Based on William Goldman’s novel of the same name, The Princess Bride is staged as a book read by grandfather (Peter Falk) to his ill grandson (Fred Savage). Falk’s character assures a romance-weary Savage that the book has much more to deliver than a simpering love story, including but not limited to fencing, fighting, torture, death, true love, giants, and pirates. Indeed, The Princess Bride offers a tongue-in-cheek fairy tale depicting stable boy-turned-pirate Westley’s journey to rescue Buttercup (Robin Wright), his true love, away from the evil prince (Chris Sarandon), whom she had agreed to marry five years after learning of what she had believed to be news of Westley’s death. With help from Prince Humperdinck’s disgruntled former employee Miracle Max (Billy Crystal), swordsman Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), and a very large man named Fezzik (Andre the Giant), the star-crossed lovers are reunited. ~ via Rotten Tomatoes
Why is The Princess Bride so wonderfully romantic? Of course, it's a fairy tale, but that's the easy answer. There's also the pirate, the vengeful Spaniard with mad sword skills, the conniving prince, the giant...all to go along with the beautiful princess and her True Love.
And it’s funny. So funny that it turns the fairytale ideal on its head while retaining its romantic heart. Funny in a way that even the most outlandish comedic moments serve the romance and the Romance. All that, and the relationship between Grandpa and his grandson is almost mirrors that between Westley and Buttercup, starting with disdain, moving through suspicion and exasperation along the way, and ending with an unbreakable bond. Who could ask for anything more?
As a child I watched Rodgers and Hammerstein’s theatrical version of Cinderella every one of the ten times it aired annually on CBS. Each time I saw Leslie Ann Warren and Stuart Damon—whom you may recognize from his years as Alan Quartermaine on General Hospital—I dreamed a little girl’s dream of a beautiful young woman being rescued by a handsome prince. To me this was Romance, and though Disney’s blonde Cinderella is more well known, it is Warren’s brunette beauty that set the standard for me of what a fairytale looked like, Medieval headdresses and all.
That is, until I saw The Princess Bride for the first time. I’m one of those women who, when asked what I look for in a man, answers “a sense of the absurd.” Romance and comedy? Gosh, I think there’s a genre for that.
How many times have you seen it? Hopefully “never” is not in your repertioire. Since it’s thirty years old this year, I’ve probably seen it...thirty times. Really. In fact, my daughter started quoting “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” when she was in elementary school.
I loved the movie the first time I saw it, and it continues to enchant me each and every time. Watching in to prepare for this article was no exception. Not only did I laughed at lines of dialogue I can quote back to the screen, I even picked out another favorite quote (the Man in Black after knocking out Fezzik the Giant: “I do not envy you the headache you will have when you awake. But for now, rest well and dream of large women.”). Of the 25 quotables on this particular list, which are your favorites? Mine are, well, all of them, but before moving on, I must mention a couple that didn’t make this list, featuring the sick little boy and his annoying, cheek-pinching grandpa.
Grandpa cajoles his irritable grandson into listening to the story.
Grandpa: Westley didn’t reach his destination. His ship was attacked by the Dread Pirate Roberts, who never left captives alive. When Buttercup got the news that Westley was murdered...
Grandson: Murdered by pirates is good.
As Grandpa reads, the little boy gets more and more invested—icky kissing scenes and all—even in the romantic, non-pirate, non-murderous parts. When his grandpa reads to him that Buttercup marries the prince and appears the next day to her subjects as their queen, he interrupts in disbelief.
Grandson: “Hold it! Hold it! Grandpa, you read that wrong. She doesn’t marry Humperdinck. She marries Westley. I’m just sure of it. After all he did for her, if she didn’t marry him, it wouldn’t be fair.”
Grandpa: “Well who says life is fair? Where is that written? Life isn’t always fair.”
Grandson: “I’m telling you. You’re messing up the story, now get it right!”
Reading the little boy and Grandpa’s dialogue isn’t nearly as much fun as seeing it, so please watch the video below, as well as all of the video clips I’ve included (there's one audio clip, too, making this my first “multi-media” articles). After all, the movie’s a classic, and if YouTube had been around when Pauline Kael had been writing, I’m sure she would have embedded clips in her reviews for the NYTimes.
