The Princess Bride (fight 2 of 2)

2) Inigo Montoya vs Tyrone Rugen

(no seriously his name is Tyrone)

The Fighters:

  • Inigo Montoya, the plucky Spaniard we met earlier. Still played by Mandy Patinkin.
  • Count Tyrone Rugen, aka The Six-Fingered Man. He murdered Inigo’s father many years ago and currently is the right-hand (ahem) man of Prince Humperdinck, the hilariously-named overall villain of the movie. Played by Christopher Guest.
  • Four or five guards. They were just doing their job but oh well. Played by who cares.

The Setup: Inigo, along with Fezzik and the mostly-paralyzed Westley, are in the process of stormin’ the castle (which is fun), when Inigo finds the target of his lifelong quest for revenge: Count Rugen, the prince’s sadistic lieutenant, enforcer and head torturer.

Inigo is a great secondary hero– much comedy is had at his expense, yet he is still believably dangerous, even after notably losing the film’s early duel— and Rugen is an equally great villain. As the Dragon to Humperdinck’s main bad guy, Rugen is an interest contrast to his boss. Whereas the prince is a loud, preening fop, Rugen is all understated menace and intelligent sadism. He’s a coiled snake, clearly deadly without having to make a fuss. This is a remarkable performance from Guest, who has made his bones as a comic actor; at this point he had already starred in and co-wrote This Is Spinal Tap with Reiner, and would go on to establish his own brand (and extended cast of players) of improvisational mockumentaries such as Waiting For Guffman and Best In Show. Often, comedians can make startlingly effective movie villains & creeps: it seems counterintuitive, but under the right circumstances, their fearless energy and shameless desire for attention can be channeled in some really dark ways.

The Fight: On spying the trio, Rugen immediately sends his guards to dispatch them, and Inigo makes quick work of them. Though he’s effectively surrounded and fighting alone (Fezzik is busy holding a ragdoll Westley upright), he takes them all down in what looks like one single, smooth motion. Graceful, yet deadly. This isn’t the Inigo whose job forced him into what was essentially an exhibition fight against a guy he liked, this is the Inigo out for blood. He is not kidding around. In fact, immediately after slicing down all the guards, he basically says as much, in the form of:

Patinkin nails it. The line is fantastic in concept and execution. All set up with simplistic brilliance: earlier in the film, Inigo told Westley he would say this line when he found the Six-Fingered Man, who he would soon find out is in the castle. So we know he’s going to say it, the movie knows that we know, and we know we’re supposed to know. For how clearly & deliberately it’s all been spelled out, it almost shouldn’t work, but it does.

Rugen pauses, contemplates… and runs the crap away. A sensible, if cowardly option. And a funny defusing of the epic moment we’ve just witnessed, very much in keeping with the film’s winking tone.

Inigo pursues, but Rugen quickly gets behind a door, leaving Inigo to frantically and fruitlessly bash his shoulder against it. His desperation to catch his prey leads to several humorously high-pitched calls for Fezzik’s assistance, but Fezzik is slow in getting there as he has to find a place to safely leave Westley first. Ultimately, he props the Man In Black against a suit of armor. This bit of comic business also serves the dual purpose of separating both secondary heroes from Westley, so he can stumble off quietly to his true love; once Fezzik gets back he will find Westley gone, setting up his surprise entrance in Buttercup’s bedroom.

Inigo chases Rugen some more, but unfortunately the villain has taken the opportunity to remove a dagger from his boot, which he hurls into the Spaniard’s gut with deadly accuracy. Inigo slumps against the wall, apparently defeated and dying. All his preparation in the art of fencing has not kept him from being outsmarted by a simple, dishonorable trick. Rather than revel in his victory, Rugen merely observes quietly. His highly academic brand of sociopathy finds Inigo’s sudden failure after years of dedication to be genuinely intriguing. It’s unusual and quite creepy.

Fortunately, Inigo is not down for the count (ahem), though some cross-cutting to the various other elements of climax in the film leave you in suspense for a few minutes. Inigo surges back to life a bit at a time, despite suffering more minor wounds, and continues to declare his famous oath as he battles Rugen with increasing strength. The declaration gets louder with every repetition, until he’s finally shouting.

For the only real time in the whole film, Rugen is utterly unnerved. He can’t understand why he’s unable to stop this bleeding bull– the master tormenter has finally found someone he cannot break. Inigo wins this fight by sheer force of will, beating Rugen not through pure skill but because he simply wants it more. Notably, the music here positively soars, chiming in with old-fashioned flourish when Inigo finally beats back Rugen toward the end of the scene.

The humiliation of the cornered rat is brief but satisfying: receiving the same facial slashes Rugen himself dealt to Inigo twenty years ago, the villain is forced to grovel just before Inigo runs him through, reminding him one final time what he took from the Spaniard.

Again, this all just works. It stands in contrast to the other major sword fight in the film, being less about flashy showmanship and more about single-minded fury. Having Inigo effortlessly take out a handful of chumps beforehand gets the viewer’s mouth watering, and it also reminds us that even though Inigo Montoya is the funny-talking guy who has lost the only fight we’ve seen him in, he’s still one of the world’s deadliest swordsmen.

But in keeping with the winking meta-nature of the whole movie, our expectation for a grand clash between hero & villain is subverted: Inigo’s initial wound keeps the choreography from getting as complex as what we saw earlier, and he presses on to the end mostly through ornery determination. Elsewhere in the climax, the main hero Westley is still barely alive, so he has to bluff the able-bodied Humperdinck into surrendering while he himself can barely stand; just as Inigo wins through his vengeance-driven willpower, Westley wins through his superior brain.

It is not as purely entertaining as the earlier fight, though holding it entirely up to that standard would be using a mean curve indeed. I go back & forth on whether or not cutting away from this action at a crucial juncture is necessary or aggravating or both, and the extended bit where Inigo keeps trying to bash the door down can be tedious. But again, very slight knocks.

Grade: A

Coming Soon: Perhaps not as soon as I’d like. Going on vacation a bit this weekend and straight back into work for a while after that, not sure if I’ll be able to get in the required studying & writing time before then. When I do, we’ll give swordplay in general (and Bob Anderson in particular) a break, switching things up a bit.

Pictured: switching things up a bit

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