- Author Jonathan Evans
- Published October 23, 2013
Why I love… The Princess Bride
Fairy stories for kids aren’t cool, and bringing one to a Friday night in is asking for a good heaping of opprobrium, isn’t it? The Princess Bride – and What Hi-Fi? Sound & Vision‘s managing editor Jonathan Evans – dispels the myth.
I first saw The Princess Bride when it was released, almost by chance. I had time to kill, waiting for a plane home from the US, and at just over 90 minutes it was short enough to fit the bill. I knew nothing about the film but a glimpse of the director (Rob Reiner) and screenwriter (William Goldman) was good enough for me. Besides that I was quite taken with the thought that, if I saw it then, I would beat the film’s UK debut by about a month. Quite why I wanted bragging rights to a film that is, when you get down to it, a fairytale, didn’t cross my mind. Either way, it’s tempting to pretend I’ve been extolling the film’s virtues ever since, but that would be an untruth. It remained a guilty movie pleasure for quite some time – less mortifying than a few of my musical ones, perhaps, but still not for public disclosure.
I should have known better. This was director Rob Reiner in the middle of the purplest of purple patches. His three films before The Princess Bride were This Is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing (well, I liked it…) and Stand By Me. The three after: When Harry Met Sally…, Misery, and A Few Good Men. William Goldman had written the screenplays for Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, All The President’s Men, Marathon Man, and A Bridge Too Far for goodness’ sake. This was the Hollywood A-list.
And, with The Princess Bride, the pair hit the most glorious sweet spot. It’s a pastiche and a parody of any number of old adventure movies – think the Robin Hood of Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone – and laugh out loud funny on many occasions. Admittedly it can be a little “knowing” in its digs but it’s never mean-spirited – on the contrary, it’s funny, exciting and touching. And everything is done with such warmth and affection you can’t help but be swept along by the sheer joy of it.
“You killed my love.” “It’s possible. I kill a lot of people.”
Things are helped by a fine cast who get gleefully stuck in to the simple storyline and deliver loads of endlessly quotable lines. The star of the show for me is Mandy Patinkin, playing the noble drunkard swordsman on a quest for his father’s murderer. He is ably backed up by Cary Elwes and Robin Wright – the love interest – Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest and Wallace Shawn – the baddies – and even pro wrestler André the Giant, the good natured lummox who joins the quest. Add some wonderful cameos from Mel Smith, Billy Crystal and Peter Cook (whose over the top portrayal of the priest brings to mind Rowan Atkinson playing Peter Cook) and you’ve got a movie to lose yourself in time and again.
Reiner and Goldman lay the ground rules early: a young boy (Fred Savage) is stuck in bed, sick and off school. He grudgingly puts down the controller for his games console as his grandfather (Peter Falk) reads to him from an old book – and into the story we go. But we’re not three lines in before the action abruptly returns to the boy, who is extremely worried that this sounds like “a kissing book”.
Love and mawwiage
The story itself is deliberately clichéd and straight down the line. We know what’s going to happen; virtually all audiences will have been here many times. But it’s the little tweaks to convention that Reiner and Goldman insert that make the comedy. (The Shrek movies were to glean much from TPB more than a decade later.) There’s word play, wit, wisdom and whimsy to go along with some wonderful sight gags, terrific swordplay, a beautiful princess, a giant and an evil prince. What’s not to like?
“Prepare to die.”
Having kept the film to myself for a while, I was obliged to try director Reiner’s trick on three of my friends a year later. I had been dispatched (pre-Blockbuster) to a video shop one Friday night to buy beers and hire a VHS tape. I was late, so my choice was limited. And there it was, my guilty pleasure.
The barrage of abuse I endured when I revealed my selection was something I hadn’t properly prepared for. But I stuck to my guns, jammed the tape in, and off we went. Twenty minutes in, I hit the pause button – and we had them, Reiner, Goldman and I. Three new converts. “Inconceivable…”
“I’ve seen worse.”
My “favourite” movie changes with the years and my mood. Whenever I fall into conversation about my top 10, however, one of the constants has been The Princess Bride. It’s one I come back to again and again, and it’s one (along with The Godfather, The Eagle Has Landed and The Usual Suspects, naturally) I’ve passed to my children – just as the grandfather passed the book down to his grandson, and found that it created a bond between them.
So that’s it, then: The Princess Bride brings people together. I can hide it no longer – it’s my favourite movie.
Jonathan Evans is managing editor of What Hi-Fi? Sound & Vision