How did we learn about semi-obscure movies in the eighties? I was sixteen and a friend worked at the movie theater and told me about The Princess Bride – he said it was a kid’s movie but thought I might like it.
I loved it.
I loved Westley. He was cute, sure, but it wasn’t his looks that appealed. It was the way he never took himself too seriously. It was that glint of amusement in his eyes at Buttercup’s serious naiveté. And the way he said I love you through the words “As you wish.”
But then, really, it wasn’t Cary Elwes that I loved, it was Westley. But Westley is only a creation of William Goldman. William Goldman wrote the words “as you wish,” so maybe it is William Goldman that I loved.
My mother had a tradition of giving us a bag of 50 pencils engraved with our names as a Christmas stocking stuffer. But one year, she thought it might be fun to let us pick the name of a movie star instead. (Maybe we thought it would be funny to pretend we were scribbling with a pencil that belonged to someone famous? It sounds really odd now.) Whose name did I pick, for the Christmas of ’87, to adorn my pencils? Not William Goldman, an old, old man even back then! And not Westley – he wasn’t a movie star. I picked Cary Elwes, of course.
In the eighties, when you loved an actor, there were not many ways to find out more about them. There were a fan magazines, like Teen Beat, but I did not read those magazines. My only recourse was the huge movie book that they had at Blockbuster. It listed every movie ever made, indexed by the names of the people involved (actors, directors, producers.) It was the prelude to IMDB, and I used it to see what other movies Cary Elwes appeared in.
And that is how I discovered Lady Jane. I fell in love all over again with Cary Elwes as Guilford Dudley. I loved the way he starts as self-absorbed and ends as self-sacrificing. I loved how he made a decision and stuck to it, even when it meant his death. And in this case, it is not the real Guilford Dudley that I loved, but Cary Elwes’ portrayal of the historic figure. I would not learn anything about the real Dudley until my first trip to London in 1992, and then only what a visit to the Tower of London could offer. I placed my hand on the spot where his hand (supposedly) carved the name, Jane.
In 1993, my boyfriend and I saw Men in Tights. He went for the humor of Mel Brooks (I’m too literal-minded and puritanical to find Brooks funny) and I went for Cary Elwes. It was ok. I liked the singing and dancing bit. But by far the best moment in that movie is when Prince John confronts Robin Hood, saying:
Prince John: And why should the people listen to you?
Robin Hood: Because, unlike some other Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English accent.
… making fun of the horrific Kevin Costner movie, Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves from two years earlier. But that movie, as bad as it was, had one of the best, most quotable lines I’ve ever heard:
[the Sheriff has said he’ll cut out Robin Hood’s heart with a spoon]
Guy of Gisborne: Why a spoon, cousin? Why not an axe?
Sheriff of Nottingham: Because it’s DULL, you twit. It’ll hurt more.
Brilliant, even despite the anachronistic use of the word twit, which annoyed the hell out of my father because he loved to use that word and the movie’s overuse ruined it for him. I realize now (after searching IMDB) that I often misquote those lines. I like to say, “Why a spoon, Cousin? … Because it will hurt more, you twit!” Doesn’t it just flow better that way?
The only other movie I remember watching because Cary Elwes was in it was Glory, where he played Major Cabot Forbes. He had some good lines there too…
Major Forbes: Why do you treat the men this way, Robert?
Colonel Robert G. Shaw: How should I treat them?
Major Forbes: …Like men?
But while I walked into that movie thinking of Cary Elwes, I walked out thinking of Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington. And of the movie soundtrack. I bought it that day. I’m listening to it now.
Cary Elwes was my first love, but only for a little while… I’m fickle, and he was in Saw. Yuck.
But I still have those pencils engraved with his name.