There are some movies that are so popular that they transcend cult status – their quirks and nuances become a part of our broader culture and enter the realm of shared reference point. Inconceivable? Judging by the audience reactions at Lincoln Center last night during a 25th anniversary cast reunion screening, or even your own reaction to the terms above, not necessarily in the case of The Princess Bride. As our own Jocelyn Silver appropriately added when the film concluded and the lights came back up, “it’s everyone’s favorite movie.”
“You know a film has penetrated when Scott [Foundas, associate director of programming at the Film Society of Lincoln Center] can come out here and deliver a quote like ‘Inconceivable!’ as badly as he just did and still get a response,” director Rob Reiner jested in his introduction, which set the tone for the evening as a celebration of a film that was initially released to relatively little fanfare. And as the beautiful new 35mm unspooled before us, it was hard not to get caught up in the spirit of things – when Inigo Montoya first uttered his immortal introduction to the man who killed his father, at least half of the audience could be heard mouthing the line along with him.
You can just imagine how that crowd reacted an hour later when Inigo Montoya himself strolled onto the stage, as Mandy Patinkin came out accompanied by Reiner, Cary Elwes, Carol Kane, Chris Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, Robin Wright, writer William Goldman, and Billy Crystal. A lovefest? Sure, but unsurprisingly, with that movie, they’d earned it.
And, more unsurprisingly, for all the fun had on set and on stage, Reiner got there first as a fan of Goldman’s original novel, which his father had recommended to him many years previous. “It’s what you wish you could write,” Reiner noted in describing his reaction to the book. It was on the set of Stand By Me when he decided “I’ll just see if anybody’s tried to do it,” only to find that Francois Truffaut, Norman Jewison, and Robert Redford had all attempted their own iterations. Following a screening of The Sure Thing, “the highest moment of [Reiner’s] professional career” came in a meeting when Goldman said he thought things were “going great,” and The Princess Bride as we know it began to come into being.
Indeed, though Reiner’s had a rough go at it over the last two decades (North, man. North…), it’s hard to imagine The Princess Bride – which Foundas perhaps accurately labeled a latter day Wizard of Oz – being quite what it is in anybody else’s hands. You needed a lead like Cary Elwes, who could have the look of Douglas Fairbanks while still cracking schtick, as he did by concluding the evening with a spot-on Fat Albert impression. You needed an actress like Robin Wright, who could convey such grace and sweetness as Buttercup that she’d be a 26-year-old questioner’s confessed first crush, but also still be cool enough to hug the guy in front of the crowd of a thousand. You needed a director like Reiner, who knew when to change up the shot-list for the Cliffs of Insanity scene after Wallace Shawn confessed his fear of heights. As Crystal noted in reflecting on showing it to his daughters and granddaughters recently, “I’m in something that’s really important because it’s beautifully made, and it’s sweet, and it’s about all the right things that movies are… That’s the ‘as you wish’ for me.”
All the elements come together so well in The Princess Bride that as much of a bummer as it is to hear, you understand completely when Goldman says he’d have no idea how to approach a sequel. Capturing that lightning in a bottle again? Perhaps inconceivable on screen, though it certainly happened on stage this past Tuesday night at Lincoln Center.