Monday, February 8, 2010

The Princess Bride: The Perfect Fairytale

Once upon a time when I was just a wee little thing, I saw "The Princess Bride" for the first time...then a second time...then a hundredth time.  Being a hopelessly romantic girl how could I not?  Dashing pirates (yes, that theme again), true love, adventure, treachery, shrieking eels and R.O.U.S.'s, and most importantly, lots of laughs.  This was how I wanted to be loved (luckily I've learned the difference since then...I think). 

Directed by Rob Reiner and written by William Goldman (yes, him again too), this fairytale tells the story of Buttercup (Robin Wright Penn) and Westley (Cary Elwes).  Parted by cruel fate, thinking Westley to be dead, Buttercup agrees to marry the evil Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon).  Only before she can marry him, he has her kidnapped by three men - Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), Inigo (Mandy Patinkin), and Fezzik (Andre the Giant).  Luckily she is rescued by the Man in Black, aka the Dread Pirate Roberts, the most feared pirate on the high seas.  Only he is actually her long lost love Westley.  The confusion, the relief, the dreaded hunt for the two lovers by Humperdinck himself and then the ultimate fight to save true love!  What a story!  I will leave the rest for your anticipation if you have never seen it, but I'm pretty sure it's part of everyone's repertoire.

I mean, my friends and I can never pass up an opportunity to quote those great lines.  To this day, if anyone says, "Stop it now. I mean it," I have to say "Anybody want a peanut?," even in the most serious of situations.  William Goldman has such a knack for writing dialogue that works so well.  Based on his book of the same title, the screenplay is a great model for any aspiring screenwriter wanting to train more.  His book, from 1973, tells the story the same way, as if he found this old book his father used to read to him as a kid, and like Peter Falk (as the Grandfather) in the film, he interrupts the story with side commentary that any kid would appreciate.  I read the book for the first time during college, and it has become one of my favorites as well.

Now, back to the film, "The Princess Bride" was considered one of the best films of 1987.  Even though it only doubled its money at the box office, it was a critical favorite.  Having grown to cult status, it has also been part of many top 100 lists over the years, including AFI's "100 Years...100 Passions" list (#88). 

Shot mainly in England, it had its pains here and there.  Cary Elwes broke his toe driving a small four-wheeler during filming of the chase scene.  (That's why he limps a little while running into the Fire Swamp.)  Later, when Elwes told Christopher Guest to really hit him on the head, Guest hit him so hard they had to shut down production while Elwes went to the hospital.  Andre the Giant had undergone back surgery prior to the shoot, so he couldn't even support the weight of Robin Wright Penn or Elwes.  When Buttercup jumps into his arms near the end of the film, she had to be supported by wires.  Also during the close-ups of his fight with the Man in Black, Elwes was actually walking on ramps below.  The overhead shots of the fight were filmed with a double.  Finally, during Billy Crystal's scenes, Reiner had to leave the set because he was laughing so hard, it was making him nauseous.  And, according to Patinkin, the only injury he sustained during the shot was a bruised rib from trying not to laugh during Crystal's scenes either.

Patinkin says Inigo Montoya is his favorite character he's ever played.  During his live performances, he usually concludes with "My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die" as a treat for everyone he knows came to his show just for that.  Cary Elwes was chosen for the part of Westley for his Douglas Fairbanks-Errol Flynn quality, according to Reiner, after seeing him in "Lady Jane" (1986).  It was his very first comedy, and since then he has continued in many more, including "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" where he got to use his sword fighting skills again.  And though Andre was always his first choice for Fezzik, during the 70s when Goldman first tried to get the movie made, a little-known actor/bodybuilder by the name of Arnold Schwarzenegger really wanted to play Fezzik himself.  Unfortunately (but fortunate for us), he was too big of a star by the time the film was finally greenlit.

So, if you're in the mood for a fairytale for everyone to enjoy, check out "The Princess Bride"...again.  Just in time for Valentine's Day.  Have a great week everyone, and I'll see you Friday.

(Post-tidbit:  Composer Mark Knopfler only agreed to do the music for the film if Reiner did one thing for him - put Reiner's hat from "This is Spinal Tap" in the film.  It can be seen in the Grandson's bedroom.  An odd request, but it makes for some fun little trivia now.)

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