Mindhole Blowers: 20 Facts About The Princess Bride That Might Leave You Craving a Nice Mutton, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich
A note to you, my dear Pajibans: No matter how witty and fun The Princess Bride may be, there is absolutely nothing enjoyable about sitting through the DVD commentaries by director Rob Reiner and book author, William Goldman. One could hardly believe an interesting word has ever slipped from Goldman’s brain to his fingers, nor that anything other than monosyllabic blathering has ever escaped Reiner’s lips. As I watched, I daydreamed of tasteless, odorless poisons being poured into both their cups and wished to throw myself off my couch of insanity. Still, I did delight (as always) in watching Carey Elwes and Mandy Patinkin dance atop a cliff, their persiflage filling the milliseconds between clashing swords. I felt Montoya’s emotion anew, shared his desire to avenge his father’s death, and yes, I even longed for true love to win. So, watch this movie over and over again, but never, ever waste a moment of your time on the commentaries…unless it is sleep you seek.
Bill Goldman wrote The Princess Bride (novel) in 1973; in 1974, it was decided to make a film even though the studio didn’t know exactly how to do it. 20th Century Fox bought the book rights, but Goldman owned the screenplay (which he had also written). At some point, the studio head got fired and the film idea just sat around for years, through several studio heads coming and going. Goldman bought back the book rights. He mentioned that Norman Jewison (Moonstruck, The Thomas Crowne Affair, Other People’s Money) wanted to direct, but was unable to obtain financing.
After his screenplay for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Goldman wanted to try writing non-fiction; he wrote The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway, during which time he met and became friends with Carl Reiner (Rob’s father) who had starred in the play, Something Different. Carl later gave his son a copy of The Princess Bride, Rob re-read it (he had first read it when he was 25 and said it was his favorite book up to that point in his life) and felt like Goldman was challenging him to make the film.
For the opening scene, Goldman originally wanted Jimmy Stewart in the Peter Falk role, but was happy with Falk. If Jewison had made the film, he planned the opening scene with an immigrant carrying a sick child up the stairs of a tenement building.
Producer Norman Lear (“All in the Family”, “Maude,” “The Jeffersons,” “The Facts of Life,” “Square Pegs,” “Who’s the Boss”) financed the film, giving Reiner a $16 million dollar budget. Lear basically got Reiner’s directorial career started, having financed This is Spinal Tap as well.
When he wrote the book, Goldman envisioned André the Giant in the role of Fezzik. Though they did audition other people (football players—“too small,” one giant—“too skinny”), they spent weeks tracking down André, who was wrestling around the world. Finally, while Rob Reiner and producer Andy Scheinman were in Europe scouting locations for the Cliffs of Insanity, they returned to their London hotel and got a message that André would be in Paris the next day. They immediately left their hotel and went to France. Of meeting André in a bar, Reiner said, he was “just as described in the book, a land mass.” The director had to record Fezzik’s entire dialogue on tape, as André could not read—he had to memorize by rote.
According to Goldman (and differing from André’s Wikipedia), Andre´s size (a result of Acromegaly) was fairly normal until he reached the age of 17; the author asserted that from 17 to 25, André’s size doubled. As a result of his condition, André died at the age of 46 from congestive heart failure. Goldman said André knew he would die young but that he never let it get him down; he was the most popular figure Goldman had been around in 35 years.
The director believes “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die” is the most-quoted line from any of his movies (the other contenders being, “I’ll have what she’s having,” and “You can’t handle the truth!”). One night when he was eating dinner with friends at a restaurant frequented by John Gotti; Reiner locked eyes with the mobster. After dinner, Reiner went outside where “one of Gotti’s wise guys, a big goon” stood in front of a limousine. The goon looked at Reiner and recited the line, saying “I love that movie.”
The boat sequence was shot in a tank at the studio, a miniature made it look like a boat on the high seas. Reiner, in hip waders, was walking around in the tank (looking for an angle), which on one side has an 8 foot pit where a person can make a dive. He stepped into the pit and weighed down with the boots and equipment, he started sinking—thought for a moment he might drown—until someone dragged him out.
Reiner said he loved breaking away to the grandfather and boy; many people had told him he couldn’t do it because the audience would get lost. The director felt that the story being told was “made up of the interesting parts of the story,” so he thought it worked. The audience could stay involved in the story while tracking the relationship between the grandfather and the boy.
The shots of the Cliffs of Insanity are a mix of matte paintings and the actual location: the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, Ireland.