But don’t go beyond the 1:02 mark. We’ll return to this clip later. Don’t fret though; Buttercup doesn’t really marry the prince in this scene. It’s part of a dream sequence.
Getting back to the little boy...by the time Fezzik and Inigo find Westley, left for dead after being tortured by Prince Humperdinck on the Count’s machine, he’s even more beside himself with frustration.
Grandson: Grandpa, grandpa, wait. Wait, what did Fezzik mean “He’s dead”? I mean, he didn’t mean dead. Westley’s only faking, right?
Grandfather: You want me to read this or not?
Grandson: Who gets Humperdinck?
Grandfather: I don’t understand.
Grandson: Who kills Prince Humperdinck? At the end. Somebody’s got to do it. Is it Inigo, who?
Grandfather: Nobody. Nobody kills him. He lives.
Grandson: You mean he wins? Jesus, Grandpa, what did you read me this thing for?
Grandfather: You know, you’ve been very sick and you’re taking this story very seriously. I think we better stop now.
Grandson: No, I’m okay. I’m okay. Sit down. I’m all right.
As you can tell from the dialogue above, part of which can be listened to on the audio player below, Fred Savage and Peter Falk demonstrate fantastic chemistry throughout the movie. Cary Elwes and Robin Wright may be the premiere couple, but Savage and Falk follow closely behind—Patinkin and Andre the Giant are pretty wonderful too. Hell, even Chris Sarandon and Christopher Guest, as Prince Humperdinck and Count Rugen, exhibit major chemistry.
Grandpa slyly counsels patience until they get to the good stuff—the pirates, the swords, and the killing—muting his grandson’s skepticism until he’s hooked. By the time Grandpa finishes reading the story, the little boy says to him, “Grandpa, maybe you could come over and read it again to me tomorrow.” To which Grandpa responds, “As you wish.” It’s an adorable moment, and while it’s not directly tied to the movie’s romanticism, it does tug at the heart because it completes their “pair bond.”
What does make the movie so wonderfully romantic in a more direct way is how stunningly beautiful Elwes and Wright looked as Westley and Buttercup. Neither has ever looked as much like eye candy as they did in The Princess Bride. Personally, I prefer Elwes without the moustache, as he appears early on, but it’s only when he returns, as the Man in Black, aka the Dread Pirate Roberts, cocky and full of sarcasm, that he becomes swoon-worthy.
Then too, there’s the whole quest aspect of it. We actually get two quests in the movie: Westley’s quest to reunite with his True Love, and Inigo Montoya’s 20-year quest to avenge his father’s death at the hand of the six-fingered man.
Part of both those quests includes swordplay, and the scene between the Man in Black and Inigo Montoya stands out, not just for the choreography, but for the interplay between the two. FYI, aside from the acrobatics, Elwes and Patinkin did all their own swordplay, training for eight months. Watch this clip and remember how much fun you had when you first watched this scene.
But most of all, The Princess Bride is so wonderfully romantic because it is a fairytale about True Love conquering all. Westley and Buttercup’s bond is so strong that, as he tells her after revealing his true identity, it cannot be broken even by death. Their love is so strong, she tells the prince—after realizing he’d duped her into believing he would allow her to leave him for her Westley—that it cannot be tracked by a thousand bloodhounds, or broken by a thousand swords.
The movie speaks in language romance readers recognize.
Like when Buttercup toys with Westley before realizing she loves him. With each test of his patience, he simply replies, “As you wish.” Unfortunately, when he leaves to seek his fortune, she believes he was killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts and reluctantly agrees to marry Prince Humperdinck, to all outward purposes is a handsome, stand-up guy. In reality he’s e-v-i-l.
Like when Buttercup is kidnapped by a trio of brigands, including a giant and a swordsman, only to be “rescued” by the Man in Black, aka the Dread Pirate Roberts. He is disdainful of Buttercup, believing she turned her back on true love. She is haughty with him, sure that he killed her true love. And when she pushes him down the hill in anger and says, “You can die too for all I care,“ he simply says, “As you wish.”
