The Princess Bride [retro viewing]

When searching for the next movie to unleash into a full-fledged Mutant Viewing (now with 85% more sodium!), I found myself squatting at a curious crossroads. Yes, there were plenty of bad movies to take on and examine under a (hopefully) witty, critty microscope… but I felt like that’s all I’ve been doing, lately. Even us ogres have a soft side. Yet the good movies out there are, as Pooly once said, hard to review in length, because it all ends up with you saying, “Boy howdy, this is great!” They don’t all make for great viewing material.

So, squatting in front of my DVD rack, I considered my choices for a long time, until one day, out of the blue, a little fairy with a nasty cough knocked on my door and thrust a copy of The Princess Bride into my hands.

“Here ya go,” said the fairy, hacking a chunk of lung into a hanky. “Stop yer whining and do this. You know you gotta, yadda yadda, do you know where the nearest emergency room is?”

He was right, of course, even if he stopped breathing. How could I be so incredibly blind? It’s been there in front of my nose for years – a long-loved cult favorite with a rich history of viewing pleasure in my life, spanning back to my early teenage years. It’s a “good” movie, but there’s a lot of fun to be had in analyzing it and generally spewing my unique brand of verbal cologne across its surface. And it would allow me to vent even more about the sheer idiocy that is Buttercup.

It’s funny to think that The Princess Bride spans aaaaaaall the way back to 1973, when author/screenwriter William Goldman (All the President’s Men, Misery) created this in the form of a giant shaggy dog tale. Instead of just launching into a subversive twist on the old fantasy/romance genre, he also subverted novel writing itself. Goldman felt the need to make up an enormous backstory of TPB’s alleged writing by a guy named “S. Morgenstern”, and how Goldman took an often-boring novel and boiled it down to what he called “The Good Parts Version”. Thus, like the movie itself, Goldman continually breaks into the narrative of the novel to mention that he took out, say, 29 pages devoted to a woman choosing which hat to wear. If you didn’t know better, it was entirely possible to be fooled by this setup. And that’s the sort of tongue-in-cheek attitude TPB had when it came onto the silver screen.

(Interesting side note number one: when Goldman re-released TPB in a 30th anniversary edition, he included the first chapter of the sequel: Buttercup’s Baby. Naturally, Goldman created an even more complex tale of how he was trying to acquire the rights to abridging that text from, of all people, Stephen King. Shaggy dog again. Then, it gets even better – as the chapter itself ends with a terrific cliffhanger, readers became eager to know when the sequel would finally hit the shelves. The answer? Never. Seriously, as far as we know, Goldman wrote the cliffhanger chapter as one last TPB practical joke on his readers. I love this guy so much, it hurts.)

(Interesting side note number two: Goldman inserted another practical joke into the text, where he mentions that he himself wrote only one scene, a reunion scene between Buttercup and Westley, but his publisher rejected it. He then urges readers to write in asking for the scene, which they did in spades. The readers got back a long – and again, fictitious – letter about some lawyer who has blocked the release of the scene.)

But enough about the book – we’re here for the movie! I’ve been constantly amazed at how TPB has changed for me over the years as my perspective has grown wiser and more amazingly intelligent. Or… I’m just bored and new things pop out at me. As a kid, TPB was nothing more than a fairly funny fantasy flick, but it took a few years before I began to catch on to the extreme undercurrent of satire and goofy weirdness that was going on here. Everyone does everything “straight” in TPB, yet what they’re saying or doing is almost completely ridiculous or stupid. If they did it all with a wink and a jolly skip, it would’ve been forgettable; as it is, the sincerity of the characters is what makes this outright awesome.

Thus, let us go, you and I, back to 1987, and a world filled with large rodents, six-fingered men, and the… * cough * cough * … the pit… of despair!


The Princess Bride, like many other classic films, is not a case of one thing done extremely well, but many things done extremely well. I’ll probably find myself saying, “One of the things I love about this movie is…” quite a bit, and you’ll just have to bear with me through it. Fozzy, Teddy Ruxpin, Smokey or Yogi are your choices.

One of the things I love about this movie is the clever little framing device of the grandfather and the grandson. Sure, they could’ve gone the traditional route of just throwing us into a fairy-tale setting, perhaps with some lame title cards, scrolling text or a narrator who would much rather be back performing Shakespeare on stage, thankyouverymuch. But instead we get a brilliant device that works on so many levels: it eases the audience into the fantastical setting; it provides moments of great comedy when we’re suddenly “yanked” out of the story for some comment or another; and it gives an ally to people who complain about healthy servings of romance and glitzy fantasy into their otherwise bland cinematic diets.

But more than that, more than anything else, it helps to rekindle our love of simply having someone tell us a story. Good storytellers are a rare and cherished breed in our world, people who can spin us a tale and make us care with only the power of their words and our imagination. For centuries, it was the way people across the world passed on their stories, real and imaginary, for future generations to experience. It’s good we haven’t totally lost that.

The movie opens to a shot of Accolade’s C64 “Hardball”. Sports fans are thrown a bone (it’s a hit, and the batter makes it to first!), and little kids in the audience find something to connect to. The camera shows us the player – it’s a somewhat-sick Fred Savage, who’s both a Chicago Bears fan and a shill for Cheetos. He’s got a cool room, one of those setpieces that studio prop departments go nuts for over-decorating with devil masks, toy cars, and posters galore. His mom comes in, feels his forehead and establishes that, yes, he is on the threshold of death’s grim doorway, a mere second or two from pressing that eternal doorbell.

