Thursday, June 18, 2015
As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride, by Cary Elwes with Joe Layden
As my readers are probably already aware, I'm a huge fan of The Princess Bride, both the movie and the original book. (Although truth be told I was never a solid fan. When I was a young and kid I always thought of it as that weird movie that mom always liked. Fortunately the movie grew on me as I got older.) So it took very little convincing to get me to pick this particular book up. As I said it follows Elwes's own experiences with the movie, starting from the fortunate opportunity he had that Rob Reiner and Andrew Scheinman were willing to talk to him about taking the role of Westley. (And much to Elwes's surprise they gave it to him.) To the weeks of filming in England and extensive fencing practice which led up to the fantastic duel between Westley and Inigo, filmed last to give Elwes and Mandy Patinkin enough time to become competent fencers. As a former casual fencer myself, I was very impressed to learn about how Elwes and Patinkin practiced for forty hours a week before filming began just to get the basics down and practiced at almost every opportunity to achieve a degree of competence by the time they had to shoot the duel scene. That fantastic duel scene atop the Cliffs of Insanity in The Princess Bride? Aside from a couple of shots that's all Elwes and Patinkin, and they had to improvise a good part of it because they got so good at the choreographed fight it lasted for about a minute. It's the result of an insane amount of practice on the part of the two actors, with the help of two of the greatest fencers in Hollywood, and the result is pretty awesome.
Which isn't to say there isn't good and interesting stuff about the other parts of the movie either. Like how Elwes had to go stand in another room so his laughter wouldn't ruin the take while Billy Crystal was improvising his dialogue as Miracle Max. Or the fact that Wallace Shaw, who I personally can never see as anything other than Vizzini the Sicilian, was constantly terrified that they'd replace him with someone else. There's also quite a few passages which talk about André the Giant in loving detail, who everyone involved with the project describes as a kind, generous, and gentle soul who sought to give his absolute best to the world despite a life riddled with health issues and constant pain. In a way I found them to be a very touching and fitting tribute to someone who clearly touched the lives of so many people in a positive way.
The book finally ends with a little bit of information about what happened to The Princess Bride after filming was finished. Despite receiving excellent reviews and thunderous applause at its initial screenings, Fox was uncertain how to market this film which certainly straddles genre, making it hard to categorize. At its release it was a very modest box office success, but certainly no blockbuster. However, time has been very kind to The Princess Bride and it's now a film that straddles generations as well as genres and is a well-beloved classic by many people. (Including, according to Elwes, the late Pope John Paul II.) And I think it really has been such a success because it was a labor of love for everyone involved in the process, as this book reveals. The actors aren't just trying to be funny, they're also trying to be earnest, and somehow it all comes together and makes a timeless classic.
A definite must-read for any Princess Bride fans out there.