Benji Tunnell: ‘Princess Bride’ will carry on for many more years
By Benji Tunnell Globe Columnist
JOPLIN, Mo. —
This year marks an important milestone in cinematic history. It is the anniversary of the release of one of the greatest, if not most influential, films in the history of movies -- one that was released to little fanfare and a lukewarm reception, yet has had a far reaching cultural impact.
Though few took notice of it upon its initial foray into theaters, “The Princess Bride” is a film that has grown in stature and reputation. It has become one of the most beloved works of all time, perhaps one of the most important pieces of art and entertainment ever to spring forth from the mind of man.
To put this into perspective: The same year that it was released, it was outgrossed by such cinematic masterpieces as “Mannequin,” “Blind Date” and “Dragnet.” Yet, while those others have been forgotten as so much flotsam in the sea of movie history, it is “The Princess Bride” that has become the unsinkable film, converting generation after generation to its charms.
It is one of the most watchable and quotable movies ever made. It has become so ingrained into culture that it has been referenced by everyone from Michael Scott in “The Office” to every minister during marriage rehearsals to your great-aunt Glenda.
It has become a multi-generational cultural touchstone, one that those who have experienced it can’t wait to share with the uninitiated.
“The Princess Bride” marks a high watermark for the careers of most of those involved. To give you an idea:
Author William Goldman has written films as diverse as “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “All the President’s Men” and “Dreamcatcher.” He has won two Oscars for his work. Yet if you ask most fans, the work they cite as his best is “The Princess Bride.”
Director Rob Reiner made another classic in the form of “This is Spinal Tap,” along with “Bride” co-star Christopher Guest, but his productions since “Bride” have been a mixed bag. For every “When Harry Met SallyÉ” or “A Few Good Men,” he also dropped bombs like “North” and “The Story of Us.”
Mandy Patinkin (Inigo Montoya) has built a strong career on Broadway and television, but I doubt seriously that many are asking him to quote lines from “Chicago Hope” or “Criminal Minds.”
Robin Wright, as Buttercup, defined true beauty and innocence. Though her career trajectory didn’t carry that over, she has had memorable roles in films such as “Forrest Gump” and É um, well, I’m sure there were others.
Wallace Shawn has become a character actor, best known to the younger set for voicing Rex in “Toy Story” series of films and shorts. But as Vizzini, Shawn captured an arrogance that was seemingly unearned and a swagger that had no reason to exist.
Andre the Giant was a professional wrestler for more than a quarter of a century, sharing the spotlight with big personalities and stars that were far more charismatic than he. Yet as Fezzik, the gentle giant and one man Brute Squad, Andre won over more fans than his wrestling ever could have.
Christopher Guest has made a name for himself as a writer, director and improviser in a series of mockumentary films that derived their spirit from “Spinal Tap.” But no creation has been able to capture the mix of evil and cowardliness that is his Count Rugen -- the man with six fingers, slayer of Inigo’s father and master of the study of pain.
Peter Falk was Columbo. But he was also the grandfather so many of us wanted. Slightly curmudgeonly but with a soft heart tucked beneath those rumpled clothes, his compassion for his ailing grandson and his willingness to humor the boy’s whims made him the unsung hero of the film.
Poor Cary Elwes. His dashing and debonair Westley/Man in Black hinted at a career as a leading man that was never to be. After anchoring the mediocre “Robin Hood: Men in Tights,” he bounced around from supporting role to supporting role, finally ending up attached to the quickly played out “Saw” series.
“The Princess Bride” is that rarest of things: a movie beloved by millions that still feels unique and special, like it belongs to each individual viewer. It is a movie that I found when I was a child, and it is the one that I have gifted to friends more than any other.
It is a film that I have shared with my daughters, and has become the center of our sick-day tradition. The book is a part of our bedtime reading. The girls named our dog Buttercup.
It, more than any other movie, has played the largest role in our lives. And the joy of seeing it for the first time or of reading Goldman’s words after thinking that I knew the entire world of the film has only been surpassed by seeing my daughters experience the same things that once were mine.