Mom lets the kid know that his grandfather is there to see him; kid is less than thrilled, knowing his grandpappy’s penchant for cheek pinching. Lo and behold, the cheek gets violated. Hey everyone, it’s Peter Falk (Columbo)! As the movie progresses, we get a great sense of their relationship. Like any kid on the verge of annoying adolescence, he’s not a huge fan of old people and their old ways, like walking and communicating verbally. The grandfather knows he’s an embarrassment, but gives it the faithful college try anyhow. Surprisingly, it works – but not without a few bumps in the road.

Grandfather gives the kid a present, which thrills him for the 0.2 seconds opening it, until… “A book?” he says unimpressed, his eyebrows climbing to teenage disbelief. From here on out, grandfather knows that he’s going to be fighting an uphill battle to win over this newfangled generation of gadget geeks. Not trying to oversell it, grandfather describes it as having “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles!” So now we have something to look forward to, I guess. We’ll try to stay awake.

Okay, no matter how cynical I could ever become, the moment when the grandfather begins reading, the scene fades into the countryside, and the music leads in, I get a big ol’ smile on my face. It’s just charming, nothing more or less to it. “Isn’t that a wonderful beginning?” “Yeah. It’s really good.” Haha…

I do appreciate that a bulk of the “getting together” part of the romance is front-loaded into the first ten minutes or so, leaving the rest of the movie to examine what romance is really all about: being hounded and tortured for devoting your life to another human being. More romance flicks need to learn this lesson. Thus, we are introduced to freshly-scrubbed Wesley (Cary Elwes) and snobbish prig Buttercup (Robin Wright). Wesley is a meek farmboy who is the source of amusement for the torments of Buttercup, who barks orders like a dominatrix or a teenage drama queen (same difference?).

Wesley, overcome by what we’ll hope are the toxic fumes of barnyard animals and not hormones, does not instantly crush her skull with a nearby hoe, but instead meekly replies to her demands with the phrase, “As you wish.” Eventually – as in, 35 seconds – she realizes he loves her, she loves him, and death will have to go on to other venues for the time being. Then they start to kiss against the backdrop of a perfect sunset, the moment frozen in time out of respect for their love, and…

“Hold it hold it!” the grandson interjects, taking us away from this Hallmark Hell. “Is this a kissing book?” Good call there, junior. I suspect, without that little protest, about 90% of the male audience would’ve dashed out of the theater doors by this point. Back into the book we go!

So here we have our happy couple, who we literally just met about twenty seconds ago as they fell in love, and the story suddenly has to rip them apart. Because, y’know, we couldn’t just watch two people mooning over each other for a couple hours without taking our fury out on the cat. Or something. I used “cat” there because I’m not very fond of them, and I highly suspect that they see our skin as a forbidden – yet tantalizing – barrier to the pounds of catnip stashed away inside.

Also, Garfield sucks.

“This is true love,” Wesley says with dead earnestness. “Do you think this happens every day?” The answer to that is “no”, since the True Love™ that he’s talking about has the power to reverse death and decay, storm castles, and thwart polydactyly wherever it rears its superfluous appendage.

To escape from Buttercup’s fantasy-romance stereotype and find sultry wenches (more on that later), Wesley leaves to make his fame and fortune on the open sea. Good idea. Except he is instantly (off-camera) killed. Bad idea. “Murdered by pirates is good!” says the grandson. Yes, junior. Yes it is. If only we were all so fortunate.

Buttercup takes the mourning period way out of proportion to the two minutes of true love™ that she had, and begins a mope-a-thon to rival any teenage kid who finds out they have to take advanced calculus. “I will never love again,” she snivels. “Where am I going to find hired help that I can abuse in such a sado-masochistic fashion that they’ll end up falling for me? I mean, a second time?”

I’m not a big fan of Buttercup, for many reasons, but the overarching reason is this: she is beyond useless. Taken seriously, this movie might even be misogynistic. What does she do, other than look halfway pretty, stumble around in a dress, try to attempt at verbalizing anger, and fail in a battle of wits against grown-ups? She does jump out of a window, I think, but that’s hardly in her favor. She’s just a witless pawn being moved around to keep the plot going. I guess that’s true of a lot of romance novels, come to think of it.

Grandfather goes on to read to us that Prince Humperdink (awesome name, +10 character points!) has chosen Miss Mopey to be his lawfully wedded wife. We assume that he hasn’t actually met her at any close range, otherwise he’d find out quickly that her emotions are limited to either spastic jerk or woeful melancholy.

In the “introducing Princess Buttercup” scene, there’s a couple funny things going on in the background that are interesting to notice. The first is that the senile King is doing his own hand-waving, pretending that he’s still in charge. The second is when Humperdink asks the crowd if they want to meet Buttercup, they all raise their fists and shout “YEAH!” in perfect unison. I can’t imagine the logistics behind the practices of the peasant masses in this country.

Buttercup comes in, but she’s not happy. You could even say she’s… mopey? You could say that. Quickly, we switch to Buttercup taking on yet another fantasy-romance cliché, which is The Horse Whisperess. Once, just once, I’d love to see a fantasy-romance chick who is frightened or appalled by these four-legged stomping machines, and prefers to ride a tortoise instead.

