This Saturday January 27th at Midnight, Landmark’s Rialto Theatre will be showing Rob Reiner’s 1987 fanciful ode to the twisted fairytale, “The Princess Bride.” Hard to believe this screen gem is now 20 years old and well on its way to becoming a standard among cult movie screenings. And with a new 35mm print!
If you’re not already familiar with “The Princess Bride”, you should know what others who have gone before you have discovered – one viewing will not suffice. Be warned, this film will get under your skin and draw you back again and again for repeat viewings. No matter what your age, you won’t be able to help yourself from becoming addicted to the wholesome entertainment this film has to offer for viewers of all ages and all backgrounds. It was only a matter of time before some intelligent venue placed this family friendly, and yet extremely entertaining film among the ranks of the venerable cult classics that screen week after week to the diehard fans that just can’t get enough. I don’t think it’s saying too much to call “The Princess Bride” the modern age “Wizard of Oz”. Yes, it’s that good.
Like “The Wizard of Oz”, “The Princess Bride” takes the audience away to a world of fantasy and wonder. But instead of a clunk on the head caused by a house under the threat of a natural disaster, we are lead into this other world by the soothing voice of a loving grandparent reading to a beloved grandchild who is sick at home from school. Played by Peter Falk, the grandfather has a strong and protective presence that heightens the authenticity of the adventure while maintaining a secure and cozy feeling. Regardless of how hardened your sensible, adult heart may be, you’ll be drawn into the story just as easily as the jaded grandson, Fred Savage (prepubescent and pre-“The Wonder Years”). The kindly voice of the doting storyteller carries us along a quaint beginning that quickly morphs into a tale of adventure, loss, and impending doom. Very cool!
And from there it only gets better. For what initially appears to be a classic fairy tale of a beautiful maiden discovered by a charming Prince is far from what it seems. Oh no, for “The Princess Bride” comes from the brilliant mind of master storyteller and Oscar winning screenwriter William Goldman (“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, “All the President’s Men”). Goldman has deftly used his keen talents to gingerly throw in every classic fairy tell element you can think of and then proceeds to stand each one on its head, creating an epic tale where heroes scale the Cliffs of Insanity, battle Rodents of Unusual Size, and endure villainous torture in the Pit of Despair, complete with daring swordplay and, much to the displeasure of the grandson, some kissing.
“The Princess Bride” is an unapologetic escape into the world of fairy tells and fantasy, helmed by the expert comedic hand of one of the most underappreciated directors of our time, Rob Reiner, whose experience among the silly and the daffy include the world’s first and most irreverent “rockumentary”, “This is Spinal Tap”. Much like his ode to all things tasteless in rock and roll, Reiner spares no shame in constructing his fractured fairy tell. Every gag is played perfectly straight and to the hilt. This is the sign of a true master of comedy. Not to undervalue the performances of the extremely capable cast by any means, but it takes a genius to guide those talents to their best performances without letting them get beyond themselves.
For instance, the evil Prince, usually an over the top caricature, is portrayed by a wonderfully understated Chris Sarandon. Sarandon’s Prince Humperdink is really a conniving warmonger with a streak of yellow running down his back, but even he has his sensitive moments when conferring with his best friend. Furthermore, the treacherous kidnappers are spared the standard two-dimensional depictions. As the leader, Wallace Shawn is painfully funny as he bullies and manipulates an out of work circus performer (Andre the Giant, in a stroke of brilliant typecasting) and a swarthy swordsman. Mandy Patinkin is sexy personified as the swordsman on a lifelong quest to revenge his father’s death. And a dashing Cary Elwes channels the spirit of Douglas Fairbanks in his turn as the dread pirate Roberts, an entrepreneurial young man who has decided to retire, but not before regaining the heart of his true love. Topping it all off is the ethereal performance of then newcomer Robin Wright . It’s impossible to think of a more perfect fit for a role than Robin Wright as Princess Buttercup. Her simple delivery, paired with a timeless grace and beauty, recalls the image of Grace Kelly. It makes you wonder what that real Princess would have been like if she’d have done a tongue in cheek comedy.
“The Princess Bride” has everything you could want from a cult classic, and more, because it has one thing other cult films lack – universal appeal! Sounds like an oxymoron when referring to a cult film, but there you have it. It has everything “The Wizard of Oz” has without anyone breaking out into song. It has all the romance and adventure of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” without the cross-dressing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it might raise questions mom and dad just aren’t ready to answer.
Most importantly, there’s true love in the form of romance, friendship and family. As much as you’ll enjoy experiencing the inevitable happy ending, you’ll find yourself gushing tears over the happiest ending when a satisfied grandchild invites his grandfather to come back the next day and read it all over again. Much like an avid cult movie fan, grandfather can’t resist the opportunity to revisit the story as often as he has the chance.
The Rialto Theatre is located at 1023 Fair Oaks Avenue in South Pasadena, CA 91030. You can reach the theatre by calling (626) 388-2122
For more Los Angeles screenings like this one, be sure to check out the Classic Films Early Report, updated every Wednesday.