*BEWARE OF SPOILERS BELOW*
One of my earliest memories is an afternoon spent at my uncle’s house watching Rob Reiner’s 1987 film The Princess Bride with my parents and my uncle. I must have been young, because it’s a hazy memory—in that way memories of early childhood can be. What I do remember clearly, however, is the scene where Westley (Cary Elwes) fights an ROUS. For no particular reason that I know of, it is that scene that has stuck in my head after all these years, and after so many (read: SO many) subsequent viewings of the film.
As a whole, The Princess Bride never seems to get old. What do I enjoy about it? There is a subtlety to the romance; comedy in what should be the violence; and no small amount of suspense in the adventure. What I’ve found over the years is that my love of The Princess Bride is very much connected to my love of old movies. In fact, Elwes’ recent monograph, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, suggests a similar connection. For instance, Reiner and Elwes both mention the desire to make Westley out to be a kind of Douglas Fairbanks Jr. or Errol Flynn-like character—personally, I see a lot of the latter in the role.
In describing the job of casting and preparing Elwes, Reiner says: “Because the swordfight is described [in William Goldman’s original book] as the greatest swordfight in modern history, I wanted to make good on that” (As You Wish 67).* The director goes on to explain his desire to even outdo the classics like Flynn, who Reiner mentions was only shot performing his swordfighting acts in close-up with stunt doubles handling the long shots. In The Princess Bride, however, Elwes and Mandy Patinkin (Inigo Montoya) were trained to swordfight for all the shots (both right-handed and left). They even received much of their training from Peter Diamond, the man who worked closely with Flynn on many of his films and has a long list of credits for his own work in many other classics. All in all, this kind of dedication and sincerity to fully provide adventure, drama, suspense, and even romance, is palpable in the finished product.
The intelligence, or rather wit, with which the story and the film were made is evident; and it is the lightheartedness which with this intelligence expresses itself that, I believe, proves entertaining and timeless. I dare you to spend a day testing the people around you. Throw out any number of quotes from The Princess Bride (“As you wish,” “Inconceivable,” “I do not think it means what you think it means,” or “Have fun storming the castle,” to name, really, only a few) and see what reactions you get. I’m sure you’ll find fans almost anywhere.
The Princess Bride was not much of a success upon its initial release. However, as with many cult classics, it became a huge hit not long after. I think Grandpa’s declaration at the beginning of the film provides some insight into this phenomenon—the film, like the book, really does have it all: “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…” The brilliance of Reiner’s work in this case seems to be its honest intentions for thrills and the simultaneous desire to poke fun at itself. This openness makes it a movie well suited for audiences of all ages, and it also makes for a movie that stands up to the passing of time.
In celebration of the film’s 30th Anniversary, the Indiana University Cinema will screenThe Princess Bride Friday, August 25, 2017 at 11:59pm as a part of the Midnight Movies film series, and a second time on Saturday, August 26, 2017 at 3pm as a part of the CINEkids International Children’s Film Series.
*Elwes, Cary. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride. Touchstone, 2014.
A PhD Candidate in Communication and Culture, Katherine studies film and media, genre (particularly the Western), gender, and performance. She has a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and has been fascinated with film since she could remember