4. The Princess Bride (1987)

Director: Rob Reiner

Starring: Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Robin Wright, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, André the Giant, Fred Savage, Peter Falk, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane

There were fairy tales aplenty in 1980’s American cinema, most of which I can find distinctive ways of enjoying, films such as “The Dark Crystal” (1982), “The NeverEnding Story” (1984), “Legend” (1985), and “Labyrinth” (1986). They were all of them pretty straightforward in the way that they told their respective stories. Director Rob Reiner takes the clichéd tale of the hero who saves the girl from the bad guy who wears the crown and infuses it with just a touch of satire. Had he thrown in too much, “The Princess Bride” could have become a total farce. Fortunately, he has so many great characters and equally talented actors to play those parts that the humor never overstays its welcome, and instead we can focus on the well-told story, adapted for the screen by William Goldman from his original novel.

Cary Elwes and Robin Wright (in her first starring role) are perfect to portray young lovers Westley and Buttercup. Their story, particularly in the beginning, would be a bit sugary sweet on its own, but is terrifically aided by the external narrative of a young Chicago boy (Fred Savage) and his grandfather (Peter Falk). The boy is bed-ridden with an undisclosed illness, and his grandfather has come over with a story that he wants to read to him. The boy gets impatient during the romantic stuff in the beginning. He’d rather hear about battle scenes where men meet the pointy end of a sword. All in good time… or, as the grandfather says: “Keep your shirt on!” The boy’s interest is piqued once he hears the part about Westley being presumed killed at the hands of pirates. Westley hasn’t been murdered, of course, but the boy is now hooked.

Any good fantasy film thrives on its supporting characters whom the heroes meet along their journey. Here, they aren’t just cyphers but actual fleshed-out characters, some with background stories that really help you to feel like you’ve gotten to know them. Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) is a Spanish swordsman who has spent 20 years seeking out the man responsible for his father’s murder. Fezzik (André the Giant), the big man with an even bigger heart and a talent for rhyme (“some of the time”), is Inigo’s companion on his travels. Both will eventually meet with, fight, and later befriend a man dressed all in black and wearing a mask who goes by the name “The Dread Pirate Roberts,” yet sounds remarkably like Westley.

Some of the best scene-chewing in “The Princess Bride” comes from its villains. Chris Sarandon is the aforementioned evil man of royal descent, Prince Humperdinck. He has chosen Buttercup as his bride due to her status as a commoner. His interest in their union is purely political, romance be damned. His right-hand man with an extra digit on said appendage, Count Rougen (Christopher Guest) may or may not be the very target whom Inigo has been searching for his entire adult life. Arguably the best character in the movie, and certainly my personal favorite, is the Sicilian criminal Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) who, with the hired help of Inigo and Fezzik, initially kidnaps Buttercup before Westley… I mean Roberts… interferes. Vizzini is funniest when expressing annoyance towards Inigo and Fezzik, participating in a “battle of wits” with Roberts/Westley, and in the most memorable utterance of the word “inconceivable” dating back to its invention.

“The Princess Bride” is, quite simply, a timeless classic. It has always been near the top of my list of favorites, currently resting comfortably at #4. The score is composed by Mark Knopfler of the band Dire Straits (FYI, their 1985 album “Brothers in Arms” is one of THE great musical compositions of the 1980’s). Knopfler’s most memorable track, “Once Upon A Time…Storybook Love,” has been used by two longtime friends of mine, a brother and sister, as the song associated with their weddings.

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