Finally, the movie takes us away from the dreadful saccharine plight to get things moving along (just like classic fairy tale stories — if you’re not into the thick of the action by paragraph three, it ain’t worth telling). And the best way to do that is to have a (not so) random encounter on a path with Goldilock’s three bears: shorty, skuzzy and hefty. Shorty is Vizzini, the “brains” of this diabolical criminal syndicate; skuzzy is Inigo, the drunk swordsman; and hefty is Fezzik, the World Wrestling Federation Champion, ANDRE THE GIANT!!!!. Sorry, I felt as if that bit of coolness needed some formatting assistance. Buttercup’s in trouble, but she drinks deep from the well of self-pity, and could not climb out in time to realize that she’s still on a speedy horse, and these three guys have to take turns giving piggy-back rides. Fezzik gives Buttercup the Vulcan nerve pinch, and she’s out.

As they load Buttercup’s worthless carcass onto a boat, Vizzini tries to put the uncomfortable trouser tights he’s wearing out of his mind by offloading some exposition to the others. They’re making it look as if another country kidnapped Buttercup, and a war will soon erupt. Father will turn against son, Yoda will flee to Degobah, and proton torpedoes will be fired into exhaust ports. It’s a prestigious line of work, Vizzini informs us. Fezzik balks at killing Buttercup (this is because he does not yet know her), but Vizzini verbally beats the both of them to the ground. “Do you want me to send you back from where you were? Unemployed? In Greenland?” always gets a laugh from me.

Then begins a little odd moment between Inigo and Fezzik, where we eventually realize that Inigo is teaching his landmassian pal how to think of rhymes. That’s also a prestigious line of work, with a long and glorious tradition — moreso if you work for Hallmark. The rhyming drives Vizzini mad. Good.

Later that night, the boys are celebrating their mild villainy on the boat, but Inigo is concerned about being followed. Vizzini demonstrates his love of his Word of the Day Calendar (1448 A.D. edition) by spouting the word “inconceivable” every two minutes for the remainder of his screen time. Buttercup gives them some lip, and Fezzik silently contemplates keelhauling her. Westley? My man? I know the farmland offers few dating alternatives, but I’m sure there were more attractive and less bitter sheep out there than this woman. Just sayin’.

A mysterious ship is following them, and Vizzini gives a plausible theory: “Probably some local fisherman out on a pleasure cruise… at night… through eel-infested waters.” Eel-infested? Sign me up for that cruise!

Buttercup’s had enough — she bails over the side. Her sharp wit has not quite caught on to the fact that (a) she’s trying to swim in a full dress, (b) there’s no land anywhere nearby, (c) she has yet to develop mature gills, and (d) dude just said “eel-infested”. Maybe she has a weird kink for eels, but this being a family-friendly flick, I’m going to carefully lay that thought aside and smash it with a sledgehammer. Inigo cannot swim, and Fezzik (doing charming little hand motions) claims he can only dog-paddle. Buttercup is shocked to learn that the territorial waters she’s now co-habiting with eels are not home to your garden variety toxin-saturated Moray Eels or even the battery-charging Electric Eels. Nope, these are the stomping grounds of the elusive Shrieking Eels, who used to be forum-posting fanboys before their transformation by a witch and dumped into the sea. “No original paint job on Optimus Prime!” they wail, as Buttercup looks anxious. “Greedo can’t shoot first!” One swims closer and closer to Buttercup, opens its mouth (“Uwe Boll should leave video games alone!”) and starts to charge.

I’ll admit it: when I was a kid, this scene made me the most anxious out of any in the movie. I have a life-long fear of the ocean and everything that swims around and under you, and Mr. Shrieking Eel didn’t help my sleep patterns any. However, in a moment of cinematic brilliance (and I am not being sarcastic at all), right as Buttercup’s about to be eaten the scene abruptly cuts to the Grandfather, who looks up at the Grandson and reassures him: “She doesn’t get eaten by the eels at this time.” This short interlude, right here, is the best part of the movie for me. Without descending into outright satire and goofy comedy, the filmmakers rapidly shift from tense horror to a moment of pealing laughter — who wouldn’t want to be reassured that their favorite character (let’s pretend, for Buttercup’s sake) would be okay during a scary part? The Grandson is non-plussed: “What?” You can tell he was really getting into the tale (and so were we — by this point, we more or less forgot that it’s being narrated by the Grandfather).

Back into the story. Buttercup’s okay (sigh), the mysterious boat is gaining speed, and Vizzini wishes he had more hair so that he had something to pull out. Question: if they were going to kill Buttercup anyway later on, why not just do away with her now, and lug her blessedly-quiet corpse around for the remainder of the journey? You have a giant, after all, and a guy who’s really really good at cutting big things into smaller things.

Morning breaks over the Cliffs of Insanity, and the criminals break for coffee and crumpets. Then Fezzik is called on to carry all four of them up, while the Man in Black™ follows up from behind. At the top, Vizzini cuts away the rope and is dismayed when the Man in Black™ does not fall to the rocks and rupture his abdomen. A side note: Vizzini has the most girly dagger I’ve ever seen. I have more manly butter knives in my drawer, I swear.

Vizzini leaves Inigo to kill the MIB (Tommy Lee? Fresh Prince?) once he reaches the summit. Nobody thinks to just sit at the edge and have a ball by throwing fist-sized boulders down onto MIB’s head. I can just picture the plunking. “Men in masks are not to be trusted,” Frezzik pontificates. As a kid, this statement blew by me; as an adult, it casts a wicked light on all superhero franchises. After all, would you vote for a masked President or trust a high school English teacher who always wore a scarf around their mouth and eyes? Yeah, me too.

