The real star of 1987’s “The Princess Bride” is writer William Goldman (“Hearts in Atlantis”), whose screenplay is at once trite, romantic, effective, and minimalistic. “Bride” is the type of movie that would be perfectly at home with the title card “once upon a time” opening up over black. Instead we get Peter Falk and Fred Savage as grandfather and grandson, respectively, with the former reading the “Bride” story to his sick grandson.
More humorous than funny, but always irreverent, “The Princess Bride” follows stable boy Westley (Cary Elwes) and his true love Buttercup (Robin Wright). When Westley leaves town to pursue his wealth in order to marry Buttercup, he ends up supposedly dead on the high seas. Meanwhile, the grief-stricken Buttercup is chosen by the vain Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) to be his princess bride. Things take a strange turn when 3 oddball crooks abduct Buttercup and a masked man in black appears to pursue them. Who is the man in black, and what exactly is Humperdinck’s relationship to the criminals?
Essentially a movie version of a long joke, “Princess Bride” has become something of a cult film, with many of its lines immortalized in the vast community called “fanboys”. It’s all owed to Goldman, who also wrote the original novel. The movie is completely lacking in any seriousness at all, despite the fact that then-newcomer Robin Wright (“Unbreakable”) plays her Buttercup as perhaps a tad too serious. As a result, she looks like the only one in the entire movie who doesn’t “get” the joke.
As the man in black and Buttercup’s soulmate, Cary Elwes (“Comic Book Villains”) looked destined for greatness after this movie. Alas this didn’t quite work out, since Elwes has been resigned to mostly small and supporting roles since. The other memorable characters are wrestler Andre the Giant, who plays the kindhearted but not-so-smart Fezzik; Mandy Patinkin (TV’s “Chicago Hope”) as Spaniard swordsman Inigo Montoya, who has spent most of his life looking for the six-fingered man who killed his father. And Chris Sarandon (“Fright Night”) plays the villain with the right combination of cunning and cowardice.
Known mostly for its flippant attitude and clever dialogue, “The Princess Bride” is nothing to take seriously. Director Rob Reiner (“Stand By Me”) shows little concern for the fact that much of the movie’s sets are just that — obviously movie sets. We’re talking about fake rocks, trees, forests — everything is so obviously fake that you can’t help but chuckle at. The film sometimes looks like a high school theater production, only less convincing. Then again, wasn’t that the point?
There’s nothing about “The Princess Bride” that will make you laugh out loud. It’s not that kind of movie. Most of its humor is derived from clever wordplay thanks to wordsmith William Goldman. It’s a silly movie, but it’s also the kind of movie that will make you smile every time.
Rob Reiner (director) / William Goldman (screenplay)
CAST: Cary Elwes …. Westley
Mandy Patinkin …. Inigo Montoya
Chris Sarandon …. Prince Humperdinck
Andr’ the Giant …. Fezzik
Robin Wright …. Buttercup