Review: REVIEW: PRINCESS BRIDE at Palace Theater

From flop to the top: Elwes recalls how THE PRINCESS BRIDE became a movie masterpiece

By: May. 01, 2023
Review: REVIEW: PRINCESS BRIDE at Palace Theater
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In the mid-1980s, film director Rob Reiner was virtually untouchable. The former "Meat Head" from ALL IN THE FAMILY and son of director Carl Reiner had directed THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984) and STAND BY ME (1986) and had the epic THE PRINCESS BRIDE was waiting in the wings.

Yet on the eve of the later film's release, Reiner received the projected revenues of the film.

The news was not good.

"(Reiner) made this very passionate, very sweet speech to the cast," actor Cary Elwes, who played Westley in THE PRINCESS BRIDE, told to a nearly sold out crowd during a Question and Answer Session after a viewing of the film April 29 at the Palace Theater. "He goes, 'It turns out this picture is not going to do the business we hoped. But I want you to know I will always treasure this.'

"Everyone was crying and going 'No, no, it's going to make money.' And Rob went, "No, it's alright. I am very proud of the work you did.'"

'UNLESS I AM WRONG. AND I AM NEVER WRONG.'

As it turns out, Reiner, or more accurately, the projections were only mostly right. THE PRINCESS BRIDE was only moderately successful at the box office, making $30.8 million. It had the misfortune of being released on the same weekend as FATAL ATTRACTION ($320 million) and THREE MEN AND A BABY ($240 million).

"(Those movie goers) weren't in our demographic," Elwes said with a rueful laugh.

"The studio didn't know how to promote it. They asked Rob, 'Is it a fantasy film? Is it a comedy? An action film?' Rob goes, 'It's all of those things.' They couldn't pigeon hole it into one of those genres."

It wasn't until years later with the popularity of the VCR that THE PRINCESS BRIDE became appreciated for the movie that it is. By then, the cast of Elwes, Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, Mandy Patinkin, Christopher Guest and Chris Sarandon had all moved to new projects.

Elwes had no idea the movie was becoming a cult classic until he was ordering a hamburger in Manhattan.

"The waitress asked how I would like it cooked? I said 'medium rare,'" Elwes said. "She whispers back to me, 'As you wish' (Westley's catch phrase). I wheeled around and said, 'What did you say?' She goes, 'you heard me.'"

SUNNY 95's Dino Tripodis, who served as the evening's moderator, relaying questions from audience as well as peppering Elwes with some queries of his own, confessed to being "a PRINCESS BRIDE nerd."

Judging by the audience reaction to the screening of the movie at the Palace Theater, Tripodis was not alone. The throng of attendees turned the showing into part rock concert, part Episcopal Church "call and response" worship service. Every joke received a burst of laughter and applause like the crowd was seeing the movie for the first time. Yet every memorable line was recited in time with the actors on the screen.

Some audience members added their own witty rejoinders to the on screen action. When Westley says to Buttercup, "Who would surrender to the Dread Pirate Westley?" a woman in the back of the house shouted, "I would."

"There are some great quotable lines in this movie," Elwes said. "Wally (Wallace Shawn, who played Vizzini) said I envy you. You get to say that great line, 'As you wish.' Do you know how many times a day I hear that word 'Inconceivable'? I hear it like 56 times a day. I drop my keys on the floor or the elevator doors will shut on me and someone will shout 'Inconceivable!' "Some people shout it across a street. Some people on a subway will whisper it in my ear. The strange thing is every person thinks I'm hearing it for the first time."

'DID I MAKE IT CLEAR THAT YOUR JOB IS AT STAKE?'

Elwes is a masterful storyteller, often offering spot on impersonations of Reiner, Billy Crystal, and Andre the Giant during the hour long Q&A. Yet, Elwes, who wrote the book, "As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of THE PRINCESS BRIDE," was convinced he was going to be fired from the movie after breaking his toe.

During his 12-minute long story, Elwes explained how the production team purchased an ATV to help Andre the Giant, who was 7-foot-4, 540 pounds, navigate the rugged terrain of the film's location.

"I swear to God, Andre was like a kid with a toy," Elwes said. "We were doing a scene with Humperdinck, Buttercup and me. The director yelled cut and Andre is in the background driving around on the ATV.

"Andre comes up to me and says, 'Hey boss, you like my toy? Would you like to try it?' I said, 'I can't. We're getting ready for my next scene.' So he drives off, comes back and says, 'Yoou knoow yoou want to.'"

Eventually, Elwes caved to the Giant. His joy ride lasted less than 30 seconds. After putting the cart into gear, the actor hit a stone and got his foot stuck under the pedal.

The film's medic confirmed his worst fears. His big toe was broken.

