Okay, time to talk about another all-time great movie swordfight, again from The Princess Bride. I’ve talked already about Inigo Montoya versus the Man in Black, and yes, I love that fight like whoah, but this one… oh man, this one. Inigo’s Crowning Moment of Awesome.
The fight against Count Rugen.
This, my friends, is a perfect combination of storytelling, character, and really stellar acting. Just watch how the swords move. Rugen knows he can’t beat Montoya, so he resorts to dirty tactics and knifes Montoya in the gut, yes, but when Montoya recovers you can see, with every strike, that he is the superior swordsman. You know from the start that he is better than Rugen, and only getting stabbed in the stomach is going to equalize things.
It’s in every hard downward slash, when Montoya knocks Rugen’s sword away. The casual way he walks towards the Count, and the Count backs away. At this point in the movie, we’ve been with Inigo long enough to know what kind of man he is, and with the Count long enough to know that he’s got a core of pure evil. The outcome is never really in doubt – The Princess Bride is a very particular kind of swashbuckling movie, where good always triumphs – but we need to know how it plays out, and Inigo Montoya delivers with the best kind of film magic.
Again, listen to the music, and how it flows with the beats of the sword. Listen to the difference in the voices, how Montoya speaks with the deepest kind of conviction and barely contained rage, and Rugen is little more than a breathy whisper. I can’t help watching this and thinking that Montoya is fighting more than just the Count. This one fight is the culmination of years of pain, and searching, and the need for revenge, to the point where he’s fighting the idea, the image of his father’s killer, and Rugen is just the body that gets in the way of his sword at the end.
And of course, the final line.
The Princess Bride, like I’ve said before, is easily one of the best pieces of filmmaking ever produced by Hollywood, and part of why I love it so much is that its swordplay is so incredibly well-meshed into the plot. Every swing and thrust has a purpose; there is nothing left spare, nothing superfluous. Compare that to the frankly unnecessary idiocy in the Star Wars prequels… Better yet, compare it to the last fight between Anakin and Obi-wan in Revenge of the Sith. Is that a fair comparison? Hell no! But that’s more a measure of how much the Star Wars fight fails on every possible storytelling level. That fight is ten minutes of complete irrelevance, and the Montoya/Rugen fight is barely more than two and a half minutes while being deeply meaningful.
For anyone still in doubt – please, please, just go see The Princess Bride. It’s a classic for a reason.