I’m breathing life into the Iddy Approved series, which until this week had been mostly dead for far too long. Each Iddy Approved article has highlighted a game, book, or product that I find delightful and interesting. Today, I am strongly recommending that (after you finish reading this article, of course) you stop what you’re doing and pick up the audiobook of As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes. If you for some strange reason have not seen The Princess Bride before, then stop everything (including reading this article), and correct that immediately. The film released in 1987 and is quickly approaching 30 years of being a timeless classic. It’s a laugh-out-loud hilarious, touchingly sweet movie that truly never gets old.
I had the good fortune of seeing The Princess Bride several weeks ago in a small theater in town, which was showing films featuring performances by professional wrestlers; the same theater where I recently watched Predator for the first time in many years. Watching The Princess Bride on the big screen reminded me that I should finally seek out the book by Mr. Elwes, as I’ve heard nothing but good things from those that have consumed it. My thoughts on Mr. Elwes’ book follow.
Life is Pain, Highness. Anyone Who Says Differently is Selling Something.
I wish I could disclose that Mr. Elwes paid me in memorabilia to write this article and publicize his book, but these are simply my personal reactions after listening to his recollections of filming one of my favorite movies of all time! I also want to disclose that I have not read a physical copy of the book. Listening to the audio version of the book was too much of a treat to pass up. In addition to the bulk of the text being narrated by Mr. Elwes (Westley), basically every prominent, surviving member from the cast and crew offer his or her voice to As You Wish including:
- Rob Reiner (Director)
- William Goldman (Writer)*
- Norman Lear (Producer)
- Robin Wright (Buttercup)
- Mandy Patinkin (Inigo Montoya)*
- Wallace Shawn (Vizzini)
- Billy Crystal (Miracle Max)
- Carol Kane (Valerie)
- Fred Savage (The Grandson)*
- Christopher Guest (Count Rugen)
- Chris Sarandon (Prince Humperdink)
I had to list Mr. Sarandon last because it’s known that Humperdink is a “miserable, vomiting mass.” I imagine reading the book would be enjoyable as well, but listening to these talented people talk about the film is truly a joyous experience. The contributions from William Goldman, Mandy Patinkin, and Fred Savage are voiced by another narrator, though this is not revealed until after the Epilogue. I listened to the audiobook (6 CDs) over the course of one week while driving back-and-forth to work and running other errands. There is a moment early in the narration when Mr. Elwes summarizes how much of an impression the film has made on people over the years, and his understanding (and acceptance) that he’ll always be known as “Westley from The Princess Bride.” I found myself listening to this on the commute to work last week and simultaneously tearing up and laughing.
This type of reaction would become commonplace while listening to As You Wish. The tears well up because the movie means so many different things to me. It came into my life when I was about 12 years old and a few years removed from losing my father abruptly. The laughter springs from all the amazing memories of watching the film as a young boy trying to figure out how the world works and where I fit in. I had a Commodore 64 and played the baseball game Fred Savage’s character plays in the movie; I could identify with him. The Princess Bride fed my interests about fantasy, adventure, comedy, true love, and satire – even though I probably could not have defined satire at that time — and would not understand true love until much later in life!
Mr. Elwes speaks about the passion fans have for this movie and how so many elements of the film are memorable. He reads through a list of famous quotes from the film at one point early in the book, and it’s amazing they are all found in one piece of cinema. The Princess Bride is a gift that keeps on giving, and As You Wish is a way to unwrap it for the first time all over again.
Truly, You Have a Dizzying Intellect
The vast majority of the audiobook is narrated by Mr. Elwes as he recounts his time making the film, starting with the initial call from his agent that he might be considered for the role all the way through filming and ending around the cast reunion at Lincoln Center in 2012. I would estimate that 80-90% of the audio is in his voice with comments from cast and crew spliced in at appropriate moments. It feels like listening to a well-edited movie commentary or documentary; and Mr. Elwes does an excellent job of injecting energy into his narration. He conveys his excitement and anxiety about the possible role-of-a-lifetime and working with an esteemed crew. He expresses embarrassment and disappoint when an accident during filming might derail his involvement in the film. And he offers heartfelt sorrow for the loss of André “The Giant” René Roussimoff, who played Fezzik in the film and died in 1993 from health complications. Overall, Mr. Elwes delivers the narration with a wide range of emotions, and it is never dull.