"The medic comes up and says 'Eww. Your big toe has all the colors of the rainbow,'" Elwes said. "By then my foot had swollen to the size of Andre's."

Elwes tried to hide the injury from Reiner, wincing in pain as he arrived on the set for his next shot.

"Rob comes up to me and goes, 'Hey Cary, how you doing?'" Elwes said laughing. "I said, 'I'm fine, how are you?' He tilts his head to the side, says again, 'How you doing?' I knew then he knew.

"(After I confessed), Rob says 'You think I don't know. It's been all over the walkie talkies all day. Why didn't you tell me?'

"I told him I was afraid he was going to fire me. He said the sweetest thing to me: 'How can I fire you? You're my Westley.'"

YOUR VOTE OF CONFIDENCE IS OVERWHELMING

Elwes wasn't the only character concerned with being fired. Shawn's character is instrumental to THE PRINCESS BRIDE'S success. Yet every day, he was terrified he was going to be replaced by another actor.

"In England, it never gets more than 20 degrees and he is just sweating," Elwes said. "I just had these simple lines and he has to deliver lines about land wars in Asia and stuff like that. So he finally said that his agent had told him he was just standing in for Danny DeVito. And he actually believed it.

"Later, he asked Rob, 'why did you cast me? I'm not Sicilian. I'm a Jew from New York City.' Rob said, 'Because you're funny. The whole top of your head gets red when you get angry.'"

YOU SEEM LIKE A DECENT GUY. I HATE TO KILL YOU.

As a kid, Elwes grew up watching Robin Hood movies. Yet when he came into the movie, the actor said that was about all the experience he had with fencing.

Reiner wanted the sword fighting sequences to be somewhat realistic so he brought in the duo of Peter Diamond and Bob Anderson. Diamond taught Errol Flynn and Burt Lancaster how to fence and was the stunt coordinator for the original STAR WARDS trilogy, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, and HIGHLANDER. Representing Great Britain, Anderson placed fifth in sabre fencing in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki.

When they asked Patinkin and Elwes if they had in prior experience with fencing, both shook their head no.

It turns out Patinkin was lying.

"Anderson and Diamond said, 'I have to be honest, in the time we have, that's not going to happen.'" He said. "Mandy goes, No, we'll start tomorrow. It's going to totally cool.' So I show up for rehearsal ready to start training. It turns out Mandy had been training with his own Olympic fencer for three months before filming.

"We had to not only learn how to fence right and left handed, but we had to learn each other's parts. If you know each other's moves as well as your own, there's a lesser chance of getting hurt. If you watch the movie, we never lose eye contact. When you look away, that's when you can get hurt."

"GET SOME REST. IF YOU HAVEN'T GOT YOUR HEALTH, THEN YOU HAVEN'T GOT ANYTHING."

Patinkin didn't get hurt during the swashbuckling scenes. But the actor cracked a rib watching Billy Crystal do "medieval stand-up."

Crystal was only on screen for four minutes of the movie but his Miracle Max scenes are among the movie's highpoints and, according to Elwes, the hardest scenes to film.

Before they started to film the scene where Miracle Max brings Westley back to life, Reiner whispered into something into Crystal's ear.

"Later when I was writing my book, I asked Rob what he had whispered," he said. "Rob says, 'I told Billy --- 'just go for it.'

"Rob goes to his seat and yells action and Billy launches in two hours of medieval standup. Some of it was too blue for the younger kids in this crowd. For the older members, it had to do with Vikings and sheep."

Crystal made it his mission to see how many actors he could make break character. Elwes lost first and was laughing so hard he had to be replaced by the life-like model of Westley.

Next to fall was Reiner himself.

"The sound guy comes up to him and says, 'Your laughter is too loud and we can't get the dialogue,'" Elwes said. "So they moved Rob, the director, out into the hallway with some monitors and he directed the scene from there."

Crystal then took aim at Patinkin who did everything possible to keep from laughing. Patinkin told Elwes he fractured a rib trying to hold in his laughter.

"I didn't know that was possible," Elwes said.

MOSTLY DEAD IS SLIGHTLY ALIVE.

Elwes has had a genre-sweeping career, playing in horror movies including Dr. Lawrence Gordon in the SAW film series, action thrillers like DAYS OF THUNDER and KISS THE GIRLS, and comedies like HOT SHOTS! and ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS. He has also had key roles in many television shows, including PSYCH and STRANGER THINGS.

However, Elwes knows he will always be Westley from THE PRINCESS BRIDE. And he's fine with that.

"One of the things I learned from THE PRINCESS BRIDE is understanding your fear and facing is a part of being an actor," he said. "You just have to work through it. I learned was to live in the moment and be present.

"This movie will probably be the film that is mentioned most prominently in my obituary. I told my wife I just want the last line to be 'he's mostly dead.'"



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