Screen Shot 2013-08-16 at 12.17.29 PM

“If you came tonight hoping to watch The Princess Bride completely uninterrupted, you really should just leave now.”

This was Up in the Air and Juno filmmaker Jason Reitman introducing last night’s live-commentary screening of the 1987 fairy-tale satire at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. As the film played out on the big screen, Reitman sat in the theater with director Rob Reiner interviewing him about the action onscreen.

“Tonight we’re trying an experiment,” Reitman told the crowd. “I thought there must be a way to take a film everyone has seen a million times, that we love, that occupies such a strong part of our hearts, and somehow get more access to what it was like actually making this film. That’s where this idea came from.”

Reiner started out by asking: “How many people here are under 30? Let me see. Raise your hand.” About a third of the moviegoers raised their hands. “Okay, so you are used to multitasking and not paying attention to anything anyway. This should be fine for you! You’ll watch, you’ll talk, you’ll text … You can play a video game. Whatever!”

“We’ll start watching the film and then, uh, see what comes out!”

Here’s what did:


Reiner: There’s Fred Savage.

Reitman: Was he on The Wonder Years at this point?

Reiner: No, he was not then. And now he’s a big director himself, that little schmendrick there. .. And there’s Peter Falk! [Applause.] Originally, Peter Falk [who was around 60] said, ‘I don’t know if I’m old enough to be a grandfather.’ He said maybe we should put prosthetics on me, to make me older. So we did. We did a test on it. He looked at it and said, ‘Rob … I look like a burn victim!’ I said, ‘Peter, maybe we do it without the prosthetics?’ He says, ‘I think you’re on to something.’

NEXT PAGE: Hidden Spinal Tap easter egg


Reitman: There’s a piece of trivia I heard about this scene. There’s a hat in the scene that [composer] Mark Knopfler wanted you to use?

Reiner: There it is! You see it hanging? You see that little cap there? That’s the cap I wore in Spinal Tap. And Mark Knopfler, who wrote the score for The Princess Bride, said to me, ‘I’ll only do it if you put something from This is Spinal Tap in the movie. So I threw the hat in there for Marty DiBergi, and then I was lucky enough to get the guy who was the lead guitarist for Dire Straits. Here, you can hear his guitar. It’s a classical score, but his guitar work is very distinctive.

NEXT PAGE: The secret meaning of ‘As you wish …’


Reitman: This is one of the best examples of watching two people fall in love within 20 seconds of meeting. [Laughter.] They have extraordinary chemistry. As a director, how do you capture something like that?

Reiner: First of all, you have a brilliant script by William Goldman. And the term ‘As you wish,’ which as [the grandfather] describes – whenever [Westley] was saying ‘As you wish’ what he was really saying was ‘I love you.’ You’ll see, watch …

Onscreen, Cary Elwes looks deeply into Robin Wright’s eyes and whispers ‘As you wish …’

Reiner: See … ! [Audience laughs] It means ‘I love you.’

Reitman: I read somewhere Cary Elwes said everywhere he goes to this day, women ask him to say that to them. [Laughter.]

Reiner: Yes, and people have Princess Bride weddings. They have ‘As you wish’ written inside their rings. They do all kinds of things like that.

NEXT PAGE: Mobster fans of The Princess Bride


Reitman: I read today that you were in a restaurant in New York once, and one of John Gotti’s men said …

Reiner: Yeah, I walked outside the restaurant, and John Gotti was there with six wiseguys. There was a guy beside the limo who looked like Luca Brasi. He looked at me, and said: ‘You killed my father … Prepare to die!’ I almost went right then! [Laughter.] He said, ‘I love dat movie, da Princess Bride!’

NEXT PAGE: Robin Wright: Fireproof Bride


To steal a line from Paul Simon, this princess truly burned like a bride.

Reiner: Robin, she’s done amazing work for many years. And this was the greatest gift, that we found her.

Reitman: She had barely done anything at this point, right?

Reiner: She was in a soap opera called Santa Barbara. That was the only thing she had done up until this point. She was from Texas. But she had this perfect English accent.

He said she required almost no coaching because she had perfected the accent by listening to her father, who was British.

