The Princess Bride (1987)

I’ve told the story of how I avoided this film for almost twenty years before – but by all means, please reread it, you’ll need it for the last paragraph – but briefly, I never heard anything about it that appealed to me, and one day in 2005 somebody forced me to watch it and I spent weeks alternating between watching it again and kicking myself for missing out. Preconceived notions are sometimes terrible, terrible things. Eighteen years I could’ve known this movie was a triumph.

So anyway, I’m assuming that this is one of those movies I don’t need to describe very much to our audience or explain why I chose to show it to our son. It’s because it’s Rob Reiner’s finest moment, and every kid needs to see it! We started out with a little chat about narration. We talked about an unreliable narrator a few weeks ago, and I explained that this story doesn’t have an unreliable narrator, but it does have one who interrupts. Our son sees echoes of William Goldman’s original novel in lots of the modern entertainment that he enjoys, especially Captain Underpants. If you’ve not read the Underpants books, one of his regular devices is employing a “skip” chapter, where rather than explaining a complex part of the adventure, the writer just explains that to cut a long story short, the characters did whatever they were trying to do. The cartoon’s narrator regularly points out things that will be important later on.

And today, audiences take all that for granted. We’ve been primed by everything that’s followed in the wake of that era of postmodern literature (I’m reminded in particular of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, published four years before Bride), but it took another thirteen years before a studio was willing to sink several million dollars into making a movie of this that would be true to William Goldman’s winking-at-the-audience novel. And while the interruptions and commentary are really kept to the frame story of Peter Falk reading the book to his allegedly sick grandson, the movie adds a heck of a lot that the book couldn’t do that toys with audience’s expectations.

For starters, there’s my absolute favorite swordfight between Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin. That could have gone on another hour and I wouldn’t have been bored. There’s the risky humor of turning Miracle Max into a stereotype greedy Jew, which would be pretty cringeworthy today if Billy Crystal wasn’t playing him. There’s the great gag of the fellow who cleans the torture chamber rasping in a hideous gargle that our hero is in the Pit of Despair before clearing his throat and speaking normally, which seems to have come straight from Monty Python. And certainly nobody, anywhere, was expecting Peter Cook to open his mouth and yell “MAWWIAGE,” except for everybody, everywhere, who knew to sit up straight when Peter Cook shows up. So there, movies can give you things that books can’t.

If movie audiences were just about ready in 1987 for the postmodern fairy tale that they might not have been in 1973, it’s expected by pretty much everything in 2020. So our kid knew just what was going on, jumped right in, sympathizing with the grandson that he’s having to suffer through a story with kissy stuff and waiting to get to something exciting. He loved everything about this, from the now-classic lines to the rude insults, and of course the fighting. He had the biggest laugh when Patinkin’s character finally, after two decades, gets to look in the eyes of the man he’s been tracking and give his immortal line at last, only to have the guy immediately turn and flee.

But, if I may be allowed a moment to brag, I think that I got the best laugh of the morning. I can boast that I had him collapsed in laughter and begging for an encore. I told him that story linked to in the first paragraph, about how Wallace Shawn, in a parallel world, might have been given the opportunity to play Mr. Mxyzptlk on Lois & Clark. I built up to it well and reminded him of the wine scene between Shawn and Cary Elwes. In what I might humbly claim to be a passable parody of Vizzini, I bellowed “You fool, Man of Steel! Do you seriously think you could possibly trick me into saying Kltpzyxm?!” I didn’t even get as far as saying that would be inconceivable before the kid was doubled over, roaring, and begging me to do it again. No autographs, please…

The Six Million Dollar Man 3.17 – The Secret of Bigfoot (part two)

Ha! Well, I wouldn’t have mentioned the neat rotating ice wall from the Universal Studios tour in the previous entry had I remembered this amazing shot, just beautifully photographed, of Andre the Giant carrying Lee Majors through it like a little toy. If you want to make a collage of iconic seventies images, you’d probably want to have this one.

Steve agrees to have his memories of the aliens wiped and Bigfoot returns him home after a somewhat less exciting second part to the story. It’s much more about the strange culture of the aliens than the weird mystery of Bigfoot, who spends the first half of this installment dormant and deactivated. Stefanie Powers has the “show me more of this Earth thing you call kissing” role, and Severn Darden is the leader of the colony, and there’s another alien with allergies, and the rest of them don’t really matter.

I was surprised to learn that this wasn’t actually our son’s favorite Six Million Dollar Man adventure. He clarified that he really, really liked this story, but he says his absolute favorite was “that movie about his first mission, with the missile silo.” Color me surprised, not just because I thought this was much more fun than “Wine, Women and War,” but because he enjoyed the first episode with Jaime so much and was sure he’d go for that one.

Speaking of Jaime, we’ll check in on her again this weekend.

The Six Million Dollar Man 3.16 – The Secret of Bigfoot (part one)

Forty years later, and “The Secret of Bigfoot” hasn’t lost a lick of its amazing power to thrill six year-olds. In 1976, this took the bionic shows from something that most elementary school kids had at least heard of to something that everybody talked about. In part, that’s because while Bigfoot has always been popular, the beast was never as popular as it was in the seventies. There were comic books, news stories, hokey “documentaries,” B-movies, and toys just like there are today, but with an added buzz that had every kid in America wondering and wishing.

Our son watched Andre the Giant stomping around the California woods in that costume with more energy and nervousness than we may have ever seen, leaving the poor kid babbling like a brook he was so wild about this. He watched those early scenes with just the shadowy form creeping around and attacking the military base camp at night with his eyes wide and making the same complaint that every kid in 1976 must have made: “Oh, I wish they’d show him clearly!” When Bigfoot has the mid-episode brawl with Steve Austin, culminating in the bizarre revelation that he’s a nine-foot tall alien cyborg, he was half-terrified and half-thrilled.

About the brawl: Steve Austin never actually punches anybody in this show, because Universal and ABC were very mindful of showing easily-copied violence in an era where the children’s television censors were watching everything while suffering such awful indigestion. But Steve just slugs Bigfoot right in the stomach and the beast does not flinch at all. I don’t know whether that was Hollywood magic, either. Can you imagine punching Andre the Giant in the stomach and expecting him to flinch?

About the aliens: Stefanie Powers and Severn Darden are among their number, and the entrance to their underground base is the revolving ice tunnel from the Universal Studios train tour with a bunch of blankets thrown over the tracks. It looks terrific, apart from those blankets! Lindsay Wagner has a brief, uncredited cameo as Jaime Sommers, where she phones Oscar as if to say “Hey, don’t forget to watch my show Wednesday night!”

Well, we giggle, because we’re old and jaded and this is, at the end of the day, a silly kid’s show, but man alive, for fifty minutes, it’s the greatest kid’s show ever made. Or, as our son put it, “We watch part two tomorrow night, right?!” God, I hope so. They talked about earthquakes and volcanic vents and an underground nuclear bomb. Part two might even be better than part one.