A young boy (Fred Savage) is sick and his grandfather (Peter Falk) comes over to read him a book called The Princess Bride by S. Morgenstern. Buttercup (Robin Wright) is a farmgirl who falls in love with a farmboy called Wesley (Cary Elwes). Hold it, hold it, what is this? Is this a kissing book? Keep your shirt on. Wesley goes off to seek his fortune, but doesn’t return because his ship was attacked by the Dread Pirate Roberts and Buttercup is left broken. Buttercup comes to the attention of Floren Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) as a local beauty and they become engaged. On a horse ride in the woods, she is kidnapped by a ragtag group of criminals, the brain Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), the Spaniard blade Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), and the giant Fezzick (André the Giant). They are pursued by a man dressed all in black. Inconceivable! A romantic journey ensues.
No more rhymes now, I mean it! Does anyone want a peanut?
I haven’t seen that many book adaptations, but The Princess Bride (1987) is clearly the best I’ve experienced. Both the book, by William Goldman, and the movie (written by Goldman), are phenomenal works in comedy. The book written from the perspective of the fan Goldman adapting a classic satire (like Gulliver’s Travels), which is a secondary piece of fiction. Goldman replaces himself with an adoring grandfather and only slightly alters the plot of a respectably long novel. Inconceivable!
You can read a little bit more, if you want.
It’s the sense of humor that translates the best, though. It isn’t just because Goldman is a very funny writer, but all of the actors (except maybe Wright who is a fine straight actor) are phenomenal comic actors even Andre. Why Cary Elwes has been in so little is beyond me. Look for Christopher Guest in one of his few uneccentric roles. They play their parts with such heart—aided with some terrific musical themes (Mark Knopfler) (though with slightly too much synthesizer)—that the movie is more than a chuckle. It’s a classic. It’s a timeless, romantic adventure with a sense of humor. I love modern works that use traditional themes. It reminds me that no eras or individuals are particularly exceptional in storytelling. We don’t have to worry that the human race is running out of ideas.
There’s not a lot of money in revenge.
The production values are on the simple side. I pair this movie with Labyrinth (1986) for this reason. A lot of studio work with very limited on-location stuff. It isn’t laughable, but a touch dated. You know what it’s like? It’s like the best Faerie Tale Theatre (1982-86)production of all time. So, compared with a movie like The Wizard of Oz (1939) that pushed the limits at the time, it’s limited. Does that affect how future generations will enjoy the movie? I don’t think so. A suitable comparison, I think, is Star Wars (1977). I inherited a nostalgia for that movie from my parents through VHS. So the same is possible for this movie. It wasn’t near the same level in box office takings, but it is well-loved.
Rob Reiner isn’t somebody you watch for camera work, but for great performances. This is a movie that really confirms that priority. So long as you can meet the threshold for other elements, one great strength can make the movie. Here, you’ve got two elements—performance and story—that are absolutely perfect.
Near the top of any Top-Ten comedies list. Must own. $7 on Amazon.