Later …

Reiner: The first day we shot with her was this scene where she gets lit up by the Fire Swamp. Bill Goldman says, ‘I can’t believe we’re setting our leading lady on fire on the first day!’ We were all so worried she was going to get burned.

Reitman: This is obviously all practical [i.e., not an effect added later.]

Reiner: Oh yeah, that’s real fire. [Audience laughs.] But it’s on one of those flame retardant fabrics where it doesn’t burn.

NEXT PAGE: Wallace Shawn feared he would not survive — for real


Wallace Shawn, who played the calculating kidnapper Vizzini, did not expect to survive the Battle of Wits because he thought he was all wrong for the role.

Reitman: Wallace Shawn was not the original actor that you had in mind, right?

Reiner: Well, I mean, [Vizzini’s] supposed to be a Sicilian. And Wally Shawn is probably the furthest thing from a Sicilian you could possibly imagine. And he thought we were going to fire him after the first day, because the first thing we did with him was The Battle of Wits scene with the iocane powder. He was sure we were going to fire him. ‘I can’t get the Sicilian accent!’ I said, ‘Wally, we want the Sicilian to sound just like you.’

Reitman: I’m not sure what’s better, Wallace Shawn as a Sicilian or Mandy Patinkin as a Spanish person.

Reiner: Yeah, yeah. An Irishman and a Jew!

NEXT PAGE: Andre the Giant was fragile


For the role of big (but not-so-bad) Fezzick, Reiner says there was no one else he could think of to play the part except Andre the Giant. Andre Roussimoff, who died of heart failure in 1993 at age 46, had a syndrome called acromegaly, which causes an excess of growth hormone — making him huge, but putting terrible strain on his body.

Reiner: Andre was incredible. He was a really smart guy. He grew up in the same village as [Nobel prize-winning playwright] Samuel Beckett, who wrote Waiting for Godot. And they were friends. [Beckett] used to take him to school. So Andre used to hang out with Samuel Beckett before he was in the [World Wrestling Federation.]

He was the only guy for the part. [Screenwriter and novelist] Bill Goldman said, ‘You’ve got to get Andre the Giant,’ but it took us a long time to find him. He was wrestling in Tokyo, and then arrived in France and [his representatives] said, ‘You can meet him.’ So I came into the hotel and the guy behind the desk said, ‘There’s a man waiting for you at the bar.’ I walk in, and there’ s a large man sitting on two barstools. He was huge!

We auditioned him. I read a little scene with him. And I didn’t understand a word he said.

The big man’s thick French accent, coupled with his deep, rumbling voice, meant he would have to practice speaking the lines phonetically.

Reiner: I sent him his part on tape. I recorded his entire part.

Reitman: Your voice?

Reiner: Me, personally. And I said, ‘Listen to this, and study it.’ And he studied it. We never had to [re-record his dialogue.] He learned the whole thing [phonetically.]

Reitman: How was Andre with doing stunts, given his wrestling background?

Reiner: Here’s the interesting thing. We figured, ‘This will be the easy part. He can do the wrestling’ But he had a horrendous bad back, and couldn’t do it. He couldn’t carry Cary on his back. I used a stunt guy [for Fezzick], oddly enough, for the wide shots when Cary is on his back.

Reitman: Where do you find a stuntman the size of Andre the Giant?

Reiner: Nowhere. He was about 6-foot-5, and Andre was about 7-foot-5.

Onscreen, Westley is running into Fezzick’s formidable chest, making no progress in his fight.

Reiner: With this, Andre was okay. This he could do.

Now Westley hangs from the giant’s back as the large man lumbers around the rocky field.

Reiner: Here, Cary’s feet are on a wooden plank to take his weight off of Andre, who couldn’t carry it. He couldn’t catch the Princess Bride at the end either.

Reitman: I’m even more impressed with Andre’s acting now.

NEXT PAGE: The arsonist in the Fire Swamp


The filmmaker shared the strange stories of two unusual creatures from the film: The Shrieking Eels and the Rodents of Unusual Size — and the even more vicious creature who brought one of them to life.

