The Princess Bride Had An On-Set Accident That Put Cary Elwes In The Hospital

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"The Princess Bride" is an endlessly quotable classic, a twist on the typical fairy tale that truly has everything. Released in 1987, the film was directed by Rob Reiner and written by William Goldman (based on his 1973 book of the same name). This timeless swashbuckling adventure will make you laugh, cry, and swoon. Speaking of that last part, the romance between Westley (Cary Elwes) and Buttercup (Robin Wright), is certainly one for the ages, due in no small part to the undeniable chemistry between these actors.

In case you've been living in an isolation tank, "The Princess Bride" tells a story within a story, focusing on the romance between Buttercup and her farmhand-turned pirate, Westley. Elwes' Westley was one of my first childhood crushes. I remember being overcome with emotion watching him fighting his way through the fire swamp, taking on Rodents of Unusual Size — nightmare fodder for me during those years — and facing off against the villainous Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon). His trademark phrase, "As you wish," is burned into my brain for life, whether he's saying it while fetching a pitcher or rolling down a hill.

The thing is, Elwes managed to portray one of cinema's most dashing heroes while dealing with more than one setback. An injury during production not only sent him to the hospital, but the scene in which he received it wound up in the final cut of the movie. So what on-set accident landed Cary Elwes in the emergency room?

That knockout looks real for a reason

Westley sustained a ton of injuries throughout "The Princess Bride," but Cary Elwes reveals in his 2014 book, "As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride" (via Looper), that one of these wasn't fictional. Once Westley and Buttercup are surrounded after navigating the fire swamp, the latter agrees to go back to the castle with Prince Humperdinck, provided that the former is returned to his ship. Westley, however, sees through this ruse and knows the evil Count Rugen (Christopher Guest) is under strict instructions from the prince to make sure he never makes it out of there alive. What most viewers don't realize is that when Rugen knocks our hero out to capture him, Elwes' reaction is quite real.

Apparently, Guest was being very gentle with Elwes while faking Rugen's attempts to knock out Westley with a very real metal sword. The take wasn't working because Elwes couldn't time his reaction properly, so the actor asked Guest to simply tap him with the sword in the hopes this would make his response look more real. Well, Guest did indeed tap him on the head, but a bit harder than he'd intended, resulting in the actor actually losing consciousness. Elwes explained:

"Chris [Guest] swung the heavy sword down toward my head. However, as fate would have it, it landed just a touch harder than either of us anticipated. And that, folks, was the last thing I remember from that day's shoot. In the script Bill's [Goldman, who wrote both novel and screenplay] stage directions from the end of this scene state: 'The screen goes black. In the darkness, frightening sounds.' Which is precisely what happened."

The actor continued:

"I woke up in the emergency room, still in costume, to the frightening sound of stitches being sewn into my skull ... and of course Chris felt absolutely terrible about the whole thing, even though I kept telling him it wasn't his fault. It was my dumb idea. But you know what? That particular take was the one that ended up in the film. So when you see Westley fall to the ground and pass out, that's not acting. That's an overzealous actor actually losing consciousness."

It's wild to think that Westley passing out onscreen was Elwes losing consciousness in real life before being taken to the hospital, but it's understandable that the shot made its way into "The Princess Bride." That take certainly would've looked the most realistic!

Elwes' worst moment

Believe it or not, the sword incident was actually Cary Elwes' second on-set injury while filming "The Princess Bride." Elwes discusses the incident in his book, but also described it to Chicago Tribune as "the most cringeworthy moment of my life." André the Giant's (who played Fezzik in the film) main mode of transportation on set was an all-terrain vehicle, and apparently he was fond of "zooming around" on it, even when the cameras were rolling. He also teased Elwes about the ATV, telling the actor he wasn't "worthy of it." Naturally, Elwes rose to the challenge, though it didn't work out great for him. The actor explained:

"And so I got on this thing — and I'd never been on one before and I had no business being on it — and I was going uphill and I went over a rock. And as I was going to shift gears, my big toe got caught between the gear pedal and the rock and bent the toe all the way backwards and snapped it. Snapped it immediately. Broke it clean. Bent it all the way backwards so that it was pointed in the other direction. Every pore in my body opened, it was incredible. Just flop sweat coming out of every pore."

When Elwes broke his toe, they were only about a week into shooting and he was certain he'd be fired. After all, there is quite a bit of action involved in playing Westley, aka, the Dread Pirate Roberts, not to mention the fact that he needs to be unparalleled with a sword. Elwes was so terrified of losing his job, he initially neglected to tell director Rob Reiner about his injury. When Reiner did find out, though, his reaction wasn't what the actor had expected. Elwes said:

"When Rob found out, he was upset that I hadn't told him. I said, 'I was afraid you'd fire me,' and he said something very sweet to me, he said: 'Don't be silly, Cary, I wouldn't fire you — you're the only person who could play Westley.' And that really boosted my spirit. And he said, 'Can you walk?' And I said, 'Yes.' And he said, 'Can you run?' And I said, 'It'll be an interesting interpretive dance.'"

According to Elwes, you can tell in the scene when Westley and Buttercup are running into the fire swamp that he's actually hopping in an effort to keep his left big toe off the ground. However, he didn't go to the hospital until they were done shooting for the day, saying. As Elwes noted, "The show must go on. Don't forget, we were an independent film not a studio movie." The doctor who tended to Elwes' toe was actually the same one who later stitched up his skull after his next on set injury and even teased the actor afterward, saying, "Well, Zorro! You seem to be a little accident prone, don't you?"

A valuable lesson

André the Giant understandably felt guilty, and apparently, even his bodyguard — yes, you read that correctly — had told Elwes the all-terrain vehicle was easy to control. Still, Elwes takes full responsibility for the accident, feeling that he never should've ridden the ATV in the first place, having no idea what he was doing. The actor also learned what he described to Chicago Tribune as "a valuable lesson," which is to always tell the truth. Reiner was more upset that Elwes wasn't honest with him about the broken toe from the start, and the actor was never in any danger of being fired. It sounds like Reiner made the set a comfortable environment to work in and Elwes even credits the film with teaching him to just how fun making movies could truly be. 

Knowing everything Elwes went through on set makes his already iconic performance all the more impressive. I might need a qualified therapist to pinpoint why exactly, but learning this info makes my already substantial crush on Westley even more intense — inconceivable!