Gray Areas: Falling in love with the ‘Bride’

Entertainment Editor Andy Gray

Cary Elwes comes to Packard Music Hall on Saturday to talk about “The Princess Bride” following a screening of the 1987 film. I get to interview him on stage for the post-screening Q&A.

It’s a gig I’ve been preparing for for 35 years.

I have no idea how many movies I’ve seen in a theater at this point in my life. More than 2,500 seems like a conservative estimate.

Some I can barely remember. But like Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine meeting Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa Lund for the first time in “Casablanca,” I remember every detail about seeing “The Princess Bride.”

I went with my girlfriend (now wife of 32 years) to see it at the Colony Theatre in Shaker Heights before it was divided up into a multiplex and became Shaker Square Cinema.

The movie came to Cleveland before it opened locally, and I either went there so I could review it for the Tribune Chronicle (I was in my first year on the entertainment beat) or simply because I didn’t want to wait.

At the time, the lure was director Rob Reiner. He doesn’t show up on many lists of the greatest directors, but few started their careers with a better run of films than Reiner — “This Is Spinal Tap,” “The Sure Thing,” “Stand By Me,” “The Princess Bride” and “When Harry Met Sally.”

That’s two beloved cult classics (“Spinal Tap,” “Princess Bride”), a film certain to be included at or near the top of any list of the best rom-coms ever made (“Harry / Sally”) and a magnificent film about childhood and lost innocence (“Stand By Me”).

I haven’t watch “The Sure Thing” in years and I’m guessing there are some details in that movie that haven’t aged well, but it is a rose in the cesspool of guys-trying-to-lose-their-virginity movies that were as prevalent in the late 1970s and ’80s as superheroes are today.

I hadn’t read the book it was based on but I knew author and screenwriter William Goldman as the man who wrote the screenplays for some of my favorite movies (“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “All the President’s Men”) and arguably the best inside Hollywood book ever written (“Adventures in the Screen Trade”).

I was thoroughly enchanted by the film, but what I remember most is the crowd reaction at the end. Outside of film festivals, it’s one of the only times I remember an audience standing up and applauding at the end of the movie.

In my review, I gave the movie four stars — my highest grade at the time, and I was a stingy grader. I gave less than five movies a year four stars (or, later, an A+).

I don’t think I did a top 10 list that first year doing entertainment (I can’t find the clip if I did), but “The Princess Bride” would have topped it.

I bought the VHS. When I became a father, I remember looking forward to the time when my daughters would be old enough to appreciate it.

It’s my older daughter Anna’s favorite film (Ali likes it too). She has multiple copies of the film, the book that inspired it, the books about it and the book Elwes wrote (“As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride”). There’s a Precious Moments figurine of Westley and Buttercup in her room along with the recent McFarlane Toys “Princess Bride” action figures.

She went to Steel City Con in Pittsburgh before the pandemic to see Elwes (Westley), Wallace Shawn (Vizzini) and Chris Sarandon (Prince Humperdinck), and she bought a front-row center VIP ticket for Saturday’s event before I was selected as moderator.

We watched the movie again this week in preparation for Saturday and it still holds up. The movie is a masterful balancing act of tone. It so easily could have been too snarky or too melodramatic, but Reiner and the cast hit the right notes in every scene.

I’ve made some predictions over the years that I would like to stay buried in the archives, but there’s a paragraph in the review I wrote of “The Princess Bride” in 1987 that proved to be prophetic:

“‘The Princess Bride’ probably won’t win many Academy Awards, but only because this kind of movie seldom does. Like ‘E.T.,’ though, ‘The Princess Bride’ is a movie that audiences will love long after they have forgotten which serious drama won the best picture award.” (FYI, “The Last Emperor” won best picture that year.)

Come join us Saturday at Packard and learn which scenes Elwes shot with a broken toe, the scene that sent him to the emergency room and other inside stories.

You’ll also get to see probably the best movie you’ll see in a theater this year.

Andy Gray is the entertainment editor of Ticket. Write to him at agray@tribtoday.com.


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