“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
“Never get involved in a land war in Asia.”
“Have fun storming the castle.”
“Rest well, and dream of large women.”
“Please consider me as an alternative to suicide.”
“As you wish.”
If any of the above comments mean something to you, you are probably a fan of the 1987 cult film The Princess Bride.
William Goldman, who wrote the book of the same name, also penned the screenplay. Various studios and directors considered turning Goldman’s book into a movie, but none had the right “vision” until the director Rob Reiner (formerly “Meathead” from All in the Family) came along.
After obtaining the rights to the story, Reiner made an unlikely but fortuitous move, he cast two little-known actors, Cary Elwes and Robin Wright, in the lead roles of Wesley and Buttercup, and surrounded them with an exceptional supporting cast that included Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, Mandy Patinkin, Peter Falk, Fred Savage, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, and André the Giant.
In a wonderful memoir, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride (2014), Cary Elwes writes lovingly about the genesis of the film, the filming itself, the reception of the film, and the chemistry that would unite the cast and crew for the rest of their lives. It is a story that is too good to be missed.
In addition to Elwes’ remembrances we are treated to numerous sidebar comments by Reiner, William Goldman, and many of the cast members. The audio book, which I highly recommend, actually features most of those who contributed comment reading them. That in itself gives you an idea of how close those involved in the project remained over a quarter of a century after the film was completed.
The book serves multiple purposes: it gives us insight into how casting is done, the pleasures and problems of filming, and how Hollywood works. It also gives us an example of how serendipitous movie making can be.
If you’ve seen The Princess Bride, I suggest that you read As You Wish, and then watch the movie again. The insights gained from the book will make the movie infinitely more enjoyable. If you haven’t seen The Princess Bride, read As You Wish before you watch the movie.
There are too many great moments for me to mention them all, but I’ll mention a few of my favorites. For starters, Elwes tells us that the awesome sword fight between Wesley (Elwes) and Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) was done without stunt doubles except for some acrobatics on a horizontal bar. And though it may seem simple to the viewer, it took months of intense daily training with two fencing experts for them to pull off the three minutes or so of actual film footage. Another amazing fact is that they had to learn to fence both right handed and left handed. Wesley and Inigo both start out fencing with their left hands, and, after complimenting one another on their skill, both admit that they are actually right handed, so they switch the swords to their right hands and continue. Some say that theirs is the most awesome sword fighting scene in movie history. Inconceivable! Take time to watch them in this YouTube video.
Another memorable scene takes place when Inigo and Fezzik (André the Giant) take the seemingly dead Wesley to Miracle Max (Billy Crystal) to see if Max can bring Wesley back to life. Max informs them that Wesley isn’t dead, he’s only mostly dead – an important difference, you must agree. For three days Crystal filmed the scene with Carol Kane (as his nagging wife), and for three days he kept everyone laughing with his ad-libs and over-the-top acting. No one on the set spoiled “takes” more than Rob Reiner. In fact, Reiner had to leave the set a number of times because he couldn’t keep himself from roaring with laughter during the filming. Here is part of Crystal’s scene – one of the greatest cameo performances ever.
But how did the story begin? Well, it begins when a sick boy (Fred Savage) receives a visit from his eccentric grandfather (Peter Falk) who brings him a present. It’s a copy of the novel The Princess Bride. The boy reluctantly agrees to let his grandfather read the book to him, and the boy gradually becomes hooked on the story despite himself. Falk, star of the long-running TV series Columbo, was perfect in his role. As the loving grandfather of three, I found this aspect of the movie to be quite charming and poignant.
We cut back to Savage and Falk at various points in the film, but their world, and the world of Wesley, Buttercup, and the others always remain completely separate from the “real” world. Reiner filmed an alternate ending in which the boy looks out his bedroom window and sees Wesley and the others beckoning him to join them in their next adventure, but wisely, Reiner didn’t mix the two worlds. Here is the scene where the grandfather and the boy first appear.
I listened to the audio version of As You Wish – occasionally while driving – and found myself totally immersed in the stories that Elwes and other members of the project tell us. In fact, I had to consciously focus on my driving to avoid an accident. Perhaps the audio version should begin with a warning that we shouldn’t mix it with any activity where your attention is otherwise required.