As a grandfather tells a story to his disinterested but captive grandson, we are transported to the adventures of the beautiful Buttercup who is kidnapped by the dastardly Prince Humperdinck, and of Westley, her childhood beau, who has returned in the guise of hero Dread Pirate Roberts, and teams up with the great swordsman Inigo Montoya to go to Buttercup’s rescue.
A warm and silly fairy-tale, played with giddy delight by all concerned and directed with a rich vein of humour by Rob Reiner; a satire on fairy-tales and fairy-telling as written with the consummate authority of William Goldman based on the flamboyantly knowing novel by, you got it, William Goldman; and a sly, sly attack on Hollywood’s tendency to ignore the simple beauty of storytelling. The Princess Bride is all these things, a film all about the telling of tales: tall, short, moral — kind of — and whimsical. It is not to be trusted, only adored.
For a start the “real” story exists in another story, the type where a weathered grandpop (Peter Falk) dislodges his flu-ridden grandson’s antipathy to all but computer games, with the words, “Once upon a time…” Once we’re upon a time, Reiner takes a tone somewhere between Grimm Brother and Zucker Brother allowing events to spill along without registering a smidge of genuine peril, coated as it is in an affectionate comic glaze. Sample, alone, the characters, redoubtable stereotypes just doing their time-honoured bit that bit more excitedly.
Cary Elwes, as the dashing hero, seems to have dug up Errol Flynn’s swagger, adding a layer of insincerity as thick as a Swiss gateaux. Then there’s Robin Wright (now a Penn) as fair damsel in distress Buttercup, who seems to have drifted in from a sitcom. Or how about arch-swordsman Inigo, played by Mandy Patinkin, whose bouncy dash was stolen wholesale by Antonio Banderas for his Zorro? Everything is exaggerated, but with all of Goldman’s postmodern twinkles and Reiner’s clean-cut vision (rejecting the regulation mud-pile milieu of anything vaguely medieval) as he sends this merry bunch vaulting about the countryside with its clutter of icky beasts and oddballs, it should only be treasured. They even let Billy Crystal play a small wizardling called Miracle Max as a yabbering Yiddishe, flush from a more recognizable dimension.
A unqualified success that blends New York wit with timeless storytelling; a risky piece of filmaking that never feels so.