A characteristic of a great story is when the person listening to said story keeps asking: “And then what happened?” Throughout Rob Reiner’s classic adventure film The Princess Bride (1987) the young boy (Fred Savage) listening to the story keeps asking the story teller, in this case his grandfather (Peter Falk), not to just to keep on reading, but also to skip the gross kissing parts. What makes The Princess Bride a classic is that you are continuously interested in knowing what is going to happen next, regardless if you are so young you are disgusted by the kissing parts, or old enough to not mind at all.
In a post Shrek era the film may seem somewhat quaint today since at times it almost resembles a parody of fairy tales movies. Upon first viewing when it was playing on a movie channel a few years ago, I thought it had a bit of a Mel Brooks vibe given the hero is played by Cary Elwes, also the star of Robin Hood: Men in Tights. However there is a lot more than just comedy in this bedtime story: there is romance, swords fighting, suspense, and a tale of revenge. It is also immensely quotable, with my favourite lines of dialogue being Inigo Montoya’s battle cry: “Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya. You have killed my father. Prepare to die!”
On paper, so to speak, the story the grandfather is reading sounds like many other fairy tales that have been read many times before. In the fictional country of Florin, Buttercup (Robin Wright) is set to marry Prince Humperdink (Chris Sarandon), who with a name like that is of course the villain of the story. In order to start a war with a neighbouring country, the evil prince has three bandits kidnap Buttercup with orders to later kill her. What the evil prince could not have counted on is the arrival of Buttercup’s long lost childhood love, Westley (Cary Elwes), who returns to save her.
Where this story takes a turn is how entertaining, odd, and fun all of these characters are, while being pretty blasé about all of the violence taking place around them. The three bandits who kidnap Buttercup are a Sicilian boss (Wallace Shawn) who knows a thing or two about poison, the giant Fizzik (André the Giant) who has a good heart in his huge body, and a Spaniard (Mandy Patinkin) on the hunt for his father’s killer. The adventure eventually leads the characters to Miracle Max, a potion maker played by Billy Crystal, who is in top comedic form while under layers of makeup.
In addition to the comedy, there is some mature material in this fairy tale with the occasional sword fighting, torture, and even and attempted suicide à la Romeo and Juliet. Yet Reiner still manages to keep a playful tone throughout, and like the sick boy listening to his grandfather you just want to know what is going to happen on the next page. Unless you were born yesterday you probably know how all fairy tales end, but it is still fun to see the hero and his friends charge the castle to save the princess.
Another reason why this is a movie that has stood the test of time is its appeal to various audiences. Women who love romantic stories get to enjoy the sparkling romance between Westley and her Buttercup, guys get to aspire to be the heroic Westley, or even the revenge-seeking Montoya. I read there a member of the New York City organized crime once came up to Rob Reiner and quoted him the Montoya speech.
I guess fairy tales truly are for everyone.