By Jon Gallagher
The Princess Bride (20th Century Fox, 1987) – Director: Rob Reiner. Writer: William Goldman (book & S/p). Cast: Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Robin Wright, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, Fred Savage, Peter Falk, Peter Cook, Mel Smith, Carol Kane, Billy Crystal, & Anne Dyson. Color, 98 minutes, PG.
When The Princess Bride first came to the theaters some 28 years ago, I didn’t go see it. It didn’t sound like the kind of movie that would interest me.
When it went to video, I didn’t rush out to the video store to grab a copy. Again, I just wasn’t interested in seeing something called “The Princess Bride.” That sounded like a chick flick if ever there was one, or something my (then) four-year-old might eventually watch.
At the time it came out on video, I was editing and publishing an insider’s newsletter that covered professional wrestling. One of my staff members, Jeff Siegel, called me and urged me to go out and rent the movie as soon as possible. “Yeah, right. I’ll get right on that,” I remember saying to him.
He told me that a popular wrestler, Andre the Giant, was in the movie and was quite good. He also said there was an inside joke where Andre told another character that people in masks could not be trusted. At the time, Andre was wrestling under a mask as the not-very-well-disguised Giant Machine.
To appease Jeff, and in the interest of being able to make fun of the movie in my newsletter, I went out and rented it.
It immediately became one of my all-time favorite movies. My kids love it, my ex-wives both love it; I even showed it to my Advanced Senior English class that I taught at a local high school, and they went absolutely nuts over it.
Anyone who has seen it is probably nodding their head with a big smile on their face, going “Yep. Been there, done that.”
The reason I bring all this up and am reviewing a movie that is 28 years old is because we have a theater in my old hometown of Galesburg, Illinois, that shows “throwback” movies every Thursday during the summer. So far this summer they’ve offered Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Ghosts of Mississippi, with Superman, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Hook, Toy Story, Singin’ in the Rain, and Beetlejuice yet to come. Admission is free (although they do offer outrageously-priced concessions) and there is a matinee and an evening show.
Built originally as a vaudeville theater, the Orpheum has played host to a virtual who’s who in entertainment over the years. It began showing movies, and remained a movie theater from the 40s through the 80s when multiplex theaters became the way to make money rather than a single screen. Since, the Orpheum has been refurbished to its heyday, with a huge, ornate crystal chandelier in the lobby, stage for local theater groups or visiting troupes, private parties, concerts, and of course, movies.
Seating in the 946-seat theater is spread throughout three levels. The main floor seats 438 with a mezzanine level that holds 108 wrapping around the main level like a horseshoe. A steep balcony looks down on everything and will hold 400.
I had never seen The Princess Bride on the big screen, so when it was announced, my oldest daughter, her husband, and two of their three kids offered to take me (figuring that the nine month old wouldn’t care one way or another if True Love triumphed or not).
I didn’t know what to expect. I’d been to other classic movies where people showed up dressed as their favorite characters. When I saw The Wizard of Oz a few years ago, several women came dressed either as Dorothy or the Wicked Witch. Star Wars brought out a whole cast of Darth Vaders, Luke Skywalkers, Obi-Wan Kenobis, and C-3POs.
I didn’t want to overdress, just in case no one showed up in costume, so I wore a t-shirt.
I’m glad. No one else showed up in any type of costume. In fact, only 159 people showed up for the matinee.
The Princess Bride has given us so many iconic lines that I figured that they would be repeated en masse whenever they were delivered on screen. “Anybody want a peanut?” “Inconceivable!” “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means,” “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die,” and of course, my all time favorite, “Have fun stormin’ the castle!” were all just begging to be delivered in stereo, yet the audience here allowed the actors to have the lines to themselves.
Most of the reason for that was because of how the audience was made up. Most of the attendees were grandparents or parents with a number of children in tow.
We sat in the mezzanine, which negated the effect of the big screen. Since we were at the level of the top of the screen, it had the effect of watching the movie on perhaps a 32-inch TV. The audio was okay, but nothing spectacular. As it turns out, we were watching a DVD of the movie, not even a blue-ray copy. That was being projected onto the screen and the stereo sound came from the disc, and wasn’t even in Dolby.
But the movie, with its cast of wonderful characters, remained as charming, funny, and entertaining as ever. The audience cheered at the right moments and erupted in applause at the end. It still gets an A+ in my book.
I went to the lobby, watched people file out, and listened to what they had to say. It was then that I realized why no one had repeated the lines in the movie. Most people in the audience were young enough that they had never seen the movie before. There were even parents who had not seen it.
One mother gushed, “That was awesome! We need to rent that and show it to (the whole family)!”
A grandfatherly type was smiling and shaking his head. “I’m sure glad the kids dragged me to this!” he said to the theater manager.
Next week, they’re showing Superman, the original Christopher Reeve movie that started his career as the Man of Steel.
“We should go to that,” my daughter said.
“As you wish,” my son-in-law and I replied in unison.
For those of you who are fans of The Princess Bride and can quote at least four of the iconic lines from the movie, there’s some required reading for you.
Cary Elwes, who of course plays Westley, has written a book called As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride. It is a fascinating account of how the movie was put together including anecdotes about how he and Mandy Patinkin refused to use doubles in their sword fight and how they learned to duel in the hands of master swordsmen, how he (Elwes) got knocked out cold by wanting to make another scene look real, and how Andre was a gentle giant, putting everyone at ease, and using his huge hands to help keep cast members warm during frigid temperatures.
Barnes and Noble had it for just $5.38. I highly recommend it.