Princess Bride Gets Put to Use

“See? The cliffs of insanity!” Table Reading of ‘Princess Bride,’ September 13, 2020.



The Princess Bride, you will remember, is about some really bad guys being defeated by true love and by some charming guys who are pretty bad too. (“You seem like a decent fellow. I hate to kill you,” says the mercenary to the pirate who kills all prisoners.)

In a live table read with the reunited cast, on Sunday, and in the Q&A that followed, and in the pitches made by the spokesperson for the political party profiting by the event, it was obvious who the really bad guys were in real life.

The streamed reading was the idea of Pantera Sarah, an LA promoter who worked on the Obama campaign and describes herself as “the cheesiest of Cheeseheads and a PROUD Democratic Socialist!!” A friend of actor Cary Elwes (Westley), she asked him to put together the reading to benefit WisDems, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. Some 100,000 viewers logged in to watch, in return for any donation. Wisconsin, which has 10 electoral votes, is a battleground state in the 2020 Presidential election. In 2016 Donald Trump broke 30 years of Democratic dominance in Wisconsin and carried the state by less than a percentage point.

The reading was opened and closed by Ben Wikler, the Chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, whom moderator Patton Oswalt seemed to refer to as Ben Wexler, the name of a Hollywood producer and writer.

The reading was fun to watch but had its share of lags, unsynched voices, dead mics, pixellated video, and the tops of heads of people reading from texts. That is to say, it perfectly mimicked the Zoom meetings of our time. “All the cast that isn’t dead” made an appearance, said Rob Reiner, the director; this included Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Guest, Chris Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, and Carol Kane. There were stand-ins for cast members who have died since the movie was released in 1987, such as Andre the Giant, Peter Cook, and Peter Falk.

“Everyone is 37 years older than they were then,” Reiner pointed out. “Look how that person looks now—you’ll get to [say] that,” he said.

“None of the dead people will be here,” he repeated.

This raised questions about actor Fred Savage, who played the sick kid in the film, as he was not at the reading, without explanation. Online chatter wondered if he was Republican and therefore dead to Reiner.

“We’re here to basically get Donald Trump out of the White House,” Reiner said.

In the Q&A after the reading, the actors were asked to play the game of naming who, in the current administration, fit the bill as really bad guys Count Rugen and Vizzini. Reiner and cast considered Pence, Barr, Miller, et al, but called it “an embarrassment of riches.”

Someone asked Billy Crystal what his character, Miracle Max, had done to get fired by Prince Humperdinck, since he was so skilled at his job that he could literally raise the dead. Crystal said he wrote a book about things Prince Humperdinck said in meetings and how he did not care about the plague.

Oswalt asked who the strangest person was ever to quote Patinkin’s famous line back to him: “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Patinkin said it was Ted Cruz and made an impassioned speech that “hate must not be it,” and how revenge leaves you empty. He said William Goldman’s screenplay ended with, “As you wish,” which translates in the film as, “I love you,” which was “never more potent than with what is going on right now.”

“Don’t let anyone who can vote not vote,” he pleaded. “It’s a crime against humanity.”

Oswalt, looking uncomfortable, said, “Wow that was deep.”

Wallace Shawn arguably did the best voice acting in the reading, yet looked tired and worn-down. (He is 76 years old, but 98-year old Norman Lear made an appearance and looked great). Oswalt, who tried throughout to be upbeat and snappy, asked Shawn, who is a brilliant moral playwright, how he made his bad-guy character loveable. Shawn sharply corrected him and said Vizzini was not loveable, he was a killer for hire. Shawn said Vizzini was “like the people who work for Trump,” those who laugh a lot while they do bad things “and think it’ll go on forever, and it won’t.”

Wikler, of WisDems, ended the evening with: “This is your moment to be a hero.” The election, he said, “will affect the life of everyone who will ever live.” He pointed to the corner of the screen and said to click the link to donate. In full-screen view there was no link.

As the three-hour live-stream ended, Donald Trump was holding a large indoor rally in Henderson, Nevada, “in open defiance of state regulations and his own administration’s pandemic health guidelines.” Few in the crowd wore masks, and there were chants to lock up Barack Obama. Covid-19 had claimed 194,000 American lives, and California, Oregon, and Washington state were aflame. Trump had not mentioned the fires in almost a month.

“This is the most important election in the history of our country,” Trump told his fans. “I’m what you need.”

“We love you,” the crowd chanted. A woman held up a sign: “MAGA WITH A VENGEANCE.”



Read more by John Griswold here.

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.