On Tuesday, October 2nd, the New York Film Festival celebrated the 25th anniversary of Rob Reiner’s 1987 film “The Princess Bride” in front of a packed house at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. The brand new 35mm print was beautiful — “Take that, DCP!” exclaimed the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Associate Program Director, Scott Foundas — and the audience was as enthusiastic as one could wish, applauding everything from Vizzini’s (Wallace Shawn’s) first declaration of “Inconceivable!” to Billy Crystal and Carol Kane’s short but memorable appearances as Miracle Max and Valerie.
After the screening, director Rob Reiner and screenwriter/author of the original novel William Goldman joined members of the cast for a Q&A to discuss the film’s origins. Cary Elwes (Westley), Robin Wright (Buttercup), Mandy Patinkin (Inigo Montoya), Shawn, Chris Sarandon (Prince Humperdinck), Kane, and Crystal shared entertaining anecdotes about facing phobias, fencing, getting into make-up, improvising on set, and the joy of bringing Goldman’s affectionate and hilarious story to life. As Sarandon put it, “You can’t play the comedy — you just have to play Bill’s words.” Added Reiner, “It’s all the writing.”
Though the event was a celebration of the film, the cast took it as an opportunity to celebrate Goldman and Reiner. They had nothing but kind words for Goldman, some saying they were familiar with the book before taking on their roles in the film, and Goldman himself claiming the story as his “greatest success.” Reiner said he was a huge fan of Goldman before ever entertaining the prospect of directing “The Princess Bride.”
The film came at what was arguably the apex of Reiner’s career. A screening of his romantic comedy “The Sure Thing” helped him score a meeting with Goldman and permission to discuss the possibility of adapting “The Princess Bride” to the silver screen. When they first met, Reiner says Goldman told him, “‘The Princess Bride’ is my favorite thing that I’ve ever done in my life — I want it on my tombstone,” and then looked at him “with eyes that said, ‘what are you going to do to it?'”
After directing an adaptation of Stephen King’s classic coming-of-age tale “Stand by Me,” Reiner took “The Princess Bride” and brought it to life. It was clear as he spoke on stage that the man is a born storyteller, and he used that skill to hone in on a vision of everything he and Goldman wanted “The Princess Bride” to be. Crystal also noted that Reiner has a great sense of comedic rhythm. He artfully used that sense to help his actors deliver Goldman’s words with perfect timing, and he allowed them to add some of their own. Each cast member praised Reiner’s trust in them; the way he allowed them to play with their roles, and the way he let them find their own way when necessary.
Upon completing “The Princess Bride,” Reiner went on to direct the iconic rom-com “When Harry Met Sally,” as well as the Aaron Sorkin-penned dramas “A Few Good Men” and “The American President,” along with a smattering of other movies, but none have been as universally loved and well-received as “The Princess Bride.” Reiner noted that he loves seeing adults who saw the film as children introduce it to their children. Crystal said he watches it with his grandchildren.
Many wonder if the sequel — referred to in the novel as “Buttercup’s Baby” — will ever be penned or filmed. Asked about it, Goldman sadly replied, “I would love to more than anything else I’ve never written, but I don’t know how to do it,” while referring to it as a “total failure.”
Perhaps it’s better that way. Kane said at the end of the Q&A, “Tonight when I was watching, I felt like I was watching a perfect movie.” To audiences, Reiner and Goldman made a film that has stood the test of time. After celebrating the film’s 25th anniversary, it seems best to let it stand on its own, and continue to hold an untarnished place in the hearts of fans everywhere.
Corey O’Connell is an American Studies and Contemporary Arts graduate currently working in nonprofit fundraising. A big fan of adaptations and independent American cinema, she also loves music, theater, and photography, and writing about any or all of the above. This piece is part of Indiewire and the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Critics Academy at the New York Film Festival. Click here to read all of the Academy’s work.