Like when their sweetly romantic reunion after that fall down the hill is cut short by danger in the form of the Fire Swamp and Rodents of Unusual Size, and then, by Prince Humperdinck. To save him from a sure death, Buttercup agrees to return to the prince if he lets the pirate return, unharmed, to his ship. The prince agrees, but, well, he’s evil; his right-hand man, the six-fingered Count Rugen, imprisons him for torture on The Machine in the Pit of Despair.
Like when Buttercup realizes the prince is an evil liar. Of course, this moment does not quite happen as it might in a romance novel, but in Rob Reiner and William Goldman’s fractured fairytale, it is an old crone appearing in Buttercup’s nightmare, calling her the Queen of Putrescence for giving up True Love:
The Ancient Booer: Boo. Boo. Boo.
Buttercup: Why do you do this?
The Ancient Booer: Because you had love in your hands, and you gave it up.
Buttercup: But they would have killed Westley if I hadn’t done it.
The Ancient Booer: Your true love lives. And you marry another. True Love saved her in the Fire Swamp, and she treated it like garbage. And that’s what she is, the Queen of Refuse. So bow down to her if you want, bow to her. Bow to the Queen of Slime, the Queen of Filth, the Queen of Putrescence. Boo. Boo. Rubbish. Filth. Slime. Muck. Boo. Boo. Boo.
Please start the video at 1:02 unless you want to see the little boy argue with his grandpa again.
There's even, in true romance novel fashion, humorous sidekicks—Fezzik and Inigo—for the hero, who rescue him from the clutches of the prince’s evil henchmen and revive him with the reluctant help of a healer. Oops, there's another couple with great chemistry, although their appearance on-screen is very short. Who can possibly forget Mad Max's (Billy Crystal) his angry wife Valerie (Carole Kane), shouting “Liar! Liar! Liar” at him, him responding, “Get back, you witch!”, and her answer, “I'm not a witch, I'm your wife!”?
The denouemont comes after they “have fun storming the castle” so Westley may rescue Buttercup as Inigo goes in search of Count Rugen. After it appears as though the Count has mortally wounded Inigo, in true romance novel fashion he begins to taunt the Spaniard, who finds the strength to fight back. Why don't villains ever keep their lips zipped?
Meanwhile, in true romance novel fashion, Westley and Buttercup reunite, and face Prince Humperdinck, but with a twist. Rather than the villain telling the hero in great detail how he’ll kill him, it’s Westley who tells the prince it won’t be a fight to the death, but rather, a “fight to the pain.”
Prince Humperdinck: I don’t think I’m quite familiar with that phrase.
Westley: I’ll explain and I’ll use small words so that you’ll be sure to understand, you warthog faced buffoon.
Prince Humperdinck: That may be the first time in my life a man has dared insult me.
Westley: It won’t be the last. To the pain means the first thing you will lose will be your feet below the ankles. Then your hands at the wrists. Next your nose.
Prince Humperdinck: And then my tongue I suppose, I killed you too quickly the last time. A mistake I don’t mean to duplicate tonight.
Westley: I wasn’t finished. The next thing you will lose will be your left eye followed by your right.
Prince Humperdinck: And then my ears, I understand let’s get on with it.
Westley: Wrong! Your ears you keep and I’ll tell you why. So that every shriek of every child at seeing your hideousness will be yours to cherish. Every babe that weeps at your approach, every woman who cries out, ’Dear God! What is that thing’, will echo in your perfect ears. That is what to the pain means. It means I leave you in anguish, wallowing in freakish misery forever.
And because the prince is nothing but a coward, he folds like a cheap suit the minute Westley points his sword at him.
Along with Buttercup, he and Inigo jump out of the turret into the waiting arms of Fezzik, and they ride away on white horses.
But all fairytales end in kiss, as do many romance novels. Theirs is “the most passionate, the most pure,” leaving all other great kisses in the dust.
It's for all these reasons that The Princess Bride is the most wonderfully romantic movie.
Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Keep up with her on herMy Obsessions tumblr, goodreads, where she spends much of her time of late, follow her on Google+, Pinterest, or on Twitter @laurie_gold, where she mostly tweets about publishing news and [probably too often] politics.