The Princess Bride (1987) directed by Rob Reiner and based on the novel of the same name by William Goldman isn’t just a cult classic. It’s not just a comedy or adventure film or rom-com and can’t be shoehorned or boxed into into any such one genre. With ‘fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love and miracles’ to run the gamut, this isn’t just any movie – it’s one you add to your marathon, binge, rewatch until everyone around you says ‘What, this again?’ A classic movie, it’s even on the National Film Registry. Its reception could be because of its rife quotability, laden with classic lines; but it’s such a cinematic chameleon, it has everything – what’s not to like?
The story of The Princess Bride is read to a young sick boy (Fred Savage) by his grandfather (Peter Falk). It’s a long-running family tradition passed down from father to son. At first, the boy scoffs, Is this a kissing book? probably speaking for everyone who hasn’t seen the movie but is being strong-armed into it by a fanatic friend.
In fictitious Florin, Buttercup (Robin Wright) lives on a farm, wherein she likes to order around her farmhand and he likes to answer her steep demands with a sweet as you wish. One day, Buttercup realizes he’s been speaking with a deeper meaning, for when he says as you wish, with his heart on his sleeve, he means I love you. But they can’t marry; Westley (Cary Elwes) is poor and penniless, so he leaves to find his fortune, only to be kidnapped and killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts.
Years pass; Buttercup believes Westley to be dead, and so when she is proposed to by dumb and self-important Prince Humperdinck, she accepts, though she doesn’t love him. Before their wedding, Buttercup is kidnapped by criminals; the ringleader of which is Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) the self-proclaimed but would-be genius, Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) the self-proclaimed avenger after his father’s six-fingered murderer and Fezzik (André the Giant) who proclaims very little but is a merry and unselfish giant of unquantifiable strength and stature. They’re followed by Humperdinck on horseback and pursued by the Man in Black.
From the Cliffs of Insanity through to the Rodents of Unusual Size, the Man in Black proves to be a better swordsman than Inigo, a better fighter than Fezzik and with better wits about him than Vizzini. Alone with Buttercup, the Man in Black is revealed to be the very same Dread Pirate Roberts that killed Westley – and then, after more fanfare and hateful raillery and you mock my pain, Buttercup pushes the Dread Pirate Roberts down the hillside. As he rolls, he says as you wish and she says, oh, my sweet Westley, what have I done? So: the Man in Black is the Dread Pirate Roberts. The Dread Pirate Roberts is Westley – at least, he’s been living and banking on the name since he’d been handed-down the title from the last imposter.
As Inigo searches for his revenge, he practices his killer icebreaker: Do you happen to have six fingers on your right hand? and his even-more-killer catchphrase: Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.
Prince Humperdinck plots how best to murder his almost-wife on their wedding night and start a war. Westley is captured, tied-down and ‘only mostly dead’ with skillful limbs rendered useless from torture. Meanwhile, Buttercup plays the Damsel in Distress – played-up for comedic effect, maybe, but still – who says things like my Westley will come for me most of the time while sitting around in pretty dresses.
Still, the film ranges from cheesily romantic to goofily funny, dumb to cute, but it isn’t hard to ascertain why there’s to-the-grave diehard fans who treat the movie like a religion. There are many themes and archetypes – but the biggest theme of all, love, is overarching and could soften even the hardest heart. And it’s fun, too, to watch the grandson become, gradually, more and more invested in the story. One can think thirty years later, he’s reading The Princess Diary to his own son.
If interested in catching this movie on the big screen, head to Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg. Their series, Fairy Tales, will be showing The Princess Bride on Wednesday, August 30th, for one night only.