By Cary Elwes and Joe Layden
This week’s book is As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride, by Cary Elwes, with Joe Layden. In this memoir Mr. Elwes recounts his time as Westley, a.k.a. The Man in Black, a.k.a. the Dread Pirate Roberts from the beloved movie, The Princess Bride, adapted from William Goldman’s book The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure(The “Good Parts” Version). When I say beloved, there are few people that don’t enjoy the movie, fans can count at least one literal Saint (Pope John Paul II), some sinners (a few of mobster John Gotti’s men) and a P.O.T.U.S. (Bill Clinton, who watched it with Chelsea so much he can recite a good portion of the movie).
Oh, and possible spoilers for a 25+ year old movie, and a 40+ year old book.
So this memoir of Cary Elwes’s cover’s his time from pre-production of The Princess Bride to a short while after the premier of the movie, as well as some time after like the 25th Anniversary showing at the New York Film Festival where Cary Elwes got the idea for the book.
Mr. Elwes starts out recounting how he heard about production on The Princess Bride, his agent telling him that Rob Reiner wanted him for Westley. The lead role. Before that Cary Elwes had been given the book by his step-father who knew William Goldman from his early work in Hollywood. William Goldman has quite a few award winning screenplays and scripts including Marathon Man, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President’s Men. However, The Princess Bride had been optioned earlier and for a long time was considered unfilmable. At one point a smaller studio wanted make it as an independent film, with a then unknown Arnold Schwarzenegger as Fezzik. At a later date Robert Redford wanted to produce and star in it. Every major studio passed on it at one point or another. Eventually William Goldman had bought the rights back because The Princess Bride in his words, “is my favorite thing I’ve ever written in my life.”
For the most part the book is individual chapters of Cary Elwes interactions with one of the the other member of the cast, interspersed with asides from the other cast members. So after going over casting while telling you about his relationship to Rob Reiner, the director. He has good stories about his crush on Robin Wright (bonding over British comedy tv, Monty Python and SCTV). His competition and training with Mandy Patinkin for, as the script put it, “the greatest sword fight of modern times!” He has really good stories about hanging out with Andre the Giant, both on set, and off (Cary riding Andre’s ATV badly and going out drinking respectively). Cary tells about Wallace Shawn’s (Vizzini) nervousness. On the day of Billy Crystal’s (Miracle Max) scenes people were literally laughing til it hurt, and it seems like that wasn’t the only day that people were having fun.
The last two chapters are about after the end of filming, and they are the most disappointing, but for very different reasons. The penultimate chapter is about the premier of the movie, and the lackluster reception due to the inability of the marketing department to cut a good trailer or decide how to market the movie. It is disappointing for everyone who made it, you just feel bad for everyone involved. Upon release the movie wasn’t a complete flop, but was not the blockbuster that was expected from the script and what people now think of the movie. Only in home release on VHS and later formats did the movie revive from “mostly dead” to become the cult hit that generations love.
The last chapter of the book has is about how looking back at the last 25 years fans have kept up the love for the movie. People come up to just about everyone on cast and recite lines, from “Have fun storming the castle” to “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father. Prepare to die” and of course “As you wish” (Apparently that is a favorite among waiters and waitresses that have Cary Elwes as a guest). There are screenings around the world that are sold out year after year. Kids who loved the movie have kids of their own that love the movie. People have Princess Bride themed weddings (Mawage is wot bwings us togeder today…). A special 25th anniversary celebration at the Lincoln Center during the New York Film Festival along with a question and answer session with cast and crew. Which is why the last chapter is disappointing, the book has some really good stories from Cary Elwes, as well as some good interjections from other cast members, but it feels almost hollow. It gives you a good view of what he experienced during the making of, but given that, now I want more stories from the rest of the cast and crew, not just the quick asides. Does that make me greedy and entitled? Probably.
Up next week mini reviews of many different books, some comic books, some comic strips, some flowcharts and I’m still trying to get to Cmd. Hadfield.