Saturday, June 7, 2014

24. The Princess Bride (1987)

Code-name: Iocaine

Director: Rob Reiner

Writer: William Goldman (novel AND screenplay) 
Type: Fantasy, comedy, romance, adventure, book-to-movie adaptation


Buttercup, the Princess Bride- Robin Wright
Wesley- Cary Elwes
Vizzini- Wallace Shawn
Fezzik- Andre the Giant
Inigo Montoya- Mandy Patinkin
Prince Humperdink- Chris Sarandon
Count Rugen- Christopher Guest
The Albino- Mel Smith
Miracle Max- Billy Crystal
Valerie- Carol Kane
The "Impressive" Clergyman- Peter Cook
The Grandson- Fred Savage
The Grandfather- Peter Falk

Notable Nominations:

OSCAR- Best Original Song- "Storybook Love" by Willy DeVille
Grammy- Best Score for a Motion Picture- Mark Knopfler


Some Spoilers To Follow

Skepticism Turned to True Love

Considering how I grew up with a lot of Disney movies involving fairytales and princesses, I don't know why I resisted this movie for the years that I did. One of several movies my mom tried to sell me on over the years , but I don't remember any specifics other than "it's a cute movie."

The day I saw it for the first time, it was during my art class in middle school. I believe it was towards the end of the year on this particular occasion.

I saw this movie, figured I'd give it a shot and... at some point, I was immediately turned onto it and the love affair began.

I don't remember the specific moment where it "clicked" for me... but I'd wager it was when Vizzini, Fezzik and Inigo were introduced and they were being pursued by "Zorro."

It's funny how the trivia for this movie says that the Dreaded Pirate Roberts look was modeled after Zorro because I didn't know what else to think of it.
Ironically, the school year ended after Wesley gets 50 years sucked away by "the machine" and is presumed dead... the worst possible cliffhanger imaginable for this movie.

Of course, I'm freaking out, not wanting to leave things off without knowing what happens. But if I remember right, I didn't get my hands on a Blockbuster rental for a couple weeks, maybe even a month after this. Guess I wasn't in that much of a hurry...

A Little Bit of Everything

First of all, this movie is told in somewhat of a creative way. We're introduced to an unnamed grandson, home sick from school, who receives a visit from his grandfather (also unnamed). To help him feel better, the grandfather reads him a book that was read to him by his father, that he read to his father.

As he tells the story, we the audience see the visuals come to life, and occasionally we cut back to them during some dramatic parts of the story.
After giving him the "in my day, television was called books" line, the grandfather runs down all of the things that happen:
"Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles..."

It's amazing that a balance is struck between all the genres represented here. It's one thing to carry on a love story, which includes a love triangle. It's another to give an additional storyline to a presumed second-tier character that, crazy enough, intersects with the main storyline that provides plenty of good action scenes and comic relief.


At the center is the relationship between a girl and her farm boy, Wesley. For years, she loved bossing him around and asking him to do tedious tasks for her, but he had nothing but love for her. By the time they come to realize this, he leaves to seek fortune across the sea (I assume to marry her), and is killed by pirates.
After weeks of mourning, Buttercup becomes engaged to Prince Humperdrink, who falls for her beauty and according to the law of the land, he has the right to choose his bride.

We're introduced to, we originally presume, the main villain and his two lackeys that kidnap Buttercup to start a war between the countries of Gildar and Florin.

As they make their escape, they're pursed by "the man in black" (aka "Zorro"... minus the cape). This pursuit becomes increasingly serious (just follow the "inconceivable!" s) so Vizzini splits the crew up one by one, hoping his men with their unique skill sets can stop him.


The Adversary: Inigo Montoya
-we hear his backstory, how he's searching for the "six fingered man" who killed his father... you know the drill :-P
The Skill: Fencing (both left AND right handed)

The rewatchability value of this movie is pretty amazing. If anything, it's worth waiting for all three of these duels. Some great banter is in this first one with Inigo so excitable and "The Man in Black" being so laid-back and sarcastic.

One final "inconceivable" later...


The Adversary: Fezzik
The Skill:...
Fezzik: no tricks, no weapons, skill against your own
The Man in Black: You mean, you put down your rock, I'll put down my sword and we try to kill each other like civilized people?