Playing against moviegoers’ expectations, instead of quickly arriving at a fast and furious battle between Inigo and the MIB, the film grins evilly and grinds to a halt. The MIB is taking forever to climb up the cliff. Inigo is impatient. Inigo offers to help. MIB declines. Inigo practices his swordplay a bit on the obviously-not-a-soundstage. MIB climbs more. It’s both infuriating and hilarious. Eventually, MIB allows Inigo to help him up – and pause for a warm heart-to-heart conversation, solely because Inigo made up some Spanish-sounding name to swear by. If I knew that worked, I’d be telling police officers “I swear on the sword of my father Domingo Montoya, I will drive 55.”

During this little verbal tête-à-tête, which is all the more surreal for the fact that these two well-spoken men are about to try to hack each other’s limbs off, we find out a few interesting facts. Mostly it’s about Inigo’s quest for revenge against the six-fingered man who killed his father, but we can’t discount the MIB’s boot full of enormously large rocks. But seriously, Inigo’s monologue about his father is one of the most captivating in the film, and that is saying something. “Next time, I will not fail. I will look him in the eye and say, ‘Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.’”

Finally, we get some down and dirty fighting. I won’t be going into great detail, since this is a mutant viewing and not a comprehensive history of Russia, and we need to get moving. With flailing rapiers and wordy exchanges, Inigo is eventually bested and knocked unconscious by the MIB. There’s also a completely superfluous high bar flip that was included because Rob Reiner accidentally budgeted for a gymnast and needed to justify the cost.

With skuzzy out of the way, the MIB catches up with hefty. Andre the Giant gets his biggest part of the movie, which plays against his two weaknesses: his ability to manipulate the English language so that it doesn’t sound like he’s talking through a twenty-foot tube, and his (at the time) serious back problems. Still, with the aid of ramps and his charming smile, we can’t help but root for Fezzik a little more than the huggy MIB. Fezzik’s inquiry about the mask is a snarky barb aimed at hack fantasy writers, as is the MIB’s reply: “They’re terribly comfortable. I think everyone will be wearing them in the future.” Eventually, the MIB chokes Fezzik until he passes out and starts bleeding from the nose and ears. Oxygen deprivation! It’s just as fun as it sounds! I don’t know how Andre kept a still face while he’s told to “dream of large women”, but I admire him the more for it.

We cut to Prince Humpbackwhale, hot on the trail of the kidnappers. For a self-proclaimed badass, his frilly skirt and extreme lack of armor make me wonder why his nation hasn’t staged a coup against his lilly-white buttocks yet.

MEANWHILE… the MIB catches up with shorty, who stages a “battle of the minds”. They each cut open their skulls, fling their brains at each other, and pray for a quick resolution before bodily functions shut down. Nah… it’s more along the lines of a poisoned cup of wine Vizzini has to avoid, which he profoundly does not after a long rambling speech that somehow references the Vietnam War (!). Buttercup mute and blindfolded makes this – easily – the best scene she’s in. Vizzini dies, rather abruptly. I know, I know. It’s inconceivable.

A quick aside: since the MIB is the one who comes up with the whole poisoned-wine challenge, it makes me wonder what Vizzini’s plan entailed. After all, he’s managed to set up a rather extravagant picnic feast – wine, goblets, apples, bread, cheese – all on top of a tablecloth. Where was he stashing all of this during his flight from the law?

Team Black intercepts the football from Team Stooge, and makes off for the horizon. Upset at being used as a piece of equipment in a sports metaphor, Buttercup resumes her mouthy nature as the MIB yanks her along. MIB reveals that he’s spent “the last few years building up an immunity to iocane powder”, which begs the question: um, WHY? Either he had incredible foresight for this bizarre hostage situation, or he just wanted to win some bar bets.

To keep the suspense up, we get yet another scene of Prince Humperdink analyzing the second fight scene. I spend more time admiring how purple, fuzzy and poofy his ensemble is. It’s like someone abducted Christopher Guest from his bathroom right after a shower and made him latch on a sword belt around his wife’s bathrobe. His horse has no problems being leapt upon (Sue? Do horses like this?)

The MIB yanks Buttercup across the country like a man very late for his Oscar acceptance speech and the woman that he’s towing behind is the reason for that tardiness, then abruptly halts for a few minutes of casual small talk. Is it a spoiler to anyone at this point if I reveal that the MIB is Wesley? Was it ever a surprise to anyone?

Anyway, Wesley is obviously pissed beyond belief at Buttercup (“Ha ha ha, and what is that worth the promise of a woman?”), but he’s still rescuing her. Buttercup must be the only woman on the planet with more than three teeth, considering how much Wesley puts up with her instead of moving on to another motion picture. Wesley even goes so far as to almost slap her. “My hand flies on its own,” he warns. Yes, I’m sure that defense holds up in divorce courts across the country.

A quick cutaway to Humperdink’s mighty morphin’ rescue squad, then we’re right back with the honeymooners. They’ve gone, like, two feet, and Wesley throws Buttercup to the ground again. Geez, man, I don’t like her either, but she’s wearing high heels and a hundred feet of curtain strapped around her – you might want to give her a little bit of leeway on the travel situation.