He also delivers quite a few impersonations throughout the audiobook; he speaks as people involved in the film, such as Rob Reiner and André the Giant, as well as other noteworthy individuals that cross his path (which I will not spoil here). His impersonation of Rob Reiner throughout the book reminded me of one of those Family Guy jokes that starts off funny, grows old, and then goes on so long that it becomes endearing and humorous again. The only audio quibble I could offer is with the segments from Billy Crystal. The content Mr. Crystal adds to the audiobook is terrific but he clearly sounds like he is recording through a telephone rather than at a studio. If you have the means, then certainly consume the audio version of the book; Mr. Elwes performs the text for you!
I Am The Brute Squad
Mr. Elwes and the surviving members of the cast and crew gush about their time with André the Giant. Before The Princess Bride, I was exposed to André the Giant through my childhood viewing of professional wrestling and all the drama that comes along with it. André was the villain and a terror in that world, and typically had a loudmouth manager that served as his spokesman. But in The Princess Bride, André portrays Fezzik, a lovable mountain of a man that has a gift for rhymes (some of the time). In addition to displacing all people and things around him with his massive 7’4″, 550-pound frame, he seemed to leave an enormous wake of love and admiration with the people he encountered. Mr. Elwes spends numerous moments throughout the book attempting to convey the manner of man that André was for the listener; it seems that no words can do André justice. I will not spoil the details of the stories Mr. Elwes and the other cast and crew share about André here because they are worth hearing from him in luxurious detail. I came away from As You Wish gaining a newfound respect for André, and how he seemed to play the cards he was dealt in life to the best of his ability; it’s downright inspiring.
Never Go Against a Sicilian When Death is On the Line!
One of the more shocking details of As You Wish was learning that Wallace Shawn, the actor that portrays Vizzini, was dealing with near-paralyzing anxiety during filming. Without stepping on the book too much, Mr. Shawn worried he was not the proper actor for the role and continuously felt that another actor would – and perhaps should – replace him; plus he had a fear of heights, which is less than ideal when numerous scenes are being filmed along the Cliffs of Insanity! Learning about his anxiety then (and he still sounds unconvinced he was the right man for the role even now) was equal party enlightening and dumbfounding.
Mr. Shawn crushes the role of Vizzini; it’s such a memorable role and his sit-down, Battle of Wits with Westley is one of the highlights of the entire film. How can he still be anxious about this? And then I remember that anxiety does not obey logic; if only it were that easy! His comments about filming Vizzini normalizes anxiety and demonstrates that even those that appear to be at his or her absolute best are likely still struggling with internal doubts. I think if we all walked around just assuming everyone else is also suffering with worry about “if they’re good enough,” then the world could be a better place.
You Seem a Decent Fellow . . . I Hate to Kill You
I want to close by focusing on the Greatest Sword Fight Ever Filmed. A significant portion of As You Wish is devoted to Mr. Elwes and everyone involved in the film discussing how the sword fight between Westley and Inigo Montoya was conceptualized and executed, and all of it is glorious to hear! The goal by writer, William Goldman, and director, Rob Reiner, was to commit to film the greatest sword fight in the history of cinema, and to do it with the lead actors instead of stunt doubles. This feat would require the actors to learn how to fence, so master swordsmen were hired to train the actors.
Mr. Elwes recounts the series of events revolving around the sword fight above in vivid detail – the grueling hours of training before, during, and after filming other scenes in the film, the healthy competition with fellow actor, Mandy Patinkin, over who could learn the art of fencing more quickly, the execution of the scene for the first time, and the improvisations that occurred after they started to film the fight scene over and over and over again. Simply stated, it is awesome, and I could not get enough detail about how the sword fight came together.
The Chocolate Coating Makes It Go Down Easier
In conclusion, it is my sincere opinion that anyone that loves The Princess Bride should do themselves a favor and listen to the audio version of As You Wish. It features many stories about the film that diehard fans will enjoy hearing again, and likely new tidbits of information that will add a new wrinkle to even the 150th viewing of the movie. The Princess Bride will remain a staple in my movie collection, and a fantastic poster for the film is prominently featured above my gaming table downstairs. As You Wish gave me a newfound respect for the efforts that went into the creation of this classic, and I’m happy I finally got around to listening to it. My appreciation goes out to Mr. Elwes for documenting not only his thoughts on the making of the film, but for also collecting the memories of the surviving cast and crew as well.
I’d love to hear your remembrances of The Princess Bride in the Comments below!
We Are But Poor, Lost Circus Performers
I launched a Patreon campaign last week and already have numerous supporters, which is amazing. I wanted to highlight two of the patrons; the first is Anthony Glenn. Mr. Glenn operates Pelgris, which is a regularly-updated site devoted to “Poetry, Pain, Storytime and Introspection.” The second is Marc Allie, who writes and podcasts for his personal website and recently released a book, Don’t Stop the Geekin’. Thank you again for the support, and have fun stormin’ the castle!