Somehow, Fezzik loses this fight, despite his massive strength and size. After the thrill of the previous fight, this duel is a little anti-climatic and feels drawn out. It also takes a few views to understand his dialogue.
...I forget the circumstances, but I think my mom said she briefly met Andre the Giant once when she was working at the Penny Arcade years ago.


The Adversary: Vizzini
The Skill: "A Battle of Wits"

After bragging about being smarter than Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, the Man in Black challenges Vizzini to a battle of wits to the death.

Here we see the "odorless, tasteless, dissolves instantly in liquid and one of the more deadly poisons known to man"... known as Iocaine... fictional, by the way.

He supposedly pours the poison into one goblet and Vizzini has to pick which one has the poison in it.
Now this banter is hilarious because it goes on for ages and the result... a catch-22, really... the first time I saw it, it totally caught me off guard as did the explanation. Very unexpected and in a cool way.


The Man in Black is Wesley who inherited the pirate ship Revenge and the name of Dread Pirate Roberts from the very pirate that was rumored to have killed him... It also turns out that the name was passed down through a series of individuals. Although Wesley started as a prison on presumed death row, the pirate never killed him and they wound up becoming friends.

Not all things are as they seem in this story, which always keeps it exciting.

I had my suspicions and hopes early on that Wesley was the Man in Black. For a split second, when he said to Buttercup "he died well, that should please you," I remember feeling overcome with sadness that my hopes had been dashed...

Then of course, it was all a façade and Wesley was alive.

Meanwhile as we see the various duels unfold, we also see Prince Humperdink [who I always joke is wearing a dress in these scenes, lol] and Count Rugen pursuing Buttercup's kidnappers.

Wesley and Buttercup have their reunion, but it only lasts through the dreaded "fire swamp." It's pretty rough and graphic at points, especially when Wesley comes face to face with the ROUSes (rodents of unusual size).

She goes back with Humperdink and Wesley is held in the Pit of Despair to await torture.
The plot stalls for only 10-15 minutes or so. Buttercup comes to realize [mostly thanks to a crazy-ass dream where this old lady breaks the fourth wall to wake her up to the truth that] she will always love Wesley. Humperdrink plays along, but only we the audience know he has an even more devious plan in mind.

Not only is he not a real Prince Charming, but he SPOILER had actually hired Vizzini and his crew to murder Buttercup so he can start a war with Gildar... seriously, some crazy stuff goes on that goes against the conventions of most fairytales.

Like Buttercup preferring farm boy-turned-pirate Wesley over a Prince... of course, you had to be there in the beginning to believe why this is. Plus all sorts of despicable reasons as to why Humperdink is a bit of a jerk that has no business marrying anyone.

As I mentioned earlier, the most unconventional part that works with this movie is how the supporting characters, the lackeys, particularly Inigo Montoya gets his storyline... not only continued but resolved.  Heck, if you really look beyond the surface, he's the most interesting, most complex character this movie has... except for maybe Humperdink.

So we get to the point where I left off the first time...

Buttercup loses her temper with Humperdink, so he uses his torture machine to kill Wesley.
By some miracle, Inigo and Fezzik find him and bring him to Miracle Max to revive.

To be brutally honest, the rest of this movie probably would have fallen apart had it not been for Fezzik. If he hadn't found Inigo (back to being the drunkard he was when Vizzini hired him), Wesley wouldn't have been saved and neither would have Buttercup. Plus, it helped lighten the mood (the movie was getting kinda dark and hopeless at this point) and kept the momentum going.

Although we don't see all the details, the grandfather's narration clues us in that Fezzik found the "six-fingered man" and wakes Inigo out of his stupor. Inigo decides to look for Wesley because he needs a brilliant mind to plan his storming of the castle.

Three parts of the movie are particularly memorable and always worth the revisit of the whole.