Buttercup accuses the MIB of being the “Dread Pirate Roberts” (the Dread Pirate Bob?). ‘Tis true. MIB/Roberts/Wesley moans about how hostage taking is “work work work”, and Buttercup sobs, “You mock my pain!” Why yes. Yes he does. Because your tears are so deliciously sweet, my dear. Wesley spouts the immortal line: “Life IS pain, highness. Anyone who says different is selling something.”

Buttercup takes a rare moment away from her self-pity and shoves the MIB down the steep hill. Go Team Mary Kay!

In perhaps the greatest instance of cinematic rolling down a hill, Wesley reveals his true nature with a hearty (and somewhat pained) “Aaaaas youuuuuu wisshhhhh!” Good move, there, Buttercup. I, too, like to start the day by pushing my love off a cliff. “Crap!” she thinks, then launches herself down the hill in the second greatest example of cinematic rolling down a hill. It’s quite the romantic moment. I feel bad for their stunt doubles.

Wesley’s mask and dew rag fly off, but Buttercup’s clothes are fastened with all the tightness that the MPAA provides. Cue a few kissy-touchy-sappy moments of reunited bliss that I shan’t be covering. Instead, I’ll provide you with this picture to test your gag reflex:

Wesley asks Buttercup why she didn’t wait, fool, and she’s all like, “Well, you were a rotting corpse and I’m just not into that, thank you very much.” Tsk, girl, you’re in a romance movie. You should know better. “Death cannot stop true love,” Wesley croons. “All it can do is delay it for a little while.” MRFH dares you to use this line to a grieving widow or widower at a funeral.

More kissing. Grandson objects. OBJECTION!

As they flee into the Fire Swamp, Wesley lays into Humperdink with a witty “Pig Fiancee” remark. The Swamp itself is a pit of vines and roots of the completely artificial variety. Wesley remarks how beautiful it all is, and Buttercup looks at him as if he’s completely mad. Or a man. Strange how often those two things coincide.

The Fire Swamp greets the happy couple by setting Buttercup’s alcohol-drenched dress on fire (yes!), and she unhelpfully kicks at Wesley while he’s valiantly attempting to put it out with his bare hands. As they wander through this terrific set – Justin loves the atmosphere – Wesley explains how he ended up kidnapped by pirates and eventually granted the mantle of “Dread Pirate Roberts”. The concept of deliberately crafting a legend comes into play, which is sort of interesting.

Buttercup’s been physically carried throughout this entire speech, so it goes without saying that as soon as Wesley puts her down, she steps straight into a vat of oatmeal. Seriously, this woman is more death-prone than a dog who’s raised to think of all cars as its “mother”. Wesley sighs, grunts, lets out a healthy belch, reads the sports section of Guilder Today, scratches his rear, then relunctantly goes into the oatmeal pit to pull out his corpse bride. Oh, wait, guess she’s still alive. Hooray.

More hugging. Wesley spots a giant rat, but fails to comment on it. I know exactly the chain of events that he’s predicting in his mind at this point:

    1. “Oh, hey, it’s a giant rat!” he says calmly.2. Buttercup looks, screams, and promptly runs in the opposite direction.3. Wherein lies the oatmeal vat of death.

    4. She falls back into it while making the sound of a rapidly deflating tire (“eeee”).

    5. Wesley sighs, grunts, lets out yet another healthy belch, reads the funnies, pulls out a massive wedgie from all that cliff climbing earlier, then goes for round two in Quaker Oats Land.

“Thanks, but no thanks,” he thinks, and flat-out lies when Buttercup asks him about the R.O.U.S.s (that’s Rodents of Unusual Size, winner of the most awkward acronym award of 1987). His bold gambit of lying nets him a hefty R.O.U.S. on the chest. Her man in severe, life-threatening danger, Buttercup reaches deep within herself only to find wispy dreams and flights of fancy. She screams. She grabs a stick and pokes – not swipes, mind you, or bashes, but pokes – at the critter. She fails to get Wesley his sword when he’s grabbing for it. There’s also a good two minutes where she just stands around, twirling her hair, like she’s waiting for the mall to open.

Bitten, burned and a bit cheesed off, Wesley shoves the R.O.U.S. into a fireball, then stabs it no less than three times with his pig sticker. A dozen new chest hairs erupt due to this display of incredible manliness.

In summary: Buttercup – pokes things with sticks. Wesley – skewers things with Detroit steel.

The couple casually stroll out of the Fire Swamp into what appears to be the same exact location where Buttercup was kidnapped at the start of the flick. After their fifteen-minute stay in the Fire Swamp, the two are confident that they’ve lost their pursu… oh, hey, it’s their pursuers!

“Surrender!” Humperdink demands. Wesley gets all cute and presents his tail feathers in a valiant attempt at bravado, but to no avail. Buttercup sizes up the situation – she has a difficult time with math, but she’s fairly sure that the bad guys have more numbers on their side than her Team Snugglybear. So here she makes what I consider to be an unforgivable sin: she betrays Wesley and surrenders for the both of them.

Ugh. Now, yeah, they weren’t in the most advantageous position, but Buttercup, baby, you just got your man back from the dead. He’s proven he’s nigh invincible, and you yourself are a decent target decoy. Why would you give him up like that? Even if you were both going to die, wouldn’t it be better to die together than to surrender your One True Love to be tortured to death?

Oh, wait. She naively assumes that Humperdink’s gonna let Wesley go. Because guys love having threats to their manhood running around all willy-nilly if they have a say about it.

