Monday, March 23, 2015

The Princess Bride - As I Wished It

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte's column in the March 26, 2015 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

My daughters were very young when the film version of The Princess Bride released in October of 1987. It had a Motion Picture Association of America rating of PG which warned that it might contain material that parents would not want for young audiences. A Parental Guidance rating usually means bad language, violence or frightening scenes not recommended for young children. And there might be kissing, of course.

And so, a PG rating meant that the little girls in my family – and we adults, too – missed the experience entirely in the late 1980s. My daughters undoubtedly watched the video as they grew up when it was earning its cult-following (after its widespread VHS release in the 1990s.) We rented plenty of videos at our local video store. I have vague recollections of watching some scenes in the movie as I busily moved through the room of giggling sleepover girls who were now pre-teens, ready for sword fighting, bad language and kissing.
I finally watched The Princess Bride this weekend in its entirety, in one sitting.  I now totally regret that I waited 27 years to do so.
The movie is full of amazingly funny scenes and has a fairytale of a cast.  It is Robin Wright’s debut performance as Princess Buttercup (several years before her epic role in Forrest Gump.) Comic Mandy Patinkin, hilarious Wallace Shawn, cute Fred Savage (later of The Wonder Years) and handsome Cary Elwes are other stars. One of the world’s favorite actors, the late Andre the Giant, stars as Fezzik. Sadly, this was six years before his death in 1993.) Another favorite, Peter Falk, plays the grandfather. Billy Crystal has a hilarious performance under mountains of makeup that transform his younger face into that of Miracle Max.
The Princess Bride is a story within a story, and it is based upon the book within a book by William Goldman. The whole title, The Princess Bride – S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, the Good Parts Version is meant to be confusing. The ruse is that there is no author named S. Morgenstern, who wrote this classic tale. It claims to be an abridgment which is merely a device used by Goldman to speed up some parts. “Flash forward,” he writes, in the story.
In the story, Goldman, as the narrator, recalls that as a young boy he returned home from a 10-day stay in the hospital with the pneumonia. His father comes in to say good night, sits on the edge of his bed with a book, and begins to read Chapter 1: The Bride. Wait! “"Has it got any sports in it?" he cries?  Oh yes. “Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True Love,” his father replies.
Of course, this is where the fun begins in the film when a young boy (an unnamed grandson, played by 11-year old Fred Savage) is very skeptical. Peter Falk plays the grandfather who begins to read his sick-in-bed grandson a story called The Princess Bride, a book that certainly sounds like a fairytale which must be full of love, romance, girls, and kissing. Ick!  Grandfather Falk promises it is full of adventure, intrigue, kidnapping, sword fighting, action, pirates, thievery, and killing. And, yes. There will be kissing, he admits.   
The Princess Bride (the book, that is) is usually shelved in the teen (or young adult) collection in libraries. That said, the literary device, satire, and comedy is not lost on adults. It’s a laugh-out-loud appreciation that makes both the book and the movie so fun.
Which brings us to Rob Reiner, director extraordinaire and king of comedic romances. Carl Reiner, a friend of the William Goldman, apparently gave Reiner the 1973 book while they were filming All in the Family.  Genius that he is, Reiner apparently knew it would make a great movie. (The Internet Movie Database) has a list of great trivia about the making of the film, and it includes the story that Rob Reiner became nauseated while watching Billy Crystal acting as Miracle Max. It’s hardly far-fetched because that is a terrifically funny scene.
Another significant source of Princess Bride trivia is a website entirely devoted to it. includes the very best of film clips, especially the much-loved Battle of the Wits (which I admit I had seen before.) There are also more than enough links to trivia quizzes across the Internet and an online store called “Tweasure.”
The treasure trove of stories about the film, however, did not appear until last October 2014 with the publication of “As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride” by Cary Elwes who played Westley, the hero who outwits them all and saves Buttercup from a disastrous marriage to an evil prince. It’s a behind-the-scenes story which, inconceivably (but understandably) takes a whole book to tell.
Once you’ve seen the movie, of course, the terms familiar to The Princess Bride worshippers make sense. “Inconceivable,” “as you wish,” “tweasure,” “mawwidge” and “I am Inigo Montoya” are hilarious moments during the first viewing in the film.  Inconceivably, they become more and more laughable every time. Trust me on this.
A 25th anniversary edition of The Princess Bride was published in 1998, and an illustrated version was published in 2013. Minuteman Libraries have copies of all of them, including the original book published in 1973.  Author Goldman also wrote The Marathon Man (the film version was released in 1976) and he wrote the screenplays for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), All the President’s Men (1976) and Stephen King’s bestselling thrillers, Misery (1990) and Dreamcatcher (2003). 
Minuteman libraries also have multiple copies of the film on DVD and the 25th anniversary version contains tons of extras including commentary by Reiner and side stories about the acting, the fencing, the make-up, and the fairy tale.

Don’t wait to watch this kid’s film. It’s just as funny, if not more amusing, for adults. Or read the book (also available on audio CD) which includes the hysterical and very original satire. Trust me on this.  But. There will be kissing.