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'Princess Bride' Weds Swashbuckling Adventure and Laughs

August 19, 1993|MARK CHALON SMITH | Mark Chalon Smith is a free-lancer who regularly writes about film for The Times Orange County Edition.

"The Princess Bride" isn't just another irreverent Mel Brooks-style spoof. The 1987 movie gooses swashbuckler flicks with a long sword, but also reveals more than a little love for the genre.

That figures. William Goldman, the writer who adapted the screenplay from his novel of the same name, has said the movie was inspired by a childhood experience with his father. Goldman was sick for several days, and his dad waylaid the monotony by reading from a book loaded with blades and bravado.

The tale not only got Goldman out of bed, it changed his life, opening a world of the imagination that would guide the path he eventually took.

The author pays homage to that time with his father in the picture's opening, when a grandfather (a rumpled Peter Falk) reads "The Princess Bride" to an ill boy (Fred Savage).

From there, "The Princess Bride" (which screens Friday night as part of Golden West College's outdoor family film series) turns into a lighthearted tribute to the excitement Goldman felt as a kid when smoothies like Errol Flynn went zipping through lush glades and dark, dank castles.

Ultimately, "The Princess Bride" is a diversion, a minor joy that doesn't ask too much of us. But it is a fun diversion, mainly because Goldman and director Rob Reiner have such pleasure toying with the form. They're wise guys, but respectful wise guys, and the results are infectious.

The story line is about as old hat as can be, but the quick turns and goofy angles are what make it work.

Basically, we have the kidnaping of the winsome Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright), who is promptly pursued by sweetheart Westley (Cary Elwes).

Mandy Patinkin comes aboard as Inigo Montoya, a dashing swordsman with vengeance on his mind. Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Carol Kane and even Andre the Giant show up. Billy Crystal offers a kvetching cameo as Miracle Max, the local sorcerer.

You tend to ignore the inherent silliness of the plot because Reiner's pacing is such a smooth melding of the relaxed and furious. One moment he's laying down a ticklish gag; the next, his heroes are thrown into a fierce battle. Kids dig the sparking action; their parents are amused by the outsize characters and the sardonic things they say.

I've never seen "The Princess Bride" al fresco, but the GWC amphitheater seems like the ideal setting. Reiner's camera recalls the vistas of all those old Technicolor action pictures (especially the Robin Hood movies) and doesn't stray too long from colorful outdoor shots.

There are trees and bushes and greenery all through "The Princess Bride," not too unlike the surroundings at the amphitheater.

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