I like how Humperdink tells Rugen to go ahead and throw Wesley in the Pit of Despair, not at all quiet-like, and standing about ten feet away from Buttercup. My wife can hear every single under-my-breath mutter I utter, so you’re telling me that Butternuts couldn’t pick up on that slice of deception?

The look on Wesley’s face is near priceless as Buttercup is whisked away. “Dude,” he’s thinking. “I just sailed through a sea of screaming fish, free-climbed a sheer rock cliff, battled three bandits, and plowed through a merciless swamp, and for what? A vacation at thumbscrew central? No woman is worth this. No Swedish female volleyball team is worth this.”

Count Rugen, it is noticed, has six fingers on his right hand. I wonder if that will be on the final exam.

Enter the Pit of Despair. Located in south Harlem, the Pit boasts an impressive array of staircases without handrails, scores of candles and ominous torches, and some fun looking exercise equipment. Wesley is cleaned up by a cheery albino – and what little boy doesn’t dream of that one day? The albino mentions “The Machine”, which I’m assuming doesn’t make smoothies. Wesley looks a tad worried.

Grandpa informs us that the king died that night and Buttercup and Humperdink tied the knot the very next day. I sincerely hope that when I die, my kids skip out on my funeral to go get hitched. Stupid kids. Always wanting a bigger allowance. I’m not made of money, do you hear?!?!?!?

Grandkid is upset with this turn of events, but Grampa states “Who said life is fair? Where is that written? Life isn’t always fair.” and plows ahead to one of the best scenes in this movie:

BUTTERCUP GETS HER COMEUPPANCE
That’s right, ladies and gents. For all her mind-boggling incompetence, for her betrayal, for her infidelity and self-centered whinings, Queen Buttercup (sporting a crown that has to weigh 45 pounds, easy) is visited by a nasty old crone. “You had love in your hands,” she says, “and you gave it up!” Buttercup tries to defend her stupidity, but the crone drowns her out with some well-deserved “BOO! BOO! RUBBISH! FILTH!”

Honestly? This is the moment in the movie where I could shut it off and consider it a happy ending.

Oh yeah, it was all a dream. Again. Buttercup rises from her bed at the Ohio Renaissance Faire, stalks around the booths selling outrageously marked-up prices, and confronts Humperdink about her mistake. She wants Wesley back, which is honorable enough, yet she goes about it in a typical Buttercup way, by going to the one guy who has nothing to gain from fulfilling her proposal. Humperdink promises to send non-existent ships after Wesley, but presents Nutterbutts with a counter-proposal: that she’ll marry him if Wesley doesn’t come back.

Humperdink: [with sincere eyes] If not… consider me, as an alternative to suicide?

I think they need to make that quote and picture into some sort of inspirational poster for high school counseling offices. Buttercup agrees because… well, she’s an imbecile. Haven’t you figured that out yet?

Cut to Rugen and Humperdink eviling it up in the forest as Humps talks about Buttercup’s upcoming murder and Rugen muses on how much he loves to torture. I suddenly get a flash of insight – these two guys must’ve been in the same college dorm room together, probably with a lot of dead birds and cats hidden away in their sock drawers. Urgh. Rugen and his bitchin’ goatee enter the (cough) Pit… of Despair! Humperdink bows out – he’s swamped.

Inside the PoD, Wesley is getting intimately aquainted with a number of suction cups, and Rugen makes himself at home behind his Junior Executive Play Desk. It’s here we get a good look at the Machine, which accomplishes the task of looking vaguely menacing without giving us any proper idea of what it does. Rugen claims that he’s writing his Ph.D. thesis on pain, a common approach that most action hero stars take nowadays. The Machine, he explains, will suck a year or more of your life away in less than a minute. So, it’s like watching Gigli, just an hour and fifty-nine minutes faster.

Wesley is milked by the Machine, and as a kid, I was properly disturbed by this torture. As an adult, I’m just amused all over the place. “Remember, this is for posterity, so be honest.”

Back at the castle, Humperdink is interrupted in the midst of his warmongering by previously-unseen Gillian, the chief enforcer of all Florin. There’s a funny little moment when Gillian kneels by Humperdink’s chair but ticks off the Prince by putting his arm on the rest in place of his liege’s. Humperdink orders Gillian to start clearing the forest of all potential assassins (irony alert!), and Buttercup arrives wearing her Princess Barbie Dream Gown. It’s really, really, really pink. She mews about Wesley a bit, then leaves. Important, that was! Gillian gets orders to form a “Brute Squad” to help him out.

Dude. I want a Brute Squad.

In the Thieves Forest (aka the Renaissance Fair Food Court), the Brute Squad is living up to their name. They’ve recruited Bluto, The Rock, Ving Rhames, Jean Claude Van Damme, Ogre, Biff Tannen, and the entire Cobra dojo. There, that should be enough pop culture references to keep this going. The lone holdout in the forest is a “Spaniard”. Could it be? Wonder of wonders? Miracle of miracles? It’s!

A very drunk Inigo! Even drunk, he’s more than a match for the Brute Squadees, slurring “I am waiting for Vizzini…” while slashing the air with his rapier.

“You surely are a meanie!” I can’t tell you how many times I saw this movie before I caught that Fezzik (for it is he) was continuing the “rhyming” gag from earlier on. Also, Inigo says “It’s you!” and Fezzik slyly inserts “True!” before knocking out the other Brute Squad guy.

