Cult film of the week: The Princess Bride

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The Princess Bride is, in many ways, your typical love story: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy must rescue girl from sword-toting, rhyme-loving outlaws. The latest instalment in this saga comes in the form of As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, a book co-authored by Cary Elwes, the then-unknown actor who starred in the 1983 film. As You Wish features stories from on-set interviews with cast and crew members, and a look back at the legacy of a cult classic.
The film’s origins, however, began much earlier, in the 1970s, with another book: The Princess Bride, a novel written by legendary screenwriter William Goldman, of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid fame. Goldman’s novel claims to be an “adaptation” of a much longer classic fairy tale by Florinese author S. Morgenstern. Of course, there’s no such person as S. Morgenstern (just as there’s no such place as the fictional Florin, which doubles as the story’s setting), but this format allows Goldman to sprinkle his own witty commentary and made-up anecdotes in between the sword fighting, swashbuckling and all-around heroics.
Because that’s what The Princess Bride is truly about, despite its satirical shell: sheer adventure. The film’s narrator, a grandfather (Peter Falk) reading the story to his grandson (Fred Savage), promises him no end of excitement: “Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Revenge. Giants. Monsters. Chases. Escapes. True love. Miracles.”

The film delivers all these and more. Goldman adapted his own work for the screen, handpicking the best bits of his novel, which flourish under Rob Reiner’s direction. Brilliant comedic performances bring out the best of the novel’s humour, including a largely improvised supporting role by Billy Crystal that allegedly caused co-star Mandy Patinkin to bruise a rib from restrained laughter.

After a modest box office opening in 1983, The Princess Bride slowly worked its way into fans’ hearts, as many cult films have, through TV airings and home media release. In the 27 years since it premiered, the film has counted among its large fan base infamous mafia boss John Gotti and former U.S. president Bill Clinton.

The Princess Bride’s charm lies in the unabashed absurdity of places like the Cliffs of Insanity, monsters called Rodents of Unusual Size, and characters named Buttercup and Humperdinck. It’s strongest asset, however, may be its endless quotability; in As You Wish, cast members recount stories of strangers approaching them to repeat such gems as “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line,” as well as the film’s most iconic refrain: “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

A sequel to the novel, tentatively titled Buttercup’s Baby, has been in the works for years, though it’s uncertain if it will ever see publication. Goldman did include a Buttercup’s Baby backstory and first chapter as an epilogue to the original novel’s 25th anniversary edition, but has since cast doubt on whether he will ever finish it.

With or without an upcoming sequel, The Princess Bride’s film adaptation has earned its cult classic status. The popularity of Elwes’ new book is proof enough that fans have yet to tire of the film. And how could they? In the film’s own words, with would be inconceivable.

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