CBR Bingo entry Listicles: Goodreads’ Best Show Business Memoirs/Biographies
I distinctly remember the first time I saw The Princess Bride. Like most fans, I did not see this cult classic during the original theatrical run, but caught it on VHS (that was pre-DVD for you young-us; DVD was pre-streaming for you toddlers). I was in college, hanging out with a couple of friends in a dorm room when one of them decided we should watch this awesome movie she had recently seen. For the next hour and 38 minutes, I was enraptured by this charming, clever, hilarious story. If you haven’t seen the movie. . .you know what, forget it. If you haven’t seen the movie you are either a deeply disturbed individual or you’ve been held captive in a basement for the last 30 years (if it’s the latter, I’m truly sorry). At any rate, I’m not going to summarize it; here’s a link to the Wikipedia entry.
Cary Elwes’ memoir about the making of the movie is probably even sweeter than the film. If Elwes is to be believed, everybody involved in the making of that film was just, like, the best, you guys! I’m not saying I doubt his words, it’s just a little surprising that he doesn’t have a single bad thing to say about anybody involved. I want to believe this is true; nobody likes finding out that actors who had incredible chemistry on screen secretly hated each other. Tony Curtis famously said that kissing Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot was like kissing Hitler (although what exactly he meant by that is still up for debate), so it’s refreshing to read about a pair like Elwes and Robin Wright, who were having so much fun filming that they insisted on reshooting the final kissing scene multiple times, giggling like school children between takes. Maybe it’s because I live in Los Angeles and am inundated by news of celebrities’ bad behavior that I find it–dare I say–inconceivable that every single person on set was wholesome and wonderful. This is a movie that co-starred Mandy Patinkin, after all, who is a fantastic actor but doesn’t exactly have a reputation of being a swell guy. Probably the most critical thing Elwes has to say about a cast member is that Wallace Shawn was so insecure he was convinced he was going to be fired from the role of Vizzini; Shawn himself admits to this in one of the sidebars, so I’m not sure that even counts. Clearly, this book has been written with the mind set of “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
Speaking of Mandy Patinkin, it should come as no surprise that the best bits of the book are about the best bit of the movie: the famous sword fight between Inigo and the Man in Black/Westley. Patinkin and Elwes trained for months to be able to pull off what is described in William Goldman’s screenplay as “the greatest sword fight in modern history.” The pair trained with legendary stuntmen and sword-training experts Peter Diamond and Bob Anderson. Diamond had trained action stars like Errol Flynn and Burt Lancaster for decades. Anderson had a similarly impressive resume and even doubled for Flynn in some films (Star Wars trivia: Anderson also stood in as Darth Vader during all the light-saber sequences). Elwes describes the training as one of the most grueling things he’s ever done (remember, they had to learn how to fight both right- and left-handed), and you can tell how proud he is that he and Patinkin pulled it off and performed all the fighting in the movie themselves.
If you were around when the film came out, you may recall that it received critical acclaim but did only a modest box office business. It struggled to find an audience because people couldn’t really get a handle on what it was about–was it a movie for kids? For adults? For geeks? Twentieth Century Fox had no idea how to market it, as evidenced by this bullshit poster:
A rocking chair?? A god-damned rocking chair?
But all’s well that ends well. The lates ’80s was a flourishing time for VHS, and when the movie was released on home video, it found the massive audience it deserved. Today, The Princess Bride is one of the best-loved films of all time and has been inducted into the National Film Registry for being a film that is “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”
For all my (mild) cynicism, this book is a fun (and quick) read. You’ll learn charming tidbits about Billy Crystal’s improvisation, Christopher Guests’ over-enthusiasm with a sword, Andre the Giant’s flatulence. About halfway through, I was inspired to watch the film again, for the umpteenth time. This book may be scrubbed brighter than Buttercup’s hair on a sun-drenched morning, but that’s not necessarily the worst thing you can find in a book. Read it for what it is: a simple, sweet look at the making of one of the sweetest films ever produced.