This ‘Princess Bride’ Set Accident Sent Cary Elwes to the Hospital

Movies


The Big Picture

  • Actor Cary Elwes broke his toe on the set of The Princess Bride while joyriding on an all-terrain vehicle.
  • Elwes feared he would be replaced, but director Rob Reiner reassured him that he was the only person who could play Westley.
  • The injury impacted the film as Elwes had to film scenes with a broken toe, resulting in visible limping and limited training for fight scenes.


Sets can be dangerous, with numerous stories of on-set accidents circulating and more always seeming to be revealed through interviews. The most memorable movies are not completed without some issues. Even the now iconic film, The Princess Bride, had problems. Based on the novel by William Goldman, the 1987 adventure film proudly features pirates, giants, fencing, revenge, torture, and romance as Westley (Cary Elwes), a simple farmboy-turned-pirate attempts to rescue his love, Buttercup (Robin Wright), from her impending marriage to Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon). Any film that relies so heavily on action is bound to cause an injury or two, and The Princess Bride is no different. Yet, in the case of Cary Elwes’ hospital visit, it had nothing to do with the content of the film, but the injury nearly changed The Princess Bride entirely.

Elwes has discussed the incident thoroughly in the years since, even writing about it in his book, “As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of ‘The Princess Bride.'” When an accident severely broke Elwes’ toe, the actor feared it would prevent him from playing the character, as since filming had just begun, he could have been replaced. Fortunately, the film didn’t lose its Westley, but the injury definitely left its mark. Throughout his escape from the fire swamp, Elwes can be seen limping because of his broken toe. The healing process continued to impact the film as it limited Elwes’ training, leaving the actor claiming that his footwork in his fight scenes was only mediocre. Even so, Elwes made the perfect Westley, so fortunately, he wasn’t replaced.

The Princess Bride

A bedridden boy’s grandfather reads him the story of a farmboy-turned-pirate who encounters numerous obstacles, enemies and allies in his quest to be reunited with his true love.

Release Date
October 9, 1987

Rating
PG

Runtime
98 minutes

Writers
William Goldman

Studio
Act III Communications


How Was Cary Elwes Injured During ‘The Princess Bride’?

Andre the Giant, Wallace Shawn, and Mandy Patinkin looking down into camera in 'The Princess Bride'
Image via 20th Century Fox

Elwes’ character finds himself in many dangerous situations, climbing the Cliffs of Insanity, fighting against Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), journeying through the Fire Swamp, and even hooked up to a torture device. But Elwes’ injury wasn’t during one of his many fight scenes. Instead, it occurred between scenes. Elwes recalled that André the Giant, who plays Fezzik, traveled to locations in an all-terrain vehicle because he was simply too big to get to the more remote spots otherwise. André used a similar vehicle at home and was well-versed in running it. Elwes said, “And he would tear across the countryside on this thing, ruining takes and everything. Just being a giant and having fun.”

Yet André the Giant didn’t want to be the only one playing with what he dubbed a “great toy” and began offering Elwes a turn, even taunting Elwes and declaring him unworthy of the vehicle. As they waited to shoot the scene where Buttercup pushes Westley down the hill before discovering his true identity, Elwes gave in, agreeing to take a joyride on the all-terrain vehicle. Looking back, Elwes admits he had no business on the vehicle as he didn’t have any experience with it. Driving over a rock and shifting gears, Elwes’ big toe got stuck between the pedal and the rock, breaking it. But it was more than a simple break. Elwes described how the toe snapped, making a clean break and pointing in the opposite direction than it was meant to.

How Was Cary Elwes’ Injury During ‘The Princess Bride’ Handled?

Cary Elwes as Westley in The Princess Bride
Image via 20th Century Fox

Of course, Elwes first saw the medic, but the worried reaction caused him to panic, believing he would be fired. With only a week of shooting completed, they were far enough in to make recasting impossible, and Elwes’ role is action-heavy. Meant to be the greatest fencer in the world and the menacing Dread Pirate Roberts, Elwes couldn’t be hopping about. So, he attempted to conceal it, planning to handle the pain and get it healed later. Though he admits it was a bad idea, Elwes claims he was mostly scared of losing the part. But the event didn’t stay a secret. When the film’s director, Rob Reiner, discovered what happened, he was upset that Elwes hid it. After hearing Elwes’ fears, Reiner put them to rest, saying Elwes was the only person who could be Westley. And time has proven that he was right.

But injured or not, the show had to go on. Elwes went to the hospital for his toe after finishing the scene to keep the production on track. While Elwes was just relieved to keep his part, André the Giant felt guilty for his teasing that led Elwes to get in the vehicle. Yet Elwes takes full blame, even years later, insisting that it was a bad idea for him to attempt it when he had no idea how it worked. While Elwes’ actions were inadvisable, they didn’t have the consequences he feared.

How Was ‘The Princess Bride’ Impacted By Cary Elwes’ Injury?

Though the broken toe didn’t cause a permanent change to the Westley we know and love, it impacted the film. Elwes continued filming right after the injury, completing the scene with his left big toe broken. He claims to have told Reiner ahead of time that, while he could walk, running would be “an interesting interpretive dance.” But that doesn’t change what the scene required. Watching closely as Westley and Buttercup escape into the Fire Swamp, the fans can see Elwes hopping as he runs, and throughout the scene, his left foot is off the ground as often as possible. However, this is not overly distracting and can only be spotted by those looking for it.

The rest of the schedule was changed to accommodate Elwes’ healing. Specifically, his big fight sequence was moved to the end of the shoot. The healing process impacted Elwes’ training for the rest of the film, as well. Though Westley is meant to be the greatest swordsman in the world, Elwes comments that his footwork was only okay because he had less time to work on it. However, he continued to practice the arm movement, which he maintains is much better because that was all he could practice while injured. Mediocre footwork or not, Elwes made the perfect Westley, so it’s fortunate that his mistake didn’t get him fired as he feared.

Watch The Princess Bride on Disney+ in the U.S.

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