Rob Reiner’s great cult classic The Princess Bride is one of those rare satiric gems, like The Court Jester and Galaxy Quest, that doesn’t just send up a genre, but honors it at the same time, giving us the excitement and pleasure of the real thing as well as the laughs of a comedy.
Unlike an out-and-out satire like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Princess Bride offers real swashbuckling excitement, real romantic feeling, real villainy and intrigue, real loyalty and heroism. In fact, it does all these things with such sparkle and flair that most straight-faced exemplars (e.g., Dragonslayer) seem dull and plodding by comparison.
But it does it all with a slyly subversive wink, lacing the story with outrageous conceits and comic repartée. Hilariously absurdist lines ("Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!") exist side by side with heartfelt ones ("Westley and I are joined by the bonds of love, and you cannot track that, not with a thousand bloodhounds, and you cannot break it, not with a thousand swords!").
Screenwriter William Goldman adapts his original novel, based on a story he created for his two daughters in response to competing requests for a story about either "princesses" or "brides." The resulting tale, though, works just as well for romance-averse young boys, with the romance of farmboy-turned-swashbuckler Westley (Cary Elwes) and princess-bride-to-be Buttercup (Robin Wright) more than supplemented by all manner of pirates, kidnapping, giants, life-or-death duels, screaming eels, fire swamps, rodents of unusual size, and so on. In fact, the film frames the tale as a story being read to a young lad (Fred Savage) by his crusty grandfather (Peter Falk).
Supporting roles are all well cast, sometimes brilliantly so. There’s Mandy Patinkin, hilarious while managing a cartoon Spanish accent and a swashbuckling mein in the role of Inigo Montoya, the revenge-driven swordsman with one of the cinema’s most indelible lines: "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." Wallace Shawn, unforgettable as the irritable criminal mastermind Vizzini ("Inconceivable!"). And one almost couldn’t imagine the film without Billy Crystal and Carol Kane, even in cameos, as Miracle Max ("It just so happens that your friend here is only mostly dead") and his wife Valerie ("Chocolate coating makes it go down easier").
Though its devoted fans may wish to consign me to The Machine for in any way mitigating my praise, I must note that The Princess Bride isn’t perfect. The story could be tighter, and the ending is a bit anti-climactic in ways. And, for a modern fairy tale — especially one written for the author’s daughters! — this one’s heroine seems oddly passive and indifferent.
And yet its joys are so unique and endearing that its small flaws are easily forgiven. The Princess Bride is a gem like no other.
(Written by Suzanne E. Greydanus) Where is the real man here? Giselle’s rapport with Morgan and sweet naiveté are endearing; are we supposed to find Edward’s incompetence and arrogance equally so? Do our female hearts swoon when he checks his teeth in his sword, or boorishly flails it about at everything that moves? Why can’t the prince be an idealized example of chivalry, bravery, strength and honor, as Giselle is of sweetness and goodness?
Borrowing a page from Sleeping Beauty, therefore, Levine came up with the central dramatic conceit of her Newbery Honor-award winning book, Ella Enchanted: From her infancy Ella has been under a fairy curse (here bestowed in cluelessness rather than malice) obliging her to obey any imperative statement directed at her, from anyone. The moral of the story, in the author’s own words in interviews and letters to readers, is: "Don’t be too obedient!"
Not only does it terrifically succeed where movies like Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men in Tights miserably fail, The Court Jester also as merry, high-spirited, and wholesome as the adventures it parodies, with none of the cynical, anarchic spirit (or content issues) of the likes of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.