The Princess Bride
directed by Rob Reiner
(20th Century Fox, 1987)

There are relatively few very good fantasy movies out there. One of the best of the lot, the standard by which others are judged, is The Princess Bride. Directed by Rob Reiner, The Princess Bride is a start-to-finish flurry of fencing, fighting, climbing, chasing, sailing and great escapes. There's even an occasional kiss.

Buttercup (Robin Wright in her movie debut) is the beautiful country girl. Westley (Cary Elwes) is her True Love, who sails off to make his fortune and is lost at sea, an apparent victim of the Dread Pirate Roberts. Enter the slimy Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), who presses his suit on the grieving Buttercup. Shortly before their wedding day, she is kidnapped by a Sicilian, a Spaniard and a Greenland giant, and the real excitement begins.

As I'm sure you've guessed, Westley isn't really dead, and he's back to save his endangered lady. The pursuit that follows is a hallmark of fantasy adventure, including one of the best fencing sequences in modern film-making, a cunning battle of wits, lightning sand and rodents of unusual size, lies, betrayal, torture and death, miracles, duels and a lot of great fun.

Elwes and Wright are both excellent in the lead roles, but it's the supporting cast who add extra sparkle to this gem. Of particular note is Mandy Patinkin, best known as a Chicago Hope doctor and a host of stage and screen musical roles, as the revenge-seeking, hard-drinking Spaniard, Inigo Montoya. Patinkin manages to pull off both the most comical and most somber moments in the film.

His massive, brawny pal, Fezzick, is played well by former pro wrestler Andre the Giant, whose only flaw is garbled speech. The two men work for a conniving Sicilian, Vizzini. Wallace Shawn (of My Dinner with Andre and Deep Space Nine) gives the character the right touch of leering smugness, and his logical ruminations during an intellectual bout with Westley are worth memorizing and pulling out at parties.

The cunning Humperdinck is assisted in his machinations by his sinister henchmen, the Count Rugen (Christopher Guest) and the albino (Mel Smith), while Inigo and Fezzick find allies in the brief appearances of Billy Crystal and Carol Kane as the village miracle man and his witchy wife.

The story on its own would be sufficient to make a great movie. But Reiner and screenwriter William Goldman take it a step further. Using the same device employed with such great effect in his novel of the same name, Goldman couches the tale within the touching framework of a man reading a bedtime story to a sick boy. Peter Falk is wonderful as the gregarious, loving and vaguely annoying grandfather; Fred Savage is winning as his reluctant audience.

The Princess Bride is a keeper. Keep it near your VCR and share it with everyone you know with a child inside and a thriving yen for wonderment.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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