The Princess Bride

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The Princess Bride DVD cover
The Princess Bride DVD cover

The Princess Bride is a 1973 comic adventure novel, with a touch of romance, by William Goldman.

The book was made into a movie in 1987, directed by Rob Reiner from a screenplay by Goldman. The story is presented in the movie as a fairy tale being read by a grandfather (Peter Falk) to his sick grandson (Fred Savage), thus echoing the book's narrative style. The film stars Robin Wright and Cary Elwes. Mandy Patinkin, Wallace Shawn, Christopher Guest, Chris Sarandon and André the Giant play supporting roles. Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, Peter Cook, and Mel Smith have memorable cameo roles.

The movie was initially a modest success, though not a huge blockbuster, grossing twice its 15,000,000 USD production costs at the US box office. Over the years, however, it has gained a cult-like following, with occasional big-screen showings quite popular.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Arnold Schwarzenegger were each originally offered the role of Fezzik, the giant, but turned it down.


Note on the text

The book affects to be an abridgement of an older version by "S. Morgenstern", which was originally a satire of the excesses of European royalty. Goldman "remembered" the book as it was narrated to him by his father as an exciting adventure tale, without the complex political overtones. His work is a recreation of the abridgement of his father. The book, in fact, is entirely Goldman's work, and Morgenstern and his "original version" never existed. Nor is Goldman's family accurately described in the book. He has two daughters, not a son, and his wife is not a psychologist. The countries Florin and Guilder do not exist and never have, although, prior to the advent of the euro, both were units of currency – the same unit of currency, in fact – from The Netherlands and a common term for a 2 shilling piece in pre-decimal U.K. They remain legal currency in the Netherlands Antilles to this day. Goldman carried the joke further by publishing another book called The Silent Gondoliers (about why the gondoliers of Venice no longer sing to their passengers) under S. Morgenstern's byline. The Vizzini family from The Princess Bride also makes an appearance in this book.

The device of claiming that a book is a pre-existing work that the author merely discovered and edited is an old one, which continues to be used by authors as widely separated as Spanish writer Cervantes, Italian literary novelist Umberto Eco, British fantasy writer Mary Gentle, and American detective fiction author Laurie R. King. Another prime example is J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, which purports to be a translation of an ancient text called the Red Book of Westmarch. (See also false document, frame tale.)


This plot summary is about the movie only. The book has several more scenes than the movie and a less optimistic ending.

The heroine of The Princess Bride is the beautiful Buttercup (played by Robin Wright in the movie), who falls in love with her lowly stable boy Westley (Cary Elwes). Buttercup keeps asking Westley to do things for her and Westley's only answer is "As you wish". She soon realizes that when he's saying "As you wish", what he really means is "I love you". Westley leaves to make his fortune, promising to return, but his ship is attacked at sea by the Dread Pirate Roberts, who is notorious for taking no prisoners. After several years of fearing him dead, Buttercup is forced by the law of the land to marry Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), heir to the throne of Florin.

Buttercup is kidnapped by a bizarre trio of outlaws—the stunted Sicilian genius Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), the expert Spaniard swordsman Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), and the enormous and mighty Turk Fezzik (André the Giant)—who have been hired to murder her and frame Florin's enemy, the neighboring country of Guilder, for it so that Humperdinck can start a war. A masked man in black clothing follows them across the sea to the Cliffs of Insanity, where Inigo Montoya is ordered to stop him. Inigo reveals himself as a man of honor who goes out of his way to arrange a fair fight with the stranger including a surprisingly pleasant conversation while the pursuer is allowed to get some rest before the duel. Inigo reveals in this conversation that he has been studying fencing all his life so as to gain the skill necessary to avenge his father, who was murdered by a six-fingered man. In the ensuing fencing match, the masked man wins, but leaves the Spaniard alive out of respect for his immense skill in swordplay and his honorable behavior, saying as he knocks Inigo unconscious with the hilt of his sword, "I would as soon destroy a stained-glass window as an artist like yourself. But, as I can't have you following me..." (WHACK)

Vizzini, realizing that Inigo Montoya has failed to stop the man in black, leaves Fezzik behind with orders to ambush and kill him. Fezzik, also honorable, makes himself known to the masked man and challenges him to a wrestling match. Though Fezzik is powerful, he is slow and used to throwing his weight around against swarms of men. The masked man uses this fact and his own agility against Fezzik, eventually climbing onto his back and using a sleeper hold against him, thus non-lethally disabling him. His parting words to Fezzik are, "I don't envy you the headache you will have when you awake. But, in the meantime, rest well and dream of large women.".

