Commemorating the 25th anniversary of The Princess Bride, director Rob Reiner, screenwriter William Goldman (also the author of the source novel) and stars Robin Wright (“Buttercup”), Wallace Shawn (“Vizzini”), Chris Sarandon (“Prince Humperdink”), Mandy Patinkin (“Inigo Montoya”), Carol Kane (“Valerie”), Cary Elwes (“Westley”), and Billy Crystal (“Miracle Max”) all gathered at NYC’s Alice Tully Hall on Tuesday as part of a New York Film Festival special event screening. This marked the first time in almost 26 years that they have watched the film with an audience, re-experiencing the saga of Buttercup and her Westley (and all swordsmanship and kissing involved).
Throughout the film, which sold out the 1,086-seat Lincoln Center venue, attendees of all different ages loudly applauded and hooted for their favorite lines and for the first appearances of their favorite characters. They were worked up into a fervor, more closely resembling a ribald grindhouse crowd than one at a typical NYFF screening. This large-scale showing injected new life into The Princess Bride, and it is especially great that the audience was so responsive, given that the cast sat through the film and were able to witness the extreme appreciation of their work firsthand.
Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Scott Foundas, who also masterminded the event, kicked off the post-screening Q&A by asking writer Goldman where the story of The Princess Bride came from – after all, Goldman made his career penning considerably grittier fare like Marathon Man and All The President’s Men. Goldman answered that he asked his kids what he should write about. One said “a princess” and the other “a bride,” so he just put those words together and wrote a story about them.
Despite the fact that The Princess Bride was such a departure for Goldman, he noted that he told Reiner in early film negotiations that “The Princess Bride is my favorite thing I’ve ever written in my life. I want it on my tombstone.”
Reiner was hardly the first director to consider making Goldman’s prized book into a film, however. Early drafts of the script apparently had the likes of François Truffaut and Robert Redford attached and was even noted by Cahiers du cinéma as one of the best screenplays never produced. Reiner only got the opportunity by osmosis, since his father Carl starred in one of the plays included in Goldman’s book “The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway,” which chronicles the 1967-68 season on and off-Broadway. Goldman became friends with the senior Reiner, who passed on the book to his burgeoning director son. Reiner noted, “[The Princess Bride] is the most brilliant thing I’ve ever read in my life,” and thus he pursued the project until he convinced Goldman that he was the man for the job.
Foundas then asked Wright and Elwes for their first impressions on the film, even though getting them to answer involved getting Reiner to stop talking. Elwes had only a few minor credits to his name before getting cast and Wright had never been in a movie before. Elwes shared that he read the book when he was thirteen and loved it. Reiner quickly cut him off to describe meeting Elwes for the first time – not only did he look the part, Reiner said, but he also had enough of a sense of humor to do a killer Fat Albert impression (Elwes did, in fact, close the night with a stellar “Hey, hey, hey!”). Reiner went on and on about the cast’s hijinks on the English set until Foundas had to lay down the law and pass the mic to Wright, who simply mentioned her incredulousness at enacting the stage directions as written in the film’s script.
Itching for his turn at the mic, Patinkin requested to share his love for André the Giant, whom he thinks was such a kind, gentle man. Patinkin cited one specific example of when Wright, Shawn, and he are tethered to André as their characters mount the Cliffs of Insanity. In real life, André couldn’t support all of their weight, so a structure was configured around him with a bicycle seat for each of the three actors to sit on. Patinkin remembered that Shawn was insanely afraid of heights, but André was able to empathize. André patted Shawn’s head lovingly and told him, “Don’t worry – I’ll take care of you.”
Foundas wisely noted that a large part of the film’s charm comes from the fact that it is relatively special effects-free, citing the Orson Welles quote, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” Certainly, Reiner’s ability to create effective “Rodents Of Unusual Size” wasn’t hindered by budget restraints — each of the two ROUS was, in fact, inhabited by a British little person. Crystal laughed as he remembered one of the little people, the body-pierced Anthony, was arrested for burning down a dog kennel in response to his divorce proceedings. Never a dull moment on that set.
Certainly, The Princess Bride leaves a huge legacy behind. Crystal noted also that he recently sat down to enjoy the film with his two grown daughters and their children – the “as you wish” moment for him – and love for the film will continue through generations. Love for the film also comes in more obsessive forms. Sarandon knew of a couple who had a minister ordained so that he could marry them in the same fashion as Peter Cook’s character did for Buttercup and Humperdinck. Also, during the Q&A, a 26-year-old man from the audience asked Wright if he could hug her, realizing his childhood dream.
And one thing is certain about the film’s legacy: Mandy Patinkin will always receive requests to say, “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” And so it should be!