Inconceivable! It's inconceivable that it's been 30 years since the release of "The Princess Bride," on Sept. 25, 1987.
Rob Reiner's beloved and hilarious fairy tale wasn't a huge hit in theaters, but it did make stars out of Cary Elwes and Robin Wright, become a cult favorite, and generate about a fabillion memes from its endlessly quotable dialogue.
Still, even though you've watched "The Princess Bride" on cable over and over and over, there are still some behind-the-scenes secrets. Read them all now or savor them slowly... as you wish.
1. Screenwriter William Goldman wrote the novel in 1973, inspired by storytelling requests from his two little girls. One wanted a story about a princess, and the other wanted a story about a bride, so he combined the two.
2. Over the years that the film was in development, several different directors were attached, including Richard Lester, François Truffaut, Norman Jewison, John Boorman, and Robert Redford (star of the Goldman-scripted "All the President's Men"). A then-unknown Arnold Schwarzenegger was considered to play Fezzik, A similarly obscure Colin Firth was to play Westley; Christopher Reeve was also interested in the part. Danny DeVito, and then Richard Dreyfuss, were supposed to play Vizzini. And Sting was to play Prince Humperdinck.
3. Reiner, a longtime fan of Goldman's novel, got the assignment after the successes of "The Sure Thing" and "Stand By Me" allowed him to make the project of his choice for 20th Century Fox. He had no idea how many other directors had struggled and failed to bring the story before the cameras.
4. Of course, wrestler André the Giant, at 7'4" and 520 pounds, was more physically suited to play the giant Fezzik than Arnold. But his thick French accent made his initial line readings all but incomprehensible. Reiner recorded all of Fezzik's dialogue for him on cassette tape, and the wrestler learned his lines phonetically.
5. Elwes was dashing enough to play Westley, but could he be funny? He proved he could during his audition by rocking an impression of Bill Cosby's Fat Albert.
6. When Westley says, "Life is pain," he's not kidding; in fact, you can see Elwes favoring his left leg in that scene. That's because he broke his toe in an ATV ride, taken at André's urging. Elwes didn't tell Reiner about the injury at first, fearing he'd be fired and replaced.
7.Mandy Patinkin lobbied to play Inigo Montoya because he knew how the fatherless fighter felt, having lost his own dad at a young age 14 years earlier.
8. Elwes was seriously injured again during Westley's swordfight with Christopher Guest's Count Rugen. Guest was supposed to clock Elwes with his sword handle, but he was holding back so as not to hurt his co-star, and it looked fake. Elwes told Guest to deck him for real, and he woke up in the emergency room, getting stitches sewn in his head by the same doctor who'd treated his toe. Elwes said the medic remarked, "Well, Zorro! You seem to be a little accident-prone, don't you?" At least the realism worked, and the take of Guest knocking out Elwes is the one Reiner used in the film.
9.Wallace Shawn's Vizzini may be the veteran character actor's most memorable role, but he was nervous throughout the shoot, knowing he'd been the third choice to play the Sicilian self-styled genius, and he expected every day that Reiner would fire him.
10. Screenwriters are seldom invited to the sets of their own movies, but Reiner invited Goldman to come to Derbyshire, in the English countryside, where "Princess Bride" was shooting. Goldman prayed for the production's success, but his supplications were too loud and ruined a couple takes. He ruined another, during the scene where Buttercup's (Robin Wright) dress ignites, by exclaiming, "Oh my God, her dress is on fire!"
11.Billy Crystal based Miracle Max on a combination of his own grandmother and baseball legend Casey Stengel. He and Carol Kane (Max's wife, Valerie), worked out a whole backstory in private regarding their centuries-long marriage.
12. So during their lone sequence in the film, Crystal was able to improvise for hours, riffing dialogue that was mostly too R-rated for the family-friendly film. The director's own laughter ruined several takes. Elwes, who was supposed to be lying "mostly dead," also couldn't stop cracking up and had to be replaced by a dummy. Patinkin had such a hard time holding in his laughter that he bruised a rib.
13. Years of wrestling had left André in constant pain, and he was too weak to hold up Elwes and Wright as the script required. When you see Westley hanging on Fezzik's back, you're either looking at Elwes and a stunt double for André, or at Elwes standing on a hidden ramp. When Fezzik lifts Buttercup, Wright is actually being hoisted by hidden cables.
14. The swordfighting tactics mentioned during Inigo and Westley's epic duel are real, taken by Goldman from centuries-old fencing manuals. The sequence was one of the last ones filmed, in order to give Elwes and Patinkin plenty of training time.
15. Both actors took the fight very seriously and trained for months under Peter Diamond and Bob Anderson (the stunt coordinators who'd choreographed the lightsaber duels in the first "Star Wars" trilogy), learning to wield a sword with either hand. As a result, they were able to film it almost without stunt doubles; except for one acrobatic flip, that's really Elwes and Patinkin doing all that swashbuckling.
16. But the routine they prepared was too short by half. Diamond and Anderson had demonstrated it in slow motion, but it actually ran under 90 seconds. Reiner needed the duel to last another minute and a half, so, at the 11th hour, the stars turned to old Errol Flynn films for inspiration and added more moves.
17.Fred Savage and Peter Falk, as the grandson and grandfather reading the story, never met the rest of the cast. Their scenes were filmed last.
18. There's an Easter egg in the movie for fans of Reiner's debut film, mock rock doc "This Is Spinal Tap." A baseball cap nearly identical to the one Reiner wore in the film, with the logo of the USS Coral Sea, can be seen hanging in Savage's bedroom. Like many rockers, Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler was a "Tap" fan, and he agreed to score "Princess Bride" on the condition that Reiner work the hat into the new movie. Reiner no longer had the old prop, but he went to great pains to mock up a similar cap -- only to learn after the shoot that Knopfler had been kidding.
19. The movie cost $16 million to make, a modest budget even in 1987. It earned back just $31 million in North American theaters.
20. "The Princess Bride" earned one Oscar nomination, for Willy DeVille's song "Storybook Love." It lost to "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" from "Dirty Dancing."
21. The movie's cult of fans was all-encompassing. Elwes recalled getting a compliment on the film from Pope John Paul II, who referred to the movie as "The Princess and the Bride." Shawn said that someone comes up to him and says, "Inconceivable!" at least every three days, while Patinkin has claimed that no day goes by when someone doesn't ask him to say, "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!"
22. Reiner said he was eating dinner one night with his "When Harry Met Sally" screenwriter, Nora Ephron, and her husband, "Goodfellas" screenwriter Nick Pileggi, at a restaurant in New York's Little Italy. Pileggi had recommended the eatery because mafia boss John Gotti was a regular there, and sure enough, Gotti was there that night with his crew. One of the mobsters shouted at Reiner, "You killed my father! Prepare to die!" The man added, "'The Princess Bride!' I love that movie!" Recalled Reiner, "I almost s**t in my pants. When you penetrate guys like that, you know you've made it."