Grampa narrates how Fezzik nursed Inigo back to health, with what looks like a spoonful of Campbell’s Chunky Potato soup. Inigo thanks him by passing out face-first into the stew. Fezzik also passes along messages about Vizzini (dead) and Rugen (six fingers), even though Fezzik wasn’t really present for either of these revelations. Maybe he saw the dailies.

Revenge in sight, Inigo despairs that Rugen’s not only locked up in a castle, but the gate is guarded by 30 extras. 10 for Fezzik, 20 for Inigo. Inigo doesn’t like those odds, so he decides to recruit a new strategist: the Man in Black. The where’s and how’s of this don’t concern him!

Buttercup, wearing the fourth outfit that day (robin’s eggshell blue), finally catches Humperdink in a bald lie, as he didn’t actually send out any ships to catch up with Wesley, unless you count the vessels “Censorship”, “Hardship”, “One Upmanship” and “Dictatorship”. Fool Buttercup once, and you’re in the majority. But… ooh, fool her, like, ten times, and she’ll suddenly get mildly more whiny about it! “Wesley will come for me anyway!” she preens.

Yup. Way to get your boyfriend more tortured, there. Why don’t you go ahead and insult the guy holding him by calling him a “coward” and “slimy weakling” while you’re at it? You did? Good.

Humperdink runs down to the Pit of Despair, rants a tad, and shoves the Machine up to 50. Huh, Wesley’s gonna be collecting Social Security after that round, I bet. His screaming – which sounds like a fleet of Tie Fighters swooping down – disturbs the inhabitants of the area, including Buttercup (“did I make a whoopsie?”) and Inigo. Inigo starts to rush toward the sound, but is blocked by milling peasants. Fezzik proves that he’s there for a reason: he’s great at parting crowds and bonking albinos on the head.

Inigo kneels down and prays to his sword (?), which doesn’t work so well in finding the incredibly not-hidden secret door planted in the middle of a tree. But he gets in anyway, and they find Wesley somewhat deceased. Yes, again.

Grandkid has a major spaz-out at this revelation, echoing most geeks in their livingroom whenever a beloved character of theirs dies on a TV show. Grandpa even goes so far as to spoil the end of the book: Humperdink will live. Bummer.

Fezzik and Inigo lug their ripe corpse of a strategist to a quaint little cabin where Miracle Max resides. Miracle Max… how shall I put this? In a movie full of scene-stealing bit parts, Billy Crystal absolutely dominates comedy – and you can take that any way you like – even underneath a heavy layer of old man wrinkles and fluffy white hair. Miracle Max is a cantankerous fellow with an ongoing shpiel about death and gambling and lemon juice and love. Reportedly, Rob Reiner had to leave the set during Crystal’s scenes, since he (Reiner) was laughing so hard.

The long and the short of this is that Inigo doesn’t have much money to pay Max, so Max tries to wiggle out of a good life-injecting miracle. Inigo counters with a bad bald lie (“his wife is crippled… his children are on the brink of starvation”), which Max calls as he sees it. Then Inigo tells the truth: Wesley needs to live for True Love. Don’t we all?

Max reveals that Wesley is only “almost dead”, which are the less frightening version of zombies. He starts to create a story about how Wesley wants to live for gambling… “LIAR! LIARRRRR!” comes the voice of yet another shrill crone (a good fantasy movie has at least two). It’s Max’s wife! The two bicker and futz over Wesley and Max’s inability to “perform” “miracles” since Humperdink fired him.

That’s all Inigo needs: “If you save this man, then Humperdink suffers. Humiliations galore.”

Presto! One magic, chocolate-coated resurrection pill coming up. If Max only had contacts in the pharmaceutical world, you know he’d be living in his own castle by the end credits. Can you imagine what a bottle of resurrection pills would go for? It’d bankrupt the system!

As the pill will take time to do its hokus-pokus, Inigo and Fezzik have to drag a very limp Carey Elwes across the fake forest and to the fake castle. They manage to get on top of the battlements about forty feet from 60 armed troops in broad daylight, which is pretty impressive when you consider that one is dead, one is a drunk, and one is about as large as New Jersey. Take some time to check out how cheesy Wesley’s moustache is. Pop goes the pill, Wesley wakes right back up (probably with a killer of a hangover), and they consider how bad the odds are. Inigo sums up, to which Wesley notes, “That doesn’t leave much time for dilly-dallying.”

By the by, if you’re not laughing at Fezzik’s continued excitement and verbal encouragement of Wesley’s physical healing, I pity your soul.

“What I wouldn’t give for a holocaust cloak,” Wesley complains. Up to this point in my life, this is the single and only place I’ve ever heard of that term, and according to an extensive search of one page of a Google search, that’s pretty much the same for everybody else. In any case, Fezzik immediately whips out a large cloak from under his shirt (what else does he have down there, Brazilian soccer teams?), which he apparently received from Miracle Max even though they were in a hurry and at no time did Fezzik wander away from Inigo… oh, well, we’ll just go with it. Holocaust cloak. Yes. A plan is formed.

A plan that depends largely on Fezzik being set on fire, 60 guards having no spine whatsoever, and the only guy with a gate key being on the outside of the gate. Happily, the script ordered just such an arrangement of events. The boys do a… a whatever you call that thing where you all put your hands in the middle and yell “Go team us!”

