So I’ve talked a little about what makes movie swordplay boring… Now it’s time to talk about the good stuff. The best stuff. And where better to start?
Yes, it’s Inigo Montoya vs. the Man in Black. Believe me when I say that this whole fight is pure, unadulterated gold.
It’s Classic Movie Swordplay
Straight out of the old Errol Flynn black ‘n’ whites, in fact. The actors talk as they fight, moving around the arena, and there’s the usual reversals and counter-reversals and whatnot. It’s just so much fun to watch!
Oh man, is it ever. From the start to the end, every beat tells us a little more about the characters. Characterization is so important in every story. In the movie, this is the first time we really see the Man in Black, and the fight establishes all these little facts about him that you probably didn’t even realize you were aware of. He’s merciful, up to a point; knowledgeable; highly skilled and focused; more than capable of deception; and possesses a somewhat dry sense of humor. Beyond all that, this fight establishes that he is a Good Guy, as opposed to Prince Humperdinck, who comes off as a bit of a tit.
The Music is EPIC
I would ask that any filmmaker who wants to see music being used really, really well to watch this fight on repeat for, like, an hour. Listen to how the music is patterned to the fight, and sometimes to the very sword swings. The music tells the audience how they should feel, when it swells and falls, when there is danger and when there is tension. The duel is almost a dance – obviously, because it’s been choreographed – and the dance must have the right music! If you’d like to test this, just watch the video with the sound muted. You’ll notice almost immediately that it loses a huge amount of impact.
Is it realistic? Hell no. It’s movie swordplay. They mostly aim to hit each other’s swords instead of making proper strikes. They spend a lot of time making large, slashing cuts with swords that are ostensibly designed for thrusts. They’re fighting at a measure that’s far too close. And you know what? None of this matters. Mandy Patinkin and Cary Elwes are actually fencing here, for the whole fight, except for the somersaults. They learned to fence, with either hand, just to do this movie – and they were trained by Bob Anderson. THAT Bob Anderson. The guy who basically did every swordfight in a movie that you remember. The guy who taught Errol Flynn to fight.
Honestly, I could just talk about this fight for hours. I could talk about this movie for hours. The Princess Bride is one of the greatest examples of storytelling mastery ever produced by Hollywood. It’s a perfect storm of creativity – every actor knocks it out of the park, for a start. The screenplay was written by William Goldman, the novelist who wrote the original book. It was scored by Mark Knopfler, from Dire Straits. It was directed by Rob Reiner. So many amazing, talented people came together to make it! Some movies become cult hits because of circumstance, but The Princess Bride got there simply because it really, really is just that good.
If you’ve never seen it, I beg you to go get a copy any way you can.