Reiner: The shrieking eels were interesting. We had a special effects guy named Nick Allder [an Oscar-winner for 1980’s Alien.] We called him ‘No-Problem-At-Allder’ because anytime you’d say, ‘Can we have an eel that goes under, and comes up …?’ He’d go [in a Cockney accent]: ‘No problem at all, gov’ner! No problem at all!’ It was always a problem. {Audience laughter.] It never worked. It was on a track so it looks like it’s coming at you. It’s kind of cheesy by today’s standards, but it worked.

Later, in the Fire Swamp sequence …

Reiner: Here’s an interesting thing. You’ll see the [Rodents of Unusual Size] come in, and there’s a scene where one rat kind of sniffs around. They were little people in rat suits. And the scene where he fights the rat, there was another guy named Anthony who could scurry really good. He could run around.

Reitman: [Laughs] How do you realize that?

Reiner: One was good with slow movements, but Anthony was good with fast movements. [For the fight,] I said, ‘We need Anthony for this,’ and the crew said, ‘Well, let’s try the other guy.’ I said, ‘Whaddaya mean try the other guy? Anthony’s good!’ They said, ‘We can’t use Anthony. He got arrested this morning.’ They said he got into a fight with his wife, and they owned a kennel, and he burned the kennel down. So we had to bail him out of jail so he could come and fight as an ROUS.

Onscreen, Westley and Buttercup disappear into the lightning sand as a giant rat waddles up slowly and snorts around the perimeter.

Reiner: See, this was the other guy. The other guy who was a good sniffer.

NEXT PAGE: Buttercup was (briefly) a man


Robin Wright may have let the filmmakers set her on fire, but some other stunts were too risky. That means that in one shot from this famous scene, she was played by someone a lot less feminine. And Cary Elwes didn’t make it out of this sequence unscathed either, though that wasn’t the movie’s fault.

Reiner: This is aplace called Higger Tor, it’s way up close to Scotland, and it’s a rocky outcropping. Here’s something interesting. Cary Elwes, he always walks very gingerly. Wait until he sits down and you’ll see.

Onscreen, Westley settles beside a fallen log.

Reiner: See the way he’s holding that leg out. Looks like it’s very elegant. That’s because he had almost broken his ankle, and he could put no weight on it. So when he sits down like that, and then when he gets up, you’d say, ‘Oh wow, look how graceful and debonair and elegant.’ But he just couldn’t put any weight on it.

Reitman: What was the injury from?

Reiner: He was riding in a dune buggy in this area and he fell off. He didn’t want to tell anybody.

Westley stands and delicately walks forward.

Reiner: See! He’s walking so slow!

Next, Westley goes spiraling head over heels down the steep, grassy slope.

Reiner: That’s a stuntman. He had to get rid of his mask halfway down.

Buttercup soon goes tumbling after.

Reiner: That’s a man! A man in a wig.

Reitman: Are you angling the camera at all to emphasize the slope?

Reiner: No, it was really that steep. That’s why I had to get two stunt guys.

NEXT PAGE: The heart-melting ending that almost wasn’t …


Reiner: You see those four horses? At the end of the movie, we had a scene where Peter Falk leaves and the little boy picks up the book and is leafing through it, wanting to relive the book again. And he hears a voice outside his window and sees the four white horses with the four heroes on it, waving at him.

In order to find a horse that could carry Andre, we had to find a pulley system to lower him onto the horse, to take the weight off the horse.

They shot the sequence, but Reiner decided during the editing that it didn’t work. A more meaningful ending was written and shot later between the old man and the sick little kid.

Reiner: What Peter does here, I love: It’s an old man getting ready to leave.

[Falk stands, puts on his jacket, and slowly frisks himself.]

Reiner: I find myself doing that now. ‘Do I have that thing…?’

Reitman: It’s perfect, because we don’t want the movie to end there.

Reiner: This is the reshoot. This is the ending we shot new.

Fred Savage’s little boy is onscreen, saying: ‘Maybe you could come over and read it again to me tomorrow?’

Falk’s character answers: ‘As you wish …’

Which, as we learned earlier, actually means something much more.

The Princess Bride
  • Movie
  • 98 minutes