As You Wish

 


What a perfect movie!” my amazing wife Mary says. This under-appreciated gem from writer William Goldman and director Rob Reiner is my generation’s The Wizard of Oz. Mary first saw

this with my mother and favorite Aunt Myrtice, and was so entranced she dragged me - kicking and screaming, I am ashamed to say - to a viewing on the big screen. A numinous, tongue in cheek fairy tale read to a very young Fred Savage (the Grandson) by Peter Falk (Grandfather), this movie has become a touchstone for me. With stellar performances from all, it tells the tale of young Buttercup (lusciously played by newcomer Robin Wright) and farm boy Westley (a very Errol Flynn - like Cary Elwes), who responds to her every command with “As you wish.” At the very beginning of the film, Westley leaves their country of Florin to seek his fortune so he can marry Buttercup.


Hear this now: I will always come for you,” he says. They gaze yearningly at each other.


But how can you be sure?” she implores, uncertain.


This is true love. Do you think this happens every day?


The grandson interrupts: “When does it get good? Where’s the sports?” Then, accusingly “Is this a kissing book?


The story unfolds: Westley has been captured by the Dread Pirate Roberts, who never allows his captives to live. Cut to Buttercup, inconsolable, and vowing never to love again. The prince of the land - brilliantly named Humperdink (Chris Sarandon) - seeking the the most beautiful woman in the world as his bride, commissions her as his betrothed. Devastated, she seeks solace in her daily horseback ride, where she is kidnapped by “...poor, lost circus performers...”: Vicinni, the Sicilian mastermind (the always brilliant Wallace Shawn), Inigo, the drunken Spanish sword master (Mandy Patinkin, in his performance of a lifetime), and Fezzik: larger than life, or anyone around (Andre the Giant). They sail through eel infested waters to the Cliffs of Insanity for their escape. The sheer walls mark the border of Guildor, Florin’s sworn enemy, and they are pursued by a mystery sailboat that steadily gains on them.


He’s right on top of us! Do you think he’s using the same wind that we’re using?” questions Inigo.


Inconceivable!” exclaims Vicinni, the first of many times.


They reach the Cliffs, and the Herculean Fezzik climbs a rope they have left for that purpose, hand over hand up the endless vertical wall with the other three suspended, about and below him: very like Christmas tree ornaments. Behind, the mystery man draws ever closer. When they reach the summit Vicinni cuts the the rope they have been climbing. The three kidnappers rush to the edge and peer down at a Masked man in Black, clinging to the rock face. He begins moving hand by hand by hand up the final ascent. “Inconceivable!” shrieks Vicinni, again.



Inigo glances at him, bemused. “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.


              ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Inigo is left behind to deal with the masked man. “If he falls - fine. If not - the sword.” Vicinni clips off his words imperiously.


A truly spectacular sword fight ensues, after considerable character building detail for the Man in Black and Inigo. The Spaniard graciously allows the other to rest before the duel. “I don’t suppose you have six fingers on your right hand?” he asks.


Do you always start conversations this way?” asks the Man in Black, with some concern. Inigo explains his father - who was a renowned sword maker - was commissioned by a man with six fingers on his right hand to make a sword; he refused payment when the sword was delivered, and then slashed him through the heart. He proffers his sword to the masked man, who is, of course, Westley.


I’ve never seen it’s equal, he says in admiration.


My father was a great sword maker,” muses Inigo, shaking his head in sorrow, “and I loved him very much. I challenged his murderer to a duel, but I fail...I was eleven years old. He left me alive, but he gave me these...” he points to twin scars running the length of his jowls. “I have devoted my life to the study of fencing since that day, and when I find him again I will not fail.” He shakes his finger for emphasis. “I will say to him:


 

                                                    (this is not ironic at all.)


Besting Inigo with the sword and leaving him alive but unconscious, Westley overcomes Fezzik through agility and then Vicinni in a hysterical battle of wits. Butterrcup, still ignorant of his true identity, pushes him from the mountaintop.  “And you can die, too! for all I care.


As you wwwiiiissssshhhh,” floats up to her, on the wind.


Oh, my sweet Westley,” she blanches. ”What have I done?” She throws herself after. They cartwheel together to the bottom and reunite, and enter the Fire Swamp to meet the ROUSs - Rodents of Unusual Size. Westley also defeats them and is at last confronted by the evil Prince Humperdink’s henchman, Count Rugan (the brilliant Christopher Guest) - Inigo’s six fingered man. To save Westley, Buttercup will go with Humperdink - everyone is baffled by this, onscreen and off - and she is taken away. Rugan takes Westley to the Pit of Despair.


Unforgettable performances by Billy Crystal, Carol Kane and Peter Cook make this - truly - a perfect film. Watch it if only for the vision of Robin Wright, floating like a flower petal, down from the castle window. And Mark Knopfler’s enchanting score.


Then - watch it again.


And again.


Just once more.