Inigo got out of bed. Stretching his legs he walked over to the door and opened it. Outside stood three tall mushrooms all walking around in unison singing a strange song. A song about chains. Inigo could not understand their weird voices. He looked back on his bed.
"This is not my bed!" He exclaimed rubbing his eyes in surprise.
"No, you're right, it is not, now back off avenging Donald Trump," Said a sinister high pitched voice.
Inigo turned to his left and saw a woman in her early 50's, possibly late 40's. A woman who was holding a gun aimed straight at him.
"Who are you?" Inigo asked scratching his chin.
"I am Tina Arena, communist agent and part time world class music superstar."
"But how did I get here?"
"My minions brought you here."
"That was kind of them."
"Yes, I was hoping to find you. And now it is my time for revenge," Says Inigo going to his bag of weapons that were not there anymore....
"Don't tell me what I can do you miserable little fool. I am Tina Arena the greatest communist spy in the history of the world. Who are you? You are nobody! And now with you out of the way I can rule the world! Me!! Mwa ha ha ha ha."
"Oh whatever. Now give me back my bag."
Inigo was about to race over to Tina and grab the bag off her when he fell down a trap door. Darkness engulfing him as he bumped and scrapped himself. He then landed on a pile of pillows and came face to face with a bath mat brandishing a gluten free muffin.
The bath mat crept ever closer and closer to Inigo, brandishing the gluten free muffin in it's right hand. Or was it left? I'm not quite sure. Anyway, Inigo then grabs his sword and cuts the bath mat in two, sending the muffin tumbling towards the ground where it got dirty and dusty and not at all good to eat.
Inigo goes over to the broken bath mat, sneering and laughing. With clenched fists he exclaimed:
"Foolish bath mat, you think you can destroy me? You are nothing but a worm, a disgusting worm that crawls along the ground. You are nothing to me, nothing I say! And to think that Tina whatever has had the temerity to push me down the stairs? Oh what a fool she is. But I shall show her, I shall show them all and rule the world and they will tremble before my greatness! For I am Inigo the greatest of them all!"
And with that Inigo flew out and towards world domination.
Remember video stores? They tended to be hole-in-the-wall shops stacked floor to ceiling with VHS cassettes of every movie you didn’t want to rent, but you couldn’t rent the one you wanted because it had been rented already. In terms of customer satisfaction, this unhappy arrangement was problematic.
But if video stores did one thing well it was to make The Princess Bride a cult classic. The movie had an underwhelming opening weekend at the box office: $206,243. But when the movie became available on videotape, The Princess Bride finally found an audience thanks to word of mouth recommendations. Today it’s not only a beloved movie parents like to screen for their kids, it’s also one of the most quoted movies. That’s because the screenplay is insanely well written.
The Writers Guild of America lists William Goldman’s screenplay as the 84th best of all time (I’d give it a better score, but nobody ever asks my opinion about these things).
In addition to a killer screenplay, the movie has a stellar cast, led by the late Peter Falk. The set-up is Falk’s grandson (played by 11-year-old Fred Savage) is sick in bed, so Grandpa comes over to distract the kid from feeling lousy by reading him the best storybook ever. Initially, the grandson isn’t buying it — the book isn’t about sports, and there’s kissing in it. But Falk is gonna read the story, and so we begin.
The hero is Cary Elwes who plays Westley. No male lead has enjoyed so much being dashing and debonair in a role since Errol Flynn played Robin Hood.
The princess is Robin Wright. She was 21 at the time, and this was her first movie. She is absolutely lovely in the picture, but I think she was the weakest member of the cast — she had two emotions, pained expression and practicing patience while being victimized. But at least she is on the receiving end of one of the movie’s many great lines. As she’s about to kill herself by plunging a dagger into her heart, Westley says, “There’s a shortage of perfect breasts in this world. It would be a pity to damage yours.”
Chris Sarandon plays the wicked but really well dressed Prince Humperdinck with the perfect level smarminess.
Wallace Shawn is hilarious as the kidnapper and otherwise all ’round evildoer, Vizzini. He is inordinately arrogant about his high IQ score. As he says to Westley when they are having a duel of wits over which goblet is poisoned, “You’ve heard of Aristotle? Plato? Socrates? Morons.”
And Vizzini has picked up two of the funniest henchmen. Mandy Patinkin plays a brilliant Spanish swordsman on a quest to find and kill the man who murdered his father. He explains that he only works for Vizzini to pay the bills, because, “There’s not much money in the vengeance business.”
Patinkin brought Broadway star power to the role, and he has as much fun playing Inigo Montoya as Cary Elwes does playing Westley. And he has a tagline that has become famous. Take a bunch of guys out to a bar, introduce the topic of The Princess Bride, and I guarantee you they’ll all recite in unison: “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
Montoya’s best friend is a giant named Fezzik, played by the late wrestler, Andre the Giant. He played to his size and his strength, of course—that’s what the role called for—but he also had perfect comic timing. Out of his many great lines, my personal favorite comes when he’s feeling a bit defensive: “It’s not my fault that I’m the biggest and the strongest. I don’t even exercise.”
But the performances that bring down the house is the scene at the dilapidated hovel of an ancient unemployed miracle-worker, played by Billy Crystal, and his crone wife, played by Carol Kane. Crystal decided to introduce some Yiddische shtick to the movie. Although he’s supposed to be a wizard in a medieval-style world, he talks like a disgruntled Lower East Side pickle maker. Kane chimes in when she’s making the miracle pill that will bring the mostly dead Westley back to life: “The chocolate coating makes it go down easier. But you have to wait fifteen minutes for full potency. And you shouldn’t go in swimming for an hour? At least an hour.” They also get their own damn-near universally quoted line: “Have fun stormin’ the castle!”