Reiner thinks this film is “the only time in movies where the principal actors are in every single shot where swordplay is involved.” While old movies with Errol Flynn used stunt doubles and experts during swordplay, Mandy Patinkin and Cary Elwes did all their own fencing, both left and right-handed. Stuntmen were used only for the flips. Patinkin studied eight months, Elwes, five or six, with every spare moment on set spent with their trainers. All the swordplay was shot at the end of filming; it took ten days to shoot the entire sequence from the moment Patinkin pulls up Elwes from the rope. As described in the script by Goldman, “What you’re about to see (between Westley and Montoya) is the second best sword-fighting sequence on film. The first comes later.” Reiner, however, felt the first sequence was technically the best, with the second (between Patinkin and Christopher Guest) being the more emotional scene.
It was thought the match between Fezzik and the man in black would be a cinch, since André was a wrestler—but André had a bad back and couldn’t hold up Cary Elwes. Ramps had to be built to hold Elwes; the scene is a mixture of shots with a stunt man’s back and actual shots of André with Cary held up by ramps.
Reiner spoke of how Christopher Guest disappears so well into a role that he didn’t even remember Guest being in the film. When he saw the actor at the premiere party, Reiner’s first thought was of how nice it was of his friend to come out and support him, having forgotten that Guest played a part (Count Rugen aka the Six-fingered Man).
Both Goldman and Reiner remembered how nervous actor Wallace Shawn (Vizzini) was. Goldman spoke of sitting at the (casting) read with Reiner and five or six other people. Shawn opened the door, looked in and saw all the people and said, “Oh, oh my,” then walked out. Then, he came back in. Reiner said Shawn was so worried about his performance he thought he would be fired. Both director and writer loved the actor in the role, with Reiner saying the goblet scene was one of his favorites.
Westley’s mustache was Cary Elwes’ idea, he thought it would give the character swashbuckling flair.
Reiner said that Superman gave them license (by setting the precedent) for Buttercup not recognizing the masked Westley (or his voice). Just as the mere removal of glasses could fool Lois Lane, we can accept a thinly disguised Cary is completely somebody else.
During part of filming, Elwes had a broken ankle (received when a dune buggy he was riding in flipped over); Reiner marveled that the actor could still look elegant and suave while walking so gingerly.
The fire swamp scenes were the first shot, the swamp was built on a sound stage. Bill Goldman was on set for a few days and had an odd superstitious habit of putting his thumbs in his mouth. Goldman said he’s not good on sets and related the story of how, even though he wrote the scene in both the book and the script, when he saw Buttercup’s dress catch fire, he shrieked, “Her dress is on fire!” effectively ruining the scene.
The ROUSs (Rodents of Unusual Size) were little people in costume. The grunts and groans they made during the fight scene were all sounds made by Rob Reiner, looped, put through harmonizers and with effects added. The first time someone forgot to hit the record button; Reiner was so upset because he’d almost lost his voice and had to record it again.
During the scene between Westley and the Six-fingered Man, Cary Elwes told Christopher Guest to go on and hit him; Guest clocked him on the head so hard that Elwes had to go to the hospital.
Because of budgetary concerns, instead of the book’s Zoo of Death, the Pit of Despair was created. The Zoo of Death had featured Fezzik and Inigo trying to find Westley; on each floor something attacks them. Goldman felt it was right to cut that from the film.
Reiner said the Albino (Mel Smith) clearing his throat and speaking normally is a throwback to an old joke that’s been done over many times. The first time Reiner heard it was from his father and involved a train conductor twice announcing the next stop unintelligibly, clearing his throat and then announcing (clearly), “Next stop, Schenectady!”
Goldman related that the scene with the clergyman who performs Buttercup and Westley’s ceremony was inspired by a real life memory of attending a wedding as a kid—there was a famous Chicago rabbi (whose name he couldn’t remember) who said, “a dweam within a dweam,” giving Goldman the giggles.
Filming at Haddon Hall, a fireman was required to be on set because of all the torches. Reiner noted that the fireman looked exactly like Captain Kangaroo and that every time Rob and Chris (Sarandon) walked by him, they hummed the show’s theme song.
Musician, composer, guitarist and former lead singer of Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler would only agree to score the film if Rob Reiner’s Spinal Tap hat was in evidence on film (note the room photo, towards top of this post). The one song not written by Knopfler (Willy DeVille’s Storybook Love) earned the film’s only Academy Award nomination.
Billy Crystal (Miracle Max) came up with many of his own lines, including “Why don’t you give me a nice paper cut to pour lemon juice on it,” and the “mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich.”
Cindy Davis would surrender to the Dread Pirate Westley.
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