“I hope we win!” Fezzik exclaims. Me too, buddy.

Inside the castle, Humperdink and Buttercup are enjoying a night-time ceremony (really? At night?). In perhaps one of the most famous scenes in this movie – and yes, I’ve been saying that a LOT in this viewing – a very pompous-looking priest with impressive sideburns looks solemnly over the crowd… and then opens his mouth to unleash a very silly accent upon us all. “MAWWAGE. Mawwage is what bwings us togethah, today…” Seriously, I wish the deleted scenes had the entirety of this ceremony, because I could listen to this guy talk for a good hour or so. Bet he does a killer homily on Leviticus.

Outside – by the sounds of it, about six feet away from the castle chapel – Fezzik and his Holocaust Cloak™ is wheeled in by a concealed Wesley and Inigo. I’m not quite sure why they had to have a wheelbarrow, as Andre the Giant is already, y’know, a giant. I guess that’s how he just rolls. Inigo sets Fezzik on fire, as Fezzik continues to try to master monosyllabic words. “THE GREAT PIRATE ROBERTS IS HEREYOU’RE YOUR SOULLLLLLL!” Naturally, the guards freak, and the boys storm the castle.

Buttercwup, shrewd as always, chooses the middle of a marriage ceremony, surrounded by guards, a priest and rulers, to antagonize Humperdink further. Sheesh, girl, it’s like you want him to kill Wesley a good ten times before you’ll be happy! Two seconds later, she’s married and in shock that Wesley didn’t come, because every other guy she’s dated has bounced back from the dead sprinting like an Olympic marathoner to return to her presence for more abuse. If Wesley wanted the best revenge on her, leaving her in a loveless marriage and soon to be pseudo-assassinated would be prudent.

In one of the castle’s hallways (probably the only one built, to be honest), Inigo cuts down four guards in record time, spies Count Rugen, and gives his whole “this is who I am, this is what you did, and now you’re gonna get spanked before a theatrical audience” speel. Rugen, who has more smarts than any ten people in this movie, hikes up his skirt and flees. How awesome is that?

Fezzik helps Inigo by knocking down a door, but loses Wesley in the process. In another hallway but definitely the same set, Buttercup mopes alongside the king, kisses him on the cheek, and announces her impending suicide.

Wait, what?

I guess she was really into the Leonardo and Clare version of Romeo + Juliet. Buck up, girl! Be a man! What, you don’t get your way because you condemned your love to be executed and now it’s all about “woe is me and I must end it all”? At least take down Humperdink with you, if you must. The king is just happy he got a bit of lip-action. It’s good to be the king.

Rugen and Inigo run through several sets before Rugen turns around to throw a dagger into Inigo’s midsection. I’ll admit, this whole bit is just excellently done. It’s not expected (the first time around, at least), and you really think the bad guy might just get away with it after all – this being an unconventional flick. However… however, Inigo wards off a killing blow with a flick of his sword, repeats his line over and over again, and finds the will to stand up and fight with renewed vigor, even though we can’t imagine what sort of lower colon trauma is occurring. Watching Rugen unravel under both a physical and verbal assault is one of the great revenge scenes of movie history. Note that Inigo gives Rugen the same exact wounds Rugen gave him (two cheek slices, two shoulder pokes, sword in the belly).

Elsewhere, Buttercup preps to kill herself, which is unfortunately put to a halt by Wesley – why, Wesley, why? – with the awesome line of “There’s a shortage of perfect breasts in this world, ‘twould be a pity to damage yours.” And now we know why Wesley keeps her around. But this wouldn’t be a classic Buttercup reunion if she didn’t give him a concussion while making out, and thus she does.

Wesley slowly walks the mentally slow Buttercup through realizing that she didn’t actually get married, even though her eyes lose focus for a minute there. Humperdink walks in, and in one of the best scenes in movie history (okay, okay, last time I’ll say that), Wesley disarms and captures him with only words – scary, terrifying words, I’ll admit. “I’ll use small words so you’ll be sure to understand, you warthog-faced buffoon.” It really is a great speech.

Wesley gets up, brandishes his weapon, and growls “Drop. Your. Sword.” I love how Humperdink gets very childlike here – “I knew you were bluffing! I knew it!” A reunion takes place – Inigo runs in (“Hey guys, do you know where the urgent care center is? My spleen just popped out…”) and Fezzik shows up with four horses. Buttercup leaps out of a window into Fezzik’s arms, who then spikes her and does a touchdown dance. Wesley passes on the Dread Pirate Roberts legacy to Inigo, everyone rides into the sunset, and there Wesley and Buttercup…

Hold it! Hold it! Oh, I guess it’s okay to kiss now, says the grandson. They kiss (Wesley and Buttercup, not the grandfather/grandson), and the grandson asks if he could hear the story again tomorrow.

“As you wish.”

And that’s why I’ll be showing this movie to my own grandkids some day.

P.S. – I apologize for the sheer length of this viewing. It took me, no lie, about a year or so to write, not because I was that slow, but just because I took about 8 months between working on it, only to rediscover it recently. Loads of fun – totally reinvigorated my love of this wonderful film.

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5 Comments

  1. The Princess Bride is the film I have watched most often, and I still return to it every couple of years, because, let’s face it, it’s simply marvellous!

    I love the fact that you caught the lighness of the film so well in your excellently written review, and hopefully it will encourage more people to go have a looksee.

    And I agree – Buttercup is *incredibly* annoying…

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