Rambling ...

I'm an Irish Girl, A Dubliner, with the 'Gift of the Gab' ... I like to talk & to tell you things. In Celtic times news, views and comment were carried from place to place by wandering Seanachaí ~ Storytellers ~ who relied on their host's hospitality and appreciation. I will need that from you too, as I venture to share Politics, Poetry, Laughter, Love, Life & everything in-between ... from Bog to Blog!!

Friday, November 19, 2010

As You Wish!

It's Film Friday, and given the week that is in it I thought this the perfect review to do.  My first ever cinematic foray was when I was three years old to see 'The Wizard of Oz' with my Mom.  I was Mesmerised. In fact, I adored the medium so much that I made her sit through it twice with me so I could absorb all the wonderment it contained.  I've never lost my obesession with movies,  so,  a couple of years ago when a friend quoted 'The Princess Bride' & I didn't know the movie, both of us were a little shocked.  We remedied that rather quickly (it was my bedtime story for a while).  And now, I adore both the book & movie versions,  so much so that it has become my very favourite tale of a Princess & her Pirate!!

 With a cough and an image of a Loaded Nintendo video game, “the grandson” (Fred Savage) makes his entrance. In need of both getting well and amusement,  his grandpa (Peter Falk), begins to read him the tale of 'The Princess Bride',  by S. Morgan Stern.  Grandpa informs grandson that this tale includes “fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, and miracles.”   What more could anyone ask for?

And so, the story of Westley (Cary Elwes) and his love, Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright), begins .... While serving the young Princess as a boy, Westley professes his love by exclaiming As you wish instead of I love you”.   She slowly comes to realise this truth & it becomes the driving force of the film & her life.

 “Life is pain... anyone who says different is selling something”

But those lines are only a very small part of what makes 'The Princess Bride' such a special motion picture.  And, for those who crave features that can be enjoyed by every member of the family (grammar school kid, teenage troublemaker, tough-to-please twenty-something, beleaguered mom and dad, and grumpy grandparents), there may be nothing better than this motion picture, which celebrates fairy tales and true love with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. This is what happens when stories of heroism and derring-do collide head-on with a Monty Python sensibility. Best of all, despite its satirical bent, 'The Princess Bride' can still be enjoyed on the simpler level of the story of a princess being rescued by her one true love, which still keeps my six year old stuck to the sofa throughout.

The Princess Bride is constructed as a story-within-a-story, with the framing scenes occurring in the "real world" as a grandfather (Peter Falk) stops by to read a story to his sick grandson (Fred Savage).  During these scenes, Director Rob Reiner makes a statement about the value of books over electronic forms of entertainment. When the grandfather arrives, his grandson is playing a video game, a blank expression on his face. But, once the story takes flight in his imagination, he is absorbed and transfixed ~ transported to another time and place in a way that even the best electronic game cannot accomplish. I too believe this!

 "This is true love ~ you think this happens every day?"

  The primary narrative, which evolves as the grandfather reads it (and occasionally interrupts it to intersperse comments or skip over boring parts), takes place in the magical land of Florin, and tells of the true love between peasant girl Butercup (Robin Wright) and stablehand Westley (Cary Elwes).  After declaring their unending love for each other, they are separated, and Westley is reported dead. Buttercup, cold-hearted and stone-faced after her loss, is chosen by the crown prince, Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), to be his bride.  Humperdinck's motives, however, are not pure. He intends to arrange for Buttercup's abduction, frame rival country Guilder for her murder, and start a war with the backing of the common folk, who love their princess-to-be. To this end, he hires three rogues to capture Buttercup .... the wily Sicilian Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), who fancies himself to be the smartest man in the world and has a fondness for the word "inconceivable;" the giant Fezzik (Andre the Giant), who is dumb, kind-hearted, and humungous, and the swordsman Inigo Montoya (Mandy Pantankin), who is scouring the world in search of the six-fingered man who killed his beloved father.

"My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

 When William Goldman wrote those words, he did not intend for them to become a fragment of '80's pop culture. When Mandy Patinkin spoke those words, he didn't expect his every inflection to be endlessly mimicked. And when Rob Reiner directed those words, he had no idea that kids and young adults everywhere would be repeating them. Nevertheless, there's no doubting that nearly every movie-going American (at least) is familiar with those three short sentences. Reiner has stated that, along with "I'll have what she's having" and "You can't handle the truth",   this represents one of the three most often quoted excerpts of dialogue from his movies.    This movie stands as one of the most eminently quotable films ever made ~ this side of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, anyways,  & it's filled in my FB status box on more than one occasion!