Finally, the masked man catches up with Vizzini, who is holding Buttercup hostage, and proposes a "battle of the wits to the death". Vizzini must choose between two cups of wine, one of which the man says has been poisoned with 'iocane powder'. After trying to cheat, Vizzini loses the battle of wits and dies: the masked man, having previously developed an immunity to iocane, has poisoned both cups. The masked man takes Buttercup with him as he flees from Prince Humperdinck, who is now in pursuit of his fianceè's kidnappers. Buttercup deduces that the man in black is the Dread Pirate Roberts, but it is only after she shoves him down a steep hill and hears him shout "As you wish!" that she realizes he is her long-lost love.

It turns out that the former Dread Pirate Roberts had indeed attacked Westley's ship, but had made an exception and kept Westley alive after Westley said to him "Please, I need to live". Eventually, Roberts secretly retired, passing the name and the ship on to Westley; Roberts' name had originally been Ryan (it turns out that by then the name Roberts was just a nom de guerre), and he had inherited the ship and name from another faux Roberts, who was originally named Cummerbund, who had inherited the name and ship from the original Dread Pirate Roberts, who had retired 15 years earlier to Patagonia.

After surviving the three terrors of the Fire Swamp (Lightning Sand, spurts of fire from the ground and the ROUSs, or Rodents Of Unusual Size), the two are captured by Prince Humperdinck and the menacing Count Rugen (Christopher Guest), who, incidentally, has six fingers on his right hand. Buttercup is returned to the palace to await her wedding – which, now that she knows Westley is alive, is a fate worse than death. Westley is taken by Count Rugen to the Pit of Despair, where he is tended to by an albino (Mel Smith). He there learns that he is to be tortured - for the Count's "Pain research" purposes - by a device of the Count's own design, "The Machine," which functions by sucking life from its victim.

Inigo Montoya and Fezzik meet up again, and Inigo learns of the existence of Count Rugen and the capture of Westley. They decide to go on a quest to avenge Montoya's father's death and prevent the marriage of Buttercup and Humperdinck. Finding that Westley has been tortured to death by the Prince, they turn to Miracle Max (Billy Crystal), a washed-up wizard who was fired by Prince Humperdinck, and his wife Valerie (Carol Kane), who pronounce Westley to be merely "mostly dead" and resurrect him. Westley comes up with a plan to invade the castle, which succeeds, putting the three of them inside. They are split up, Montoya meets and defeats his father's killer, and Westley bluffs his way out of a swordfight with Prince Humperdinck, despite hardly having the strength to stand. In classic fairy-tale style, the party rides off into the sunset on conveniently-provided white horses.


The soundtrack was originally released by Warner Brothers in 1987. It was written and recorded by Mark Knopfler, the only person Rob Reiner felt could create a soundtrack to capture the film's quirky yet romantic nature. Reiner was an admirer of Knopfler's previous work but did not know him before working on the film – he sent the script to him hoping he would agree to score the movie. He agreed on one condition: that somewhere in the film Rob Reiner include the baseball cap he wore as Marty DiBergi in This is Spinal Tap. Reiner was unable to produce the original cap, but did include a similar cap in the grandson's room. Later Knopfler said he was joking.

Soundtrack listing:

  1. Once upon a Time...Storybook Love
  2. I Will Never Love Again
  3. Florin Dance
  4. Morning Ride
  5. The Friends' Song
  6. The Cliffs of Insanity
  7. The Swordfight
  8. Guide My Sword
  9. The Fire Swamp and the Rodents of Unusual Size
  10. Revenge
  11. A Happy Ending
  12. Storybook Love (composed and performed by Willy DeVille)

Filming locations

The film was shot in various places around England and Ireland:

Other trivia

  • Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin learned to fence (both left- and right-handed) for the film, reportedly spending all their free time during the production practicing with an instructor and with each other. Elwes and Patinkin performed all of the fencing in the swordfight scene; the only stunt doubles were for the two somersaults. (Source: DVD commentary.)
  • André the Giant suffered from a bad back at the time of filming, and despite his great size, could not support the weight of the much lighter Cary Elwes or Robin Wright (at the end of the movie). For the wrestling scene, when Elwes was pretending to hang on André's back, he was actually walking on a series of ramps below the camera during close-ups. For the wide shots, a stunt double took the place of André; on close examination, it is apparent that the double is much smaller than André. (Source: DVD commentary.)
  • In 2000, readers of Total Film magazine voted The Princess Bride the 38th greatest comedy film of all time.

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