The first is Wesley's three-part duel with Vizzini and his crew.
The second is the scene with Miracle Max.
And the third is the wedding ceremony between Buttercup and Humpderink
(well, four if you include Wesley's "To the Pain" speech to Humperdink)

From start to finish, Miracle Max is probably the funniest, most quotable scene this movie has. The man is played by none other than Billy Crystal, completely unrecognizable except for his voice. If he wasn't funny enough on his own, Carol Kane who plays his wife... forget about it! :-P

It's hard to resist the temptation of quoting this scene as it's progressing. It's even harder not to do it while imitating their voices.

So Wesley is revived (without much strength in his extremities) and goes with Inigo and Fezzik to storm the castle.

Buttercup and Humperdink are married by the "impressive" clergyman who begins the sermon with the ever-memorable "wah-widge... wah-widge is what bwings us togetha today"

Everyone gets exactly what they want out of the deal... except for Humperdink, obviously.

And the grandson, who was calling for Humperdink's murder earlier on when Wesley was presumed dead :-P

Inigo's final showdown with Count Rugen is pretty impressive, although one can't help but wonder how he survived that blow to the stomach... especially considering this is set in medieval times.

But yeah, it's a great conclusion to his 20 year request for revenge and it proves cathartic for him as well as Mandy Patinkin, the actor who plays him. According to a bit of trivia, his final blow to Count Rugen was, to him, like killing the cancer that killed his father.

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

Wesley's "To the Pain" speech, in a nutshell, is his wish for Humperdink "to live in anguish wallowing in freakish misery forever" because it is the only punishment worthy of him after all the trouble he put him and Buttercup through.

This fantasy involves maiming his limbs, taking out his tongue and his eyes.

The only thing that remains are the ears. ("Wrong! Your ears you keep!")
Once the speech is done, Buttercup ties up Humperdink (wearing another dress, btw, lol) to leave to rot and the foursome head for the horizon on the four white horses Fezzik finds for them.

Actors and Actresses

For the most part, this is another of those movies where, for me, it's more about the story and the genres represented more than the actors.

However, I cannot go into this movie without giving a good part of the discussion to Cary Elwes.
With Cary Elwes as Wesley, he was the quintessential knight in shining armor... minus the armor, obviously. For the sake of his beloved, he's willing to go to any lengths to reunite with her and he looks dashingly handsome while doing so. He has vulnerability and doesn't let that hold him back. So handsome, great speaking voice and overall, he's aged well.
It was interesting to see him as the villain in "Ella Enchanted," the reverse of the role he's best known for. [He's also great in "Robin Hood: Men in Tights," like the second coming of Errol Flynn, albeit more comedic]
What's incredible to me about him is that, despite all the years that have gone by, he still embraces this role and he looks back on it as one of the best experiences he ever had on a film.

The same goes for Mandy Patinkin. He's done so many other things since this movie. Most recently, the ShowTime series "Homeland," and he still loves it when people come up to him and quote his infamous line.

Wallace Shawn is hilarious in this movie, despite only being in it for a short time.

He introduced us to "inconceivable!"

Early on what made this movie work for me was the banter between Fezzik and Inigo, completing each other's sentences and such. They're lackeys originally, but they get along so well that they become best friends.

Buttercup's resolve in her love for Wesley as much as he's persistent about getting her back. Other than that, Buttercup might not be the strongest character in this movie. But as of lately, we've been spoiled by free-minded princesses and this movie came out 25+ years ago so that can be overlooked. Sure, she's blonde, but I don't find her all that pretty. And she's kinda one-note.

Chris Sarandon makes a pretty good villain, something he did a bang up job of in the 80's. Between this and "Fright Night," which I only saw recently because Anton Yelchin starred in the remake.

He also plays a good role further into my countdown, so I'll talk about him more then.

Between "The Wonder Years" and "Boy Meets World," the Brothers Savage were pretty big in the late 80's, early 90's. Fred Savage was here just before he did "The Wonder Years" and has since gone on to directing as well as occasionally acting.

I remember one cameo he did on "Boys Meets World" where I did not like him much at all... he was putting the moves on Topanga despite being her teacher and threatened to have Corey expelled after getting into an altercation with him.

And In Memorium, Andre the Giant (1946-1993) and Peter Falk (1927-2011) will be missed for their various contributions, but certainly in their loveable, memorable roles here.

Overall, though, the movie's biggest star has to be the script.

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