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The Princess Bride


‘…a witty, refreshing and seasoned modern variation of the age-old story of love and adventure…’

Showboating is not to be encouraged in Hollywood types; the exception that proves the rule in The Princess Bride, in which screenwriter William Goldman indulges in a non-stop cavalcade of clever dialogue, scenes turned on their heads, and ingenious narrative improvisations. It’s a story about the art of storytelling, and smarty-pants thinkers from Umberto Eco to Italo Calvino would approve of the ost-modern take on the classic fairy-tale offered here. A pleasure for kids, it’s also worth commending to adults looking for a break from the norm; Rob Reiner’s film offers a unique sense of humour that made it a word-of-mouth classic.

In a gambit that has worked for precisely no-one since, this is a tale within a tale, told by a grandpa (Peter Falk) to his grandson (Fred Savage). The kid doesn’t seem too ill, but feels the pull of primitive video games; his antipathy to hearing a story read to him is meant to mirror the audience’s apprehension. Neither he nor we should worry; The Princess Bride starts with a lovely, romantic trope, as Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright) and Wesley (Cary Elwes) fall for each other to the refrain of his reply; ‘As you wish”. Wesley meets an off-screen demise at the hands of the Dread Pirate Roberts, and Buttercup is kidnapped by a gang of amusing mercenaries before her arranged marriage can take place. Buttercup somehow survives, and aided by a mysterious masked man, sets out to right the rotten-ness within the crooked society of Guilder…

Reiner seems to know intuitively that Goldman’s story opens better than it closes; it’s hard to fault anything in the first forty minutes, with Goldman turning clichés inside out to dynamic effect. Revenge mantras (‘My name in Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die’), left and right handed swordsmen, building up immunity to poison over many, many years; the script is the real star here. The later stages of the film rely a little heavily on cameos (Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, Peter Cook, Mel Smith) and the room-to-room climax lacks the visual wit of the early stages. But the whole package is still irresistible, with a nice, poetic score from Mark Knopfler to paper over any cracks.

Goldman spoke and wrote persuasively about exactly how stories do and don’t work; this project, adapted from his own novel, seems him play the equivalent of trick shots, setting up impossible contrivances and then solving them with the most elegant of strokes. Not an example for anyone to follow, this is the kind of film you can only make after decades at the top; a witty, refreshing and seasoned modern variation of the age-old story of love and adventure.



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    • Inconceivable! The way Wesley steam-rollers through the gang is brilliant; that’s what preperation does for you. Brilliant writing indeed. Thanks!

  1. A true beloved classic in every way. You’re right about the dialogue being the true star of the movie. It’s tough to replicate that nowadays. I just wish I saw The Princess Bride when I was much younger. The fact that it took me so long to watch it is “Inconceivable!”

    • I just wish films had this kind of personal touch about the way the characters speak. These days, everyone speaks the same way…never too late to introduce this movie to new audiences, it’s a one-off!

  2. Oh, I do love that movie! 😀 You’re right, it opens better than it closes, but still it’s a classic for ages, what with the empathy for its characters buoyed by the undercurrent of irony 🙂 To me Elwes’s transformation (I saw him most recently in Stranger Things) is nothing compared to Wright Penn’s – from Buttercup to the murderous First Lady/President of The House of Cards is a thorough transformation indeed!

    • Given that it’s one of the best opening half-hours ever, it’s perhaps no surprise that the final scenes aren’t quite as strking. And most of the cast have done well since, which adds to the general bonhomie…

  3. Hurray, you review a Classic!

    I am the Dwead Piwate Wobahts! That line gets me every single time, hahahaha. Andre really showed heart in this movie, even while it was written that way.

    I am currently playing a chapter book game of this with Mrs B on Saturdays. We’re on chapter 4 of 6 (or 8, not sure which) and it’s a lot of fun. A nice cooperative game.

    I saw Elwes in the Jungle Book movie and really like him in that. He was a good villain. Then I saw him in the tv show Psyche, much later, where he had, umm, matured at the waistline? He was still a great actor but the dashing and debonair wasn’t there anymore. Reminded me of what happened to Alex Baldwin and The Hunt for Red October.

    I didn’t look, but did you watch this on streaming or a bluray or a dvd?

    • Good question. 1080p on Amazon prime, but in my heart, still vhs. Actually HD doesn’t do much for this, quite cheap looking sets and a rather cheerfully threadbare production. Doesn’t matter at all when the spirit of the film is great. A Princess Bride game? Mrs B sure can pick ‘em!

    • Love that scene in particular. The logic is perfect, and do is the timing. Makes it look like fun to write and make a film; this should be exhibit A that movies can and should be fun!

  4. Last time I saw this I liked all the parts I remembered liking, but the stuff in-between didn’t hold up as well. Still, it’s a unique send-up. Sort of feels like Mel Brooks with brains.

    • Which is a good thing. This is a fondly remembered film for me, and hugely quotable. With hindsight, I can see that there’s some less inspired bits, but the highs are genuine.

  5. A Goldman favourite along with Marathon Man. I always had the idea he wrote some kind of screenplay in his head before he wrote any book and that is why the tricks and turns were so polished. All puns and jokes in the book don’t work so well in the film but it has a great energy. Of course, the knowledge that he was one of the conquests of Barbara Amiel puts him in a different category – though I am not sure which.

    • Yup, I think this was conceived as a film, although I really do like his prose style. His books are great too, even if film was his true calling…

    • It would be inconcievable to leave out Andre the giant! He got a mention in the tags. I seem to remeber that Samuel Beckett had a close friendship with Andre the Giant, although I might have dreamed that….

      • Reportedly Beckett used to haul Andre around in his pickup truck when Andre was a kid. He’s also “buried” on his ranch here in North Carolina. Though he was cremated. He was apparently very proud of his Princess Bride role and for me he really added a wonderful magic.
        the living actors apparently recently did a read through of the film script – though I haven’t listened to it.

        • Andre is pretty awesome here; again, encouraged to be anything but the he-man character that usually appears in fairy-tale movies. He speaks so well, and his performance is very much of a piece with the others, it’s a great ensemble. In my mind, I always pictured Andre and Samuel as older men, but your story makes sense; thanks so much for that info! I salute your Princess Bride knowledge!

      • That is a point worth making. I think it was not as well understood in the UK. Having not exactly set the US box office alight, it wasn’t particularly popular or noted on release here, but people caught up. I guess it’s a home video classic; seemed strange not to see it on VHS, where it kind of belongs…

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