inigo (Mandy Patinkin) and Fezzik (pro wrestling super-legend Andre the Giant) are the greatest swordsman and the biggest brut in the kingdom respectively.

The kidnapping is going to plan until the trio is tracked down by the Dread Pirate Roberts who gives chase and then one by one sets about defeating the three. This series of scenes with Roberts, actually Westley under a mask, is completely wonderful. Westley and Inigo’s sword fight is truly glorious, beautifully choreographed but also very witty and very funny as the two banter about their history with a sword and what they hope to accomplish with that sword. Westley wins, naturally, but leaves Inigo alive offering that he’d "sooner destroy a stained-glass window," before killing a man of such skill.

The same could be said of Westley’s encounter with the gentle Giant Fezzik, who has no interest in killing Westley but is compelled to honor his contract with Vizzini because he’s just a decent guy. Once again we get a witty battle with Westley out-maneuvering Fezzik but leaving him alive to charm us through the end of the story. The final battle with Vizzini is arguably the funniest moment in a remarkably funny movie. To say that Wallace Shawn is a scene stealer is an understatement. He and Elwes light up the screen with their warring and witty chemistry.

Cary Elwes is the key to The Princess Bride. Playing what is essentially a variation on the Robin Hood story, he makes Westley stand out from the legend via his remarkable charisma, wit, and unending charm. He can be a scoundrel when necessary, mostly when he thinks his true love has betrayed him for the Prince, but he has a morality and decency that defines him and that permeates the entirety of The Princess Bride. He’s just so damn likable you can’t resist cheering him on.

Equally brilliantly cast are Patinkin and Andre the Giant as a wonderful pair who have a warmth and chemistry that makes it seem like they’ve been friends forever. The joy on Inigo’s face when he spies Fezzik for the first time since their encounter with the Dread Pirate Roberts is just radiant. There is so much love going back and forth between Inigo and Fezzik that it flows from the screen. Then, of course, there is Inigo’s quest defined by his legendary catch-speech: “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die."

I love that The Princess Bride, though it is a family film, is not afraid of allowing Inigo to go after his quest with all of the bloodlust Patinkin can muster. His pain and heartache are so real and yet they never put a damper on Inigo’s wonderful smile. He’s content to search for the six fingered man but he’s not consumed by that search. There is no angst or brooding, just gutsy determination. The scene between Patinkin and Christopher Guest has a very bloody conclusion but one that is earned and is never jarring or off-putting.

The Princess Bride is a wonderful fairy tale told in the style of a fairy tale by the brilliant Peter Falk. Falk's narration is unusual as his character, a grandfather to a young Fred Savage, reads the story to his bed-ridden grandson and we travel like the young boy into the world of the story via imagination. The film plays like a wonderful daydream: funny, charming, and wildly entertaining like the best fairy tales are.

I could go on for page after page talking about the little things that I love about The Princess Bride but I will wrap it up here. Much like the movie, I favor brevity and wit to long-windedness and pacing and length are just two more aspects of filmmaking that Rob Reiner gets just right in The Princess Bride. If somehow you have never seen this delightful comic masterpiece put it on your list and watch it immediately. The Princess Bride is pure charm and it more than deserves a place in our collective film memory.

I will be going on and on once again about The Princess Bride as it turns 30 this weekend on the Everyone is a Critic Podcast which arrives every Monday on iTunes. This week we will further pay tribute to The Princess Bride with our weekly Top 5 being the Top 5 Movies featuring the cast of The Princess Bride and our classic this week is from director Rob Reiner, the romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally. These movies and the new releases Kingsman The Golden Circle and Lego Ninjago will all feature on this week’s podcast. Don’t miss it.

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About the author

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for Everyone's a Critic Movie Review Podcast. I am a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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