Sometimes I read a non-fiction book that I like so much that I'm compelled to share it here. This time, the subject is one I'm betting most of you are familiar with: The classic movie THE PRINCESS BRIDE. The male romantic lead, Cary Elwes, has written a memoir called AS YOU WISH: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride. Besides his own behind-the-scenes experience, he includes quotes from some of his co-stars.
THE PRINCESS BRIDE was written by the superstar screenwriter William Goldman, who won best screenplay Oscars for BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN. Since TPB originated in stories told to his daughters, it has a special place in Goldman's heart. It was considered unfilmable until Rob Reiner came along and persuaded Goldman to let him make the movie, with Goldman writing the screenplay.
If you're not familiar with the story, it's a fairy tale set in a medieval-ish sort of land. Buttercup is the stunningly beautiful owner of a farm (no parents in sight–this is a fairy tale <G>) and the gorgeous Westley works for her. They fall in love and he goes off to seek his fortune so he can marry her. Alas, his ship is taken by the Dread Pirate Roberts, who famously never leaves anyone alive. Buttercup's heart is broken.
Five years later, the prince of her kingdom chooses her as his bride because, well, she's drop dead gorgeous. Buttercup isn't interested in the prince, but hasn't much choice in the matter. But then she's kidnapped and taken off to another land and the mysterious Man in Black pursues her and the kidnappers.
In true fairy tale fashion, the hero faces dangerous tests of skill, strength, and intelligence. There is the deadly Spanish swordsman bent on revenge, a sweet-natured giant, and an arrogant Sicilian ("INCONCEIVABLE!"). There is much adventure and danger and humor, and in the end, True Love triumphs. It's a rollicking good time for all ages.
Key to making a successful movie was casting. They needed a drop dead gorgeous actress for Buttercup, and after much searching, they found her in Robin Wright, who was not only stunning, but conveyed sweetness and understood the movie's sense of humor. She also had an English stepfather so she had a fine English accent. (Rob Reiner wanted the English accents to increase the fairy tale flavor.)
Finding Westley was even harder because he had to be a swashbuckling Errol Flynn sort of guy, but with a twinkle in his eye. As fellow cast member Billy Crystal said, they had to find "a dashing, sensitive leading man, who could also hurt you if he had to." When Rob Reiner and his production partner, Andy Scheinman, flew to Berlin to interview Cary for the part, Reiner decided he was The One after a half page reading. (The Cliffs of Insanity that Cary climbs in the movie were actually the cliffs of Moher in Ireland. I'd thought they looked awfully familiar!)
And Reiner was right. Cary Elwes is also drop dead gorgeous, was able to master all the athletic leaping and sword fighting, and had the light touch needed to carry it all off. Plus, he'd adored the book since he was a kid, and was over the moon to be given the part.
In the best tradition of a British gentleman, Cary's memoir doesn't say a mean word about anyone. But it's also true that, based on the interview quotes with some of the other actors, it seems to have been an extraordinary experience for all of them–one of those rare occasions when a great script is acted by talented people and directed by a great guy who had been an actor himself, and understood how to get the best out of his cast.
According to Cary, even if making the movie was a great experience, you don't know if it's a great movie until it's done and edited. In the case of TPB, the results were terrific. Yet though the reviews were very good, it was only moderately successful at the box office. A lot of that was because the studio couldn't figure out how to market a movie that was a fairy tale/swashbuckling adventure/satire/romance. As authors, we know that book publishers have the same problems when trying to market books that don't have a clearly defined category.
The movie seemed destined to sink into obscurity. Then the VCR came along, and The Princess Bride became a true, multi-generational bestselling family favorite. It has been called the WIZARD OF OZ of our time, and personally I like it a lot better than Oz. When reading Cary's book, I pulled a DVD of TBP off my shelf. (In fact, I have two copies of the DVD, which rather speaks to the long legs the movie has developed). The Mayhem Consultant and I watched it again (we first saw it in a movie theater), and it's still wonderfully entertaining.
It's full of delicious catch phrases and quotes, starting with "As you wish." When Westley said that to Buttercup, what he really means is "I love you."
But there are lots of others, such as "Never get involved in a land war in Asia," which is adult humor and spot on.
One of my favorites is from the vengeful Spanish swordsman played by Mandy Patinkin:
"My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!"
I found this version of the quote in a button bin at an sff conference, and it totally cracked me up: "My name is Bambi. You killed my mother. Prepare to die!"
But my very favorite is: "Get used to disappointment." I've used variations on that in my own books. <G>
So, have you seen The Princess Bride? If not, have I persuaded you to give it a try? If you have seen it, do you have favorite parts or characters or quotes? Please share!
Are there other movies of the sort–warm, funny, rather magical family movies–that you'd like to recommend? I'd love to find more movies I'd like as much!