The Princess Bride (1987)

Director: Rob Reiner

Starring: Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Robin Wright, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Andre The Giant, Wallace Shawn, Peter Falk, Fred Savage, Peter Cook, Mel Smith, Carol Kane, Billy Crystal

Written by: (based on his book) William Goldman

Running Time: 98 mins

Original UK Cert: PG

Original US Release: 9th October 1987

Some films find fame and glory almost immediately. Others, like a fine wine, take their time, mature and then those who missed it first time round suddenly appreciate their greatness. Take The Shawshank Redemption. On its original release, it was shown for two weeks and then disappeared, only to be discovered on video and now it’s regarded as one of the greatest films ever. The same can be said about The Princess Bride. A mildly successful film, it didn’t make a big impact until its video release. Then this magical fairy tale really took off and is now looked upon with very high esteem, including me.

A kindly grandfather visits his ill grandson and starts reading a book, The Princess Bride. The tale of a young girl, Buttercup,  who falls for a stable boy, Wesley, but loses love when he is killed by a pirate. Meanwhile, the scheming Prince Humperdinck, who has the power to marry who he likes, decided to take Buttercup as his bride. At the same time he plans to start a war between his neighbours by having her kidnapped by a genius, Vizzini, a Spaniard with a taste for revenge, Ingio Montoya and a gentle giant, Fezzik. Little do they know, is that a rescue is being planned by a mysterious man in black.

There is so much to enjoy here. A twist on the formulas of fairy tales, it doesn’t look down on the genre but embraces it while giving it a little shake here and there. Writer William Goldman, one of Hollywood’s true masters (he wrote Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, All The President’s Men and Misery) knows how to keep the audience’s attention while delivering delightful line after line. Using a grandfather narrating the story and the occasional cut to 80s America as the ailing boy questions what is happening, gives the film much more dimension, as well as adding humour and showing the sweet relationship between the two.

The bulk of the story is the tale of The Princess Bride and it is filled with treats galore. If you are thinking this is a sloppy love story (with kissing bits), you are solely wrong. It has sword fights, monsters, villains, torture and lots and lots of humour. The joy is that while it enchants the younger viewer, it doesn’t patronise them and it doesn’t throw in humour just to please the adults. The humour is there throughout, never having to resort to smut or rudeness. The humour is far more subtle.

The characters are fully well-rounded. Each plays their part and each is as important as the next, including the delightful cameos from the late Mel Smith and Peter Cook and a hilarious turn from Billy Crystal and Carol Kane. While our two leads are excellent, a sweet yet feisty Buttercup, played by the then newcomer, Robin Wright, and the massively handsome Cary Elwes as Wesley. Chris Sarandon is suitably slimy as Humperdinck while Christopher Guest is perfect as Humperdinck’s right hand man. Wallace Shawn is terrific as the inconceivably annoying Vizzini.

For me, the real heart of this near perfect film comes in the relationship between Inigo and Fezzik. Mandy Patinkin is one of those actors who never made it big but really always makes a huge impression whatever he does. None moreso than here, as the quietly spoken Spaniard who has the most quotable line of the film, “Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!” His acrobatic skills are also wondrous. It’s hard enough to sword fight with one hand but the battle between him and Elwes, in which both swap hands half way through while still giving the same energy, is a huge high-point.

Back to the relationship of Inigo and Fezzik. Wrestler Andre The Giant might not be the greatest actor in the world and sometimes it is difficult to understand what he is saying but his and Patinkin’s partnership is both funny and surprisingly tender. He was a huge man who died in 1993 and even if he was in an aggressive sport, here he shows a softer side and the pairing is perfect.

Under the watchful eye of director Rob Reiner, he never lets the film’s tone and pace run away, keeping it all on an even keel. If I have one criticism, it is to do with Mark Knoffler’s score. The guitar sound that he is famous for works a treat but the artificial synthesizer that replaces the fanfares does get grating after a while.

If that’s the only downside then you know you are in for a total delight. I know there are some people who haven’t seen this gem and I can assure you, those who haven’t will not be disappointed. If you have love in your heart and want to be whisked away from the pains of everyday life, then you cannot do any better than watch this modern classic. As the poster suggests: Not just your basic, average, everyday, ordinary, run-of-the-mill, ho-hum fairy tale. It’s a whole lot more than you can wish. As you wish!


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