Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has us thinking about swordplay.
The Princess Bride (1987)
Like pretty much everything else in Rob Reiner’s comedy-adventure The Princess Bride, the swordplay comes with witty lines, abrupt reversals, and now-iconic catchphrases, but it’s entertaining for the action as much as for the comedy. The story is framed as a favorite tale Peter Falk is reading to his sick, initially resistant grandson Fred Savage, and it reads like a checklist of what a kid might find cool. In fact, the original book—written by longtime screenwriter William Goldman, who also adapted Princess Bride for the screen—actually features a winning checklist of the contents, as the reader (in the book’s case, it’s the sick boy’s distant dad) tries to sell the boy by promising everything he could want in a book: “Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Snakes. Spiders. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.”
He left out “banter,” which the film version strongly emphasizes; its characters apparently can’t trade blows without trading barbs as well. In one of the more iconic scenes, Mandy Patinkin (many years and one bad wig away from co-starring on Homeland) duels mysterious Man In Black Cary Elwes, but starts off with his sword in his left hand for a challenge, which leads to one of the film’s better reveals. And later, various setups pay off as Patinkin confronts his father’s killer (Waiting For Guffman director Christopher Guest) via a grimmer, bloodier duel and the indelible line “Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father! Prepare to die!” One of the things that most works about the dueling scenes, though, is that Elwes and Patinkin trained in fencing and did their own fighting, and the fight choreography starts off with stage-show-esque rehearsed simplicity, then ramps up as both participants visibly commit to their attacks. What begins by looking stagey—particularly given the highly artificial set where the first fight takes place—turns exhilarating as the pace of the attacks and the one-liners ramps up.
Availability: Available in a fairly staggering array of Blu-ray and DVD editions, and via Amazon Instant.