The Princess Bride: A Modern Classic

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Produced: in 1987 by Rob Reiner/Andrew Scheinman of “Act III Communications.” 

Based on the book The Princess Bride by William Goldman (also the author of the screenplay) 

Film: Rated PG (for some intense sequences, mild violence, brief language), in color, 98 minutes. 

Features: Cary Elwes (Westley), Robin Wright (Buttercup), Mandy Patkin (Inigo Montoya), Chris Saradon (Prince Humperdinck), Christopher Guest (Count Rugen), Wallace Shawn (Vizzini), Andre the Giant (Fezzik).  Special Appearances: Peter Falk, Carol Kane, and Billy Crystal. 

Genre: Adventure/Fairytale/Drama/Satire 

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      “The Princess Bride: not your basic, average, everyday, ordinary, run-of-the-mill, ho-hum fairytale.” (the end of the original 1987 trailer) 

     A tale of high adventure, “Twue Love,” excellent swordplay, and some great one-liners, The Princess Bride is a multi-generation family favorite. Kids love the storyline and characters while adults enjoy the subtly satirical nature of the film. Although the movie showed little success at its first publication (perhaps the title turned people away?), it became wildly popular in 1988 (when VHS and new-fangled “videos” were introduced) as the few who had first loved The Princess Bride showed it to their children… and then to their grandchildren. 

     The movie begins as a story told by a grandfather (played by the inimitable Peter Falk) to his sick grandson. Buttercup, a beautiful young peasant girl, is in love with Westley, a penniless “farm boy.” He goes off to find his fortune so as to someday marry her and is soon proclaimed dead – captured and executed by pirates, the typical medieval romance tragedy. Young Buttercup is devastated and reluctantly accepts the offer of marriage from the kingdom’s Prince Humperdinck, who wishes to please the commoners by wedding a peasant bride. 

     Warning: spoilers ahead! Then comes the plot twist. The bride-to-be is kidnapped by mercenary killers: Vizzini, a philosophical Sicilian, Fezzik, a friendly giant, and Inigo Montoya, a magnanimous duelist with a vow to slay his father’s murderer. A mysterious Man in Black – presumably a pirate – gives chase to the killers, defeats them, and rescues Princess Buttercup. In doing so, he reveals to Buttercup that he is her beloved long-lost Westley. 

            Together they flee the pursuing Prince Humperdinck (who happens to be the evil employer of the kidnappers) and begin a series of near-disaster adventures. In a desperate attempt to save Westley’s life, Buttercup eventually surrenders, agreeing to marry the Prince. Rather than keeping his side of the bargain and releasing Buttercup’s valiant hero, Humperdinck instead secretly has Westley tortured and “mostly” killed. Then the Giant and the avenging Spaniard return to find the Man in Black, revive him, become his trusted compatriots, and with his assistance stop Humperdinck from marrying Buttercup in an epic showdown. 

     Some excellent themes from the movie are the sacrificial love of Westley and the faithfulness and constancy of Princess Buttercup. Some Christ-like parallels could perhaps be drawn between Westley’s determination to save his beloved at all costs – even his life – and Jesus Christ’s sacrificial love for His Bride, the Church. 

Westley: “I told you I was coming back; why didn’t you wait for me?”

 

Buttercup: “Well, you were dead.”

 

Westley: “Death cannot stop true love; all it can do is delay it for a while.” 

    Similar to the miraculous Resurrection of Christ, love prevails and death is conquered in The Princess Bride. 

     Princess Buttercup in turn has complete confidence in Westley. She says to Prince Humperdinck on the night before their wedding, “My Westley will always come for me.” She trusts in him, and her faith is rewarded by his timely return. 

     “We are men of action. Lies do not become us.” (-Westley to Count Rugen) This rebuke well sums up the Middle Age flavor of The Princess Bride; it is reminiscent of the ancient days in which a man’s word alone could be relied on, when a gallant knight rode to the rescue of his fair lady, when the term “chivalry” was not yet obsolete. It adds a romantic feel to the movie that is uniquely its own. 

     While the Bride is not strictly comedic, it contains some hilarious breaks from the gravity of the storyline. For example, when Westley appears to be dead and is being examined by Miracle Max, a rather eccentric old wizard (Billy Crystal), delivers this line: 

     Miracle Max: “True Love is the greatest thing in the world. Except for a nice MLT – mutton, lettuce, and tomato sandwich – when the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe.” 

     Other highlights of The Princess Bride include a bona fide duel between Westley as the Man in Black and the Spaniard, the multitude of memorable (and very quotable) lines, the lack of CGI (computer generated imagery) whatsoever, the beautiful London/Peak District of Derbyshire setting, and simply the expertise of the actors. For those who have not yet risked the unknown by watching The Princess Bride, I can only say, “Have fun storming the castle!” It is absolutely and entirely inconceivable. 

Sources: 

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes 

The Princess Bride 20th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (Act III Communications- Reiner/Scheinman)

By Anna Maria

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