Very often, the most satisfying motion pictures involve classic elements of drama: conflict, a quest, resolution and occasional bit of humor. A tough mix to pull off in an engaging and believable manner. Your correspondent is reminded of Huddie Ledbetter, also known as Leadbelly. This oft neglected blues master once noted that there are three uses for the knife: “You take a knife, you use it to cut the bread, so you’ll have straight to work; you use it to shave, so you’ll look nice for your lover; on discovering her with another, you use it to cut out her lying heart.”
Now, Mr. Ledbetter’s utilitarian observations aside, the knife does seem an apt and versatile metaphor for the ways in which human beings choose to solve their problems. Not all solutions work for everyone. And some bring with them enduring and unintended consequences.
The point here, perhaps, is that in evaluating popular art, including motion pictures and drama, we might do well to keep Mr. Ledbetter’s perspective in mind. That which we use to build can also be used to bring us down.
Rob Reiner, the perceptive film maker who cut his teeth, so to speak, playing Meathead to Carroll O’Conner’s Archie Bunker for Norman Lear in the acclaimed sit-com All In The Family knows a thing or two about drama, conflict and resolution. Working with Academy Award-winning screenwriter William Goldman (All The President’s Men, 1977 & Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, 1970) Reiner was able, with The Princess Bride, to create a timeless story of good triumphing over evil. At its heart, this is a fairy tale adventure about a beautiful young woman and her one true love. He must find her after a long separation and save her. They must battle the evils of the mythical kingdom of Florin to be reunited with each other.
Much of the magic which comes across in watching this wonderful film has to do with its exquisite casting. Cary Elwes as Wesley (and, one imagines, The Dread Pirate Roberts!) presents a compelling portrait of chivalry, swordsmanship and sardonic humor. Mandy Patinkin nearly steals the entire narrative with his thick-headed and yet extremely devoted portrayal of Inigo Montoya, the young man who has trained his whole life to avenge his father’s death. Then there is Christopher Guest as the sinister Count Rugen (the six-fingered man that Montoya is so desperately searching for). Chris Sarandon, as the hopelessly deluded Prince Humperdinck is superb in his portrayal of a man who will do anything to get the girl. Robin Wright (The Princess Bride herself!) emerges convincingly as someone who believes in the power of true love. Wallace Shawn (son of the highly regarded editor of The New Yorker magazine, William Shawn) is literally made for his role as Vizzini, a Sicilian interloper looking to stir up trouble and make a few bucks. Fred Savage (from The Wonder Years) and Peter Falk (from Columbo) lead us into this story within a story as a grandfather reads a bedtime tale to his wide-eyed grandson. There are numerous other performances throughout The Princess Bride that enchant us and entertain us with their special magic. We would be remiss here without acknowledging the brief but hilarious scene with Carol Kane and Billy Crystal as Valerie and Miracle Max, who prepare a potion to revive the almost dead Westley.
The Princess Bride remains one of the most enduring and endearing motion picture experiences of all time. Seen once, it demands to be seen again. And again. It combines timeless elements of fantasy, adventure, romance and conflict. Your correspondent is again reminded of an old adage usually attributed to playwright Moss Hart: “Theatre is really pretty simple: You get two people. You put them up a tree. You shake a stick at them. You get them down.”
This The Princess Bride does with unusual flair and endearing warmth.