Classic Film Review: The Princess Bride

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‘Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.’

(The Princess Bride, Rob Reiner, USA, 1987)

Recently I sat down with my boyfriend and forced him to watch The Princess Bride on his big, shiny, widescreen TV of the future. Previously I had only ever watched this, the film of my childhood, on a tiny portable television carefully placed six feet away; so as to preserve my precious sight (thanks Mum, considering I now have a prescription of  -6, that really helped), from a video tape my Dad had recorded off the telly in 1992. Years later I took that video cassette to university, and it remained my staple post-pub viewing until I could barely see Columbo shuffling into Fred’s room for the static of video death.

So, for me, watching a shiny, pristine copy of The Princess Bride was akin to a religious experience. I gazed in rapture and amazement. It was even better and more fun than I remembered it. So, imagine my surprise when suddenly, at the iconic moment when Buttercup realises the Dread Pirate Roberts is in fact her beloved Westley, my boyfriend burst into fits of uncontrollable laughter. When he could speak again, he pointed out to me that instead of Robin Wight-Penn throwing herself down the hill after her farm boy, it was in fact a burley long haired stunt man, wearing a dress.*

Now, following my perhaps less than inspiring anecdote, how best to describe Rob Reiner’s opus? It is obviously a damn fine film that can come back from such obvious stunt man usage. The film starts with a simple framing device; Peter Falk is a grandfather reading a book to his young grandson, before the characters come to life before our very eyes. Set in a deliberately contradictory fantasy setting, Westley is a poor farm boy, but Buttercup loves him. However, he must go away and make his fortune before he can marry her. His ship is captured by the Dread Pirate Roberts, and everyone knows that he never leaves captives alive…BUT of course Westley is not dead, and he returns just in time to stop his true love from marrying the dastardly Prince Humperdink. With a little help from a revenge obsessed Spaniard, and a friendly giant. And Billy Crystal, who I swear I spent my childhood thinking was an old, old man, so good is Miracle Max’s prosthetic face. **

So far, so Walt Disney, perhaps you are thinking. Sounds just like your standard fairytale. Yeah, right, if your standard fairytale has Mel Smith playing a cynical albino with a wheelbarrow (and yeah, I thought he actually was albino until I was about eighteen). Sadly, young Fred Savage is not as impressed with this story as I was, frequently interrupting his kindly grandfather with complaints about this ‘being a kissing book.’ When I was younger, I thought Fred was rude and ungrateful to speak to his grandfather that way.  I found his interruptions annoying, and wished he would shut up so they could get on with the story. It was only later, when I read the 1973 novel on which the film was based (written by William Goldman, who also adapted the screenplay. If I ever meet him I will get down on my knees and kiss his feet), that I realised how integral this bond between grandfather and grandson was to the story, though of course it was so simplified down for the film version that it barely worked as more than a pleasant snap shot of a blossoming relationship.

Fifty per cent of my humour is derived from The Princess Bride. I still maintain that if I hadn’t been exposed to it from such an early age, I might have grown into a nice person, instead of the twisted, cynical wretch that I am today, constantly exclaiming that ‘life is pain, and anyone who says any differently is selling something’, and cackling. The magic of this film, beyond the slightly low budget costumes, Westley’s interesting facial hair and the shoddy mechanical giant rats, is the dialogue. The excellent script is what sets it apart from similar films, and no film until perhaps 2004’s Anchorman has offered such a plethora of quotable-ness. If I ever manage true love, I want it to be with someone who does dry one-liners like Westley. I think I’ve been looking for him all my life.

So, while the visuals from The Princess Bride may look dated now, the wit is as razor sharp as ever, and it will always be so.

True love never dies.

*If nothing else I write about this film makes you want to watch it, then this will. You’re already thinking about it.

**For good, read incredibly dubious.

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