Vizzini, Fezzik, and Inigo kidnap Buttercup one day when she's out riding. Heading for the Guilder/Florin frontier, they spirit her away by boat. Hot on their trail is the ship of the Dread Pirate Roberts (a.k.a. The Man in Black). He pursues them to the Cliffs of Insanity, where he engages in a duel of steel with Inigo, a wrestling match with Fezzik, and a match of wits with Vizzini to win Buttercup.  Once she is in his custody,  he reveals himself to be Westley.  Fleeing Humperdinck and his lackey,  Count Rugen (Christopher Guest), Buttercup and Westley enter the dreaded Fire Swamp, where the ROUS (Rodents of Unusual Size) are only one of the dangers. And, once they get out, there's still Humperdinck to deal with. Fortunately, Westley and Buttercup are not without allies. Fezzik and Inigo have joined them, and there's also help from a wizened old dwarf named Miracle Max (Billy Crystal), who harbours no love for Humperdinck or Rugen.

 "Is this a kissing book?"

For director Rob Reiner, 'The Princess Bride' represented the fourth of seven consecutive commercial and critical successes (a streak that began with 1984's This Is Spinal Tap and ended with 1992's A Few Good Men). The tone owes more to Spinal Tap than to any of Reiner's other outings though ~ it is witty and irreverent without ever going so far over-the-top that it turns the proceedings into camp. Reiner manages the difficult yet ultimately rewarding task of creating a movie that simultaneously parodies a genre while also celebrating and participating in it.  Despite the satirical edge and the fantastic setting, we come to care about these individuals.

The film is based on the book by William Goldman, who wrote his own screenplay adaptation.  Years later, he would comment that he was only fully satisfied with the motion picture versions of two of his scripts ~  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Princess Bride!!

The average family film is targeted primarily at children, with a few elements thrown in to go over the youngsters' heads and appeal to their parents. (Many Disney films fit into this category.)   I've seen so many of these over the years as I pander to my soon to be 7 year old!  

The crafting of The Princess Bride, however, is superior. Nearly every aspect of the film delights all potential viewers. The sword fight between Inigo and Westley, for example, offers equal thrills to 7-year olds and 27-year olds (although the verbal repertoire that accompanies the physical struggle will resonate more with older viewers).  Incidentally, that particular sequence, arguably the best screen fencing battle in film history (including those from the likes of Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks), is notable for its lack of stunt doubles. All of the action (except a couple of acrobatic flips) is performed by the actors, not stunt doubles. Mandy Patankin and Cary Elwes studied for months to be able to pull off this struggle convincingly.

"As you wish" was all he ever said to her.

 Everyone who has seen The Princess Bride has a favourite scene, and it's a testimony to the film's start-to-finish strength that nearly every minute of the movie's running length is on someone's list. The candidates are wide and varied, ranging from the Inigo/Westley swordfight to the battle of intelligence with Vezzini to the Pit of Despair to the visit to Miracle Max's to the storming of the castle and the duel with the six-fingered man. There is little, if anything, in The Princess Bride that doesn't work. Reiner hits all the right notes, and it would be impossible to achieve a better overall tone.    

There isn't a bad casting choice, either. Robin Wright and Cary Elwes were selected as much for their good looks as for their acting ability, and they prove to be a superior romantic couple. Wright, despite being California bred, affects a flawless British accent.   No mean feat when you live here every day & realise how different the language actually is on either side of the Atlantic Ocean!  

Elwes is equally at home with comedy, action, and drama. Mandy Patankin, playing Inigo, matches Elwes' athleticism and develops a character who is instantly sympathetic (despite initially being a "bad guy"). Andre the Giant represents the mighty Fezzik as a lovable brute, and Wallace Shawn is hilarious as the egotistic Vizzini, whose end is inconceivable. Chris Sarandon elevates Humperdinck's pomposity to amazing levels, and Christopher Guest underlies Rugen's cowardly ways with a sense of the sinister.

 Although children generally appreciate The Princess Bride's pseudo-fairy tale narrative and action-oriented approach, much of the dialogue is designed for adults. Mostly credited to Goldman,  it's brilliant stuff!   The quips traded by Inigo and Westley during their duel are as impressive as the actual swordsmanship. Vizzini's double-talk about which cup is poisoned (during the battle of wits) needs to be listened to several times before it begins to make twisted sense.

The word "brilliant" is often overused in the movie business,  but this is one of those occasions when it is absolutely warranted.   Identifying its impact isn't easy ~ let's just say it is effective as a swashbuckling epic, romantic fable, and as a satire of these genres.   The Princess Bride is an unparalleled achievement ~ a modern classic that will be enjoyed for generations to come.  Equally as Enthralling & as much a classic as 'The Wizard of Oz'  which took me through my tormented childhood years.


  1. And to think that Prince William could have made ME a Princess for real this week .... Pana in the Palace!!

    Perhaps I should stick to Pirates & their treasures. They do have big black moustaches & I am a traditionalist!!!