Directed by Rob Reiner and written both as the original novel and subsequent screenplay by William Goldsmith, The Princess Bride has been described as a satire, a post-modern fairytale and probably most honestly as a classic tale of fantastic deeds, adventure and, yes, just a little kissing along the way. Following the exploits of the beautiful Buttercup and her resourceful and endlessly loyal true love Westley, The Princess Bride takes place in the fictional medieval kingdom of Florin and charts the course of their struggle to be united against all odds. In the case of The Princess Bride, Shakespeare was right, the course of true love certainly does not run smooth.
Boasting a strong cast who for the most part give the performances of their careers, The Princess Bride is a film that has come to be loved by fans the world over. While it may lack the lavish special effects that modern audiences have come to expect from Hollywood fantasy offerings, The Princess Bride has a quality of plotline and dialogue that has seldom been equalled for wit and sheer quotability.
The Princess Bride is introduced to the audience as a fairytale which a kindly and doting grandfather (who had it read to him as a child and later read to his own son when he was young) intends to read to his grandson who is ill with the 'flu. However, being a thoroughly modern child, the grandson is at first a little discouraged at the sight of a dusty old book and fears that he's about to be bored senseless. Undeterred, the grandfather goes on to spin the tale (with the odd interjection from his one-person audience) and soon has the child enthralled.
The tale he tells is that of Buttercup, a girl who will grow up to be a most beautiful woman, and Westley the boy who works on her parent's farm. In love with Buttercup, but certain that he does not deserve her affection, Westley sails away once he has come of age, to seek his fortune. Realising that she loves him in return, Buttercup is devastated to hear that his ship has been attacked by the 'Dread Pirate Roberts' (who leaves no survivors) and vows that as she has lost her true love she will never love again.
Despite this she accepts a proposal of marriage from Humperdinck, prince of Florin and heir to the throne, on the understanding that their union will be one of convenience and that they will never love one another. However, disaster strikes when, close to the day of her wedding, she is kidnapped by the curious trio of a Sicilian, a Spaniard and a Giant. Abducted by strangers, pursued by both her future husband and more closely at hand by a mysterious man in black and with the impending threat of both war and marriage hanging over her head, Buttercup's adventure is just beginning.
Cast of Characters
Westley, aka The Man in Black, aka The Dread Pirate Roberts (Cary Elwes)
The undoubted hero of the piece, Westley is perhaps the most talented individual alive in the tale of The Princess Bride. Able to out-fence the greatest swordsman alive, subdue the strongest (and possibly largest) man in the world and possessed of quicker wits than the most intelligent Sicilian ever to draw breath, Westley brings all these talents to bear in his quest to find his true love.
Indeed, captured and threatened with death by the Dread Pirate Roberts, Westley earned his mercy - firstly by using the word 'please' when asking if it was possible that he would consider not going through with the threat, and secondly by professing that he was possessed of true love. Intrigued, Roberts took Westley under his wing and revealed that he was in fact only the latest in a long line of men to inherit the title of The Dread Pirate Roberts as the original had long since retired. Teaching him the arts of the pirate, Roberts then passed the title on to Westley and retired.
Returning to Florin with his crew, Westley sets about finding his lost love Buttercup. However, after learning of her betrothal believes that she has turned her back on his love in favour of Humperdinck's power and status. Soon cured of this misconception he braves fire swamps, rodents of an unusual size and even death to win her back.
Buttercup, The Princess Bride (Robin Wright)
A beautiful woman indeed, Buttercup is also one of the most strong-willed and stubborn characters in the whole tale. Growing up, she cared about nothing but her own happiness and her horse, but through the course of the story she is forced to change her ways as she realises that there is far more to life than her own selfish impulses.
Buttercup is the one character in the film who seems to be on a journey to grow as a person. From the self-centred tomboy of the start of the tale, she is forced to evolve into a woman at the end of it who finally realises that in life there is no one thing that is worth fighting for, other than true love itself.
Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin)
A swordsman of awesome talent and deadly skill, Inigo Montoya has dedicated twenty years of his life to the study of the blade. Travelling the world and learning from every acknowledged master that he could find, Inigo's skill goes far beyond that of those from whom he learned. Above and beyond the realms of a master swordsman, Inigo is the only man alive known to be worthy of the title 'Wizard of the blade'. That is, until he tries his skill against The Man in Black atop the Cliffs of Insanity.
The purpose of Inigo's quest is to find the six-fingered man who came to the home of his father, Domingo Montoya, when he was but a child and commissioned a blade that would fit his six-digited hand. A master swordmaker, Domingo accepted without hesitation and took a year to craft the sword. But when the six-fingered man returned he scoffed at the magnificent blade and offered only a tenth of what he had agreed to pay. Domingo was insulted and refused - in response the man ran him through and left Inigo with a scar down each cheek to remember him by.
