The Princess Bride (1987) / Fantasy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG for sensuality, violence, and mild language
Running Time: 98 min.
Cast: Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, Fred Savage, Robin Wright, Peter Falk, Peter Cook, Mel Smith, Carol Kane, Billy Crystal
Director: Rob Reiner
Screenplay: William Goldman (based on his book)
Review published August 11, 1998. Revised October 22, 2017
A sick young boy (Savage, Vice Versa) gets a visit from his grandfather (Falk, Vibes), who reads the young lad one of his favorite books, 'The Princess Bride'. The book is of a beuatilf young noble named Buttercup (Wright, State of Grace), who has a romance with her stable boy, Westley (Elwes, Days of Thunder) but the evil Prince Humperdinck (Sarandon, Fright Night) has plans to marry the beautiful young woman, so he kidnaps her, leaving Buttercup to think Westley dead at the hands of the Dread Pirate Roberts. Later, familiar-looking Dread Pirate appears, as we soon learn that he plans to save the princess before the marriage, but the task to preserve true love appears a bit more difficult than he planned.
A highly enjoyable, romantic, fairy-tale comedy based on the 1973 novel by its screenwriter, William Goldman, who tinkers with the traditions of the genre conventions to find moments of Monty Python-esque absurdity and comic panache. The film is blessed with a terrific supporting cast and many memorable scenes and quotable lines of dialogue. It's a project that a number of directors had tried to craft (including the likes of Francois Truffaut and Robert Redford, among others) but director Rob Reiner (Stand by Me, The Sure Thing) does a masterful job, balancing the fine line between tongue-in-cheek comedy and drama, never losing the lighthearted tone, even when people die.
This is a case of a film where the subplots and side characters are just as enjoyable to experience as the main story. One of those side characters even gets a complete story arc, as Mandy Patinkin (Alien Nation, Dick Tracy) is outstanding as the vengeful Spanish fencer Inigo Montoya, who's main mission in life is to avenge the death of his father at the hands of a mysterious six-fingered assassin. Famous wrestler Andre the Giant is a true find, not only because of his massive body size (7'4" and over 500 lbs.), but also an endearing gentleness that makes you love the character without needing a great deal of back story or dialogue to fill in the gaps (he's occasionally unintelligible, but that also lends to the charm of his performance). Despite originally being intended for Danny DeVito, to think anyone else could have been as funny as Wallace Shawn is 'inconceivable!'
The main players, who were relatively new on the scene at the time, are also perfectly cast. Robin Wright is beautiful, resilient and regal in all of the right ways that make her a bride worth fighting for among her suitors. Cary Elwes is handsome, dashing, and able to find the right approach to playing his role in a way that's both funny and heroic at the same time.
The locale work and some of the effects shots are also impressive -- the rope-climbing scene is stunning in its vistas, but also completely convincing in making us believe that the actors are climbing, all the while remaining a funny visual gag. The side jaunts continue to delight, such as when Westley encounters the R.O.U.S., the Rodents of Unusual Size, which are realistic, yet comical, and still amazing to think that there are actually people within the costumes.
The Princess Bride is nicely scored by Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler, avoiding too much emphasis on the electronics and drum machines that have dated many other films of its era, and would get an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song for "Storybook Love", arranged by written, produced and Knopfler, with Willy DeVille on the vocals.
All of this cuts occasionally to the 'real story' of the grandfather reading to his sick grandson, which, in its own fashion ends up being about true love. One only need to observe the final line of the film from Peter Falk to Fred Savage to understand, as we have already established from the outset that, "As you wish", means, "I love you." It's a perfect way to end this abundantly heartwarming and sweetly romantic film. (Trivia: there was another ending shot for the film in which Savage's character sees characters from the book outside his window on horseback, but this obviously was not used, thankfully).
Though a thoroughly entertaining film, it's not all amazing, with an occasional lull, especially in its out-of-place ethnic comedy and in terms of action, often when the trio are off of the screen. Nevertheless, the abundantly charming, much beloved film is still quite enchanting, and younger viewers will absolutely fall in love with it.
©1998, 2017 Vince Leo