By the way, the movie keeps cutting back to the sickroom, where Fred Savage is getting more and more sucked into the story.
Finally, since this is supposed to be the perfect fairy tale, it has to have the perfects sets. The Fire Swamp is the gloomiest and most dismal. The torture chamber the most chilling. And the exterior of Prince Humperdinck’s castle is better than anything Disney ever built. And it is so pristine, you would think the prince has a team of peasants who come by every morning to Lemon Pledge the walls and roof.
I love this movie. Does it show? These days, if you’ve never seen The Princess Bride, you can watch it tonight. And if you haven’t seen it for a while, you can rewatch it tonight. And you won’t have to run out the video store.
Thomas J. Craughwell is the author of Saints Behaving Badly and This Saint Will Change Your Life.
When it comes to bringing people together during the holidays, ‘The Princess Bride’ embodies the spirit of Christmas.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: the need to re-appropriate some films as Christmas movies has very little to do with the holiday itself. People aren’t extolling the virtues of Die Hard or Rare Exports as a Christmas movie because they’ve burned through all the Hallmark movies and have no more overt holiday films to watch; the push for some movies to be included in an alternative Christmas cannon is more about gaming your family dynamics. The holidays are a time when large, heterogeneous groups of people come together and flounder for shared cultural touch-points. Your typical moviegoer, exhausted by the second run-through of A Christmas Story on TBS, starts looking for ways to Trojan Horse their favorite movies into holiday rotation. Maybe your Great Aunt Sally would never watch a movie like Tangerine under normal circumstances, but convince her it’s a Christmas movie and you’ve got your foot in the door. Once it’s on television, who cares what she thinks? You’re getting to watch something you love.
This explains why I always assumed The Princess Bride was a Christmas movie, even years before I noticed there are actually some Christmas decorations on display throughout the film. In my household, The Princess Bride was the holiday movie par excellence, the perfect film for adults and kids alike. Whenever my cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents would gather together for Thanksgiving or Christmas – twenty or thirty Monagles all crammed together in a single house – it would only be a matter of time before someone threw the same battered tape into the VCR. The kids would laugh at Wallace Shawn’s nasally voice or Andre the Giant’s size; the adults would chuckle knowingly at Peter Falk’s beleaguered delivery or Billy Crystal’s improvisations. For the next several hours, my uncles would quote lines about Sicilians and mawwaige, and all of this occurred with such regularity – as seasonal as hot chocolate and outdoor lights – that I never stopped to think that it wasn’t overtly about Christmas at all.
Of course, those who have seen it as many times as I will notice that The Princess Bride does seem to be set in the aftermath of the holidays. While the script doesn’t explicitly mention the holiday – it actually makes no note of the season whatsoever – the filmed version points to the aftermath of a successful Christmas. There are the Santa Claus toys on the bookshelf, of course, but the Grandson also appears to be enjoying a bounty of new Christmas gifts. Not only is he playing Hardball! – one of the best-selling Commodore 64 games of the year – he’s also wearing what appears to be a brand new Chicago Bears jersey. Anyone who was a sports fan as a kid would recognize the importance of that bedtime apparel: the new jersey or t-shirt you refused to take off, wearing to bed for days at a time before your parents finally bribed you to let them put it in the washing machine. If the internet, in its infinite wisdom, has canonized Die Hard as a contemporary Christmas classic, then surely The Princess Bride meets the technical requirements of a holiday film.
All of that is pretty self-evident, but there’s also the other reason why I keep The Princess Bride in my Christmas cannon, one that I’ve wasted countless hours arguing with friends and family. I really and truly believe that good holiday movies must cut across all different ages. A few weekends ago, my own in-laws stayed with us for a week around Thanksgiving; when prompted to find a movie that everyone could enjoy, I immediately queued up The Princess Bride on Amazon– watching it for the first time in perhaps a decade – simply because I knew it was the perfect win-win situation. It’s clever without being crass, old-fashioned without being stuffy, sentimental but not saccharine. It’s a movie that can be enjoyed by a mother-in-law who never watches anything that isn’t on the Hallmark channel, a father-in-law who gravitates towards crime thrillers (but prefers not to watch movies alone), and a wife who would rather watch two episodes of [anything] than a 90-minute movie. There’s a little something for everyone in The Princess Bride, and while it may seem silly to say that is in keeping with the Christmas spirit… well, what better way to bring people together than a story about a Grandfather and a Grandson finding common ground in literacy?
(Aside: I put my The Princess Bride theory to the ultimate test about a decade ago as the teacher of an after-school film program. I assumed that the film would be smart enough and entertaining enough to survive the ire of a middle school crowd; based on their reaction and subsequent demands that I show them the R-Rated American remake of The Strangers, I’m going to, um, declare that particular study ‘inconclusive’ at best.)
Middle school audiences aside, in every way that matters – theme, setting, and execution – The Princess Bride belongs alongside Home Alone and Die Hard in the millennial Christmas movie Hall of Fame. It may not be the most overtly Christmas movie you can put on this month, and it may be a little old-fashioned for some of the younger viewers, but it is the perfect way to pass the time with a group of people who exhausted their talking points about 4 hours into a 12-hour day. The holidays are a time to bring people together, especially when it means everyone keeping their mouths shut for 98 glorious minutes. The annual screening of The Princess Bride is one family tradition I fully intend to pass on.