Still, after twenty years of searching and an unfortunate liking for brandy saw him destitute, Inigo fell in with the Sicilian Vizzini and together with Fezzik the giant they accepted a commission to kidnap the bride-to-be of Prince Humperdinck. And then things began to get interesting...
Fezzik (Andre the Giant)
All his life people had picked on the natural wonder known as Fezzik, and being by nature a gentle soul who delighted most in rhyming other's words (out loud when possible, otherwise in his mind) this caused him a great deal of anguish. Despite the fact that he was well over eight feet tall and possibly the strongest man alive, he would never have hurt a fly of his own accord. Forced into prize-fighting by his parents, Fezzik still couldn't win whether he fought one man or ten, as the crowds always thought him a monster due to his size.
Eventually he was abandoned by the circus, with which he was travelling in Iceland, when the audience voted with their feet. Sitting alone in the middle of nowhere he was happened upon by Vizzini and given a new purpose when it became clear that the Sicilian would tell him what to do. Quite slow in the mental faculties, Fezzik feared being alone and went along with Vizzini to provide the muscle for his little band.
Played by the legendary pro-wrestler, the late Andre the Giant(though Goldman claims a young Arnold Schwarzenegger wanted the part), Fezzik is perhaps one of the most adored characters in The Princess Bride. Though eventually very proud of his performance, Andre is said to have initially been unable to provide anything more than a bland performance. This was remedied when at an early script-reading, Mandy Patinkin made the bold move of slapping him around the face in character to get his attention. After the shock of being slapped (something that had literally never happened outside a wrestling ring), Andre's performances are said to have improved dramatically.
Vizzini (Wallace Shawn)
Small and weedy in stature, Vizzini realised from an early age that he would always be at a physical disadvantage in life and as a result trained his mind to become a deadly weapon. Describing such great thinkers as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle as 'morons', he weaves brilliant plots and poses lethal dilemmas to his enemies and is used to coming out on top as a matter of course.
Perhaps the most positive thing that can be said about Vizzini is that his schemes and leadership give a purpose to the lives of Inigo and Fezzick (as he is fond of reminding them when they question his orders). Together with his two underlings, Vizzini accepts a commission to kidnap and kill Buttercup, and as is to be expected his plan is virtually flawless. The only fly in the ointment comes in the form of The Man in Black who pursues them almost from the start and whose continued pursuit Vizzini sums up as 'inconceivable'.
Forced into a final confrontation, The Man in Black proposes a battle of wits to which Vizzini agrees with glee. The Man in Black explains that he will lace one of two goblets of wine with iocane powder, a deadly and odourless poison, and then Vizzini must choose a goblet and drink. The process of reasoning which Vizzini then embarks upon is enough to make the head spin, but unfortunately for him, The Man in Black is a good deal smarter than he has given him credit for.
Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon)
The heir to the throne of Florin, and possibly the best hunter ever to walk the face of the earth, lives up to the reputation of most medieval royalty. That is to say that he's devious, ruthless, without any scruples whatsoever and just itching to initiate a war with his nearest neighbour at a second's notice. To this end, he sees Buttercup as a very valuable commodity. Not only will she possibly provide an heir so he can get back to his hunting, but when she is kidnapped and he perceives that all clues point towards the troops of neighbouring Guilder as the culprits, she may also be instrumental in starting the war that he longs for.
Humperdinck is the bad guy in every possible sense of the word and is pretty much the source of all the troubles and strife faced by Westley and Buttercup as they strive to stay together. A master manipulator and schemer, Humperdinck is the perfect opposing force to Westley's determination and endless resourcefulness.
Count Tyrone Rugen (Christopher Guest)
The ever-reliable right hand of Humperdinck and a purveyor of pain on the highest level, Rugen spends the little time he has when not working to meet the ends of his prince, working on his own masterpiece, the ultimate instrument of torture known only as 'The Machine'. Apart from his scholarly devotion to the study of pain, perhaps the most interesting thing about the count is that he has six fingers on his right hand.
Played by veteran comedic actor Christopher Guest 1, Rugen is a loyal and trustworthy underling to Prince Humperdinck. This is proven beyond doubt when he comes face to face with Westley, Inigo and Fezzick and after weighing up the odds, decides to flee for his life.
Others of Note
Aside from the main cast of characters there are strong supporting performances from British comedians Mel Smith (as the albino) and Peter Cook as a clergyman with a frustrating combination of being tone deaf and having an irritating speech impediment. Billy Crystal also makes an appearance as Miracle Max along with Carol Kane as Max's witch (or more accurately, his wife), Valerie. And of course the Grandfather and Grandchild are played by Peter Falk and Fred Savage respectively.