Andy Dufresne is an innocent man. Not that that matters in the opening moments of The Shawshank Redemption, in which Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is sent to jail for the murder of his wife and her lover. It’s a rough opener for what has become known as perhaps the greatest film made in the last thirty years. Rebuff that assertion all you want, but the film has been at the top of IMDb’s Top Rated 250 Films for more than ten years, edging out films like The Godfather, Schindler’s List, and The Dark Knight for the coveted top spot. The story of Dufresne’s ascension from the depths is one of the most uplifting stories of friendship and self-reliance ever told. Here, for your consideration, are a few things you may not know about Frank Darabont’s classic.
1. Stephen King Wrote the Novella
In his brilliantly written compendium of short work that includes, among others, the novella on which Stand By Me was based, King included “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” the story that would become Frank Darabont’s film. In true King fashion, the novella is intensely graphic and incredibly beautiful.
2. Tim Robbins Was Choice Four
In the lead role of Andy Dufresne was Tim Robbins, a lanky man who managed Dufresne’s care-free stroll with remarkable ease. Before he took the part, it was offered to Kevin Costner (who turned it down to make Waterworld), Tom Hanks (who chose to star in Forrest Gump), and Brad Pitt (who went off to do Interview with the Vampire).
3. Morgan Freeman Was Cast Really Against Type
In the novella, “Red” is played by an aging Irishman. As a result, the likes of Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, and Paul Newman were all considered before Darabont ultimately chose Freeman thanks to the actor’s natural ease with the role. The director literally couldn’t picture anyone else playing the part.
4. Hadley Turned Down On-the-Job Training
The chief screw at Shawshank prison, Byron Hadley, is played to perfection by character actor Clancy Brown. When he got the part, Brown was offered the opportunity to work alongside prison guards in order to inform his performance. Brown turned the chance down, saying that he was concerned the experience would provide him with too much inspiration.
5. Whitmore the Character Actor
One of the film’s most haunting performances is given by veteran actor James Whitmore as the prison’s elderly librarian, Brooks Hatlen. Upon his release from prison, Brooks commits suicide because he’s incapable of handling life in the outside world. Darabont chose to cast Whitmore in the role because of his fondness for the actor, who’d appeared in a string of memorable roles for more than 50 years running.
6. King and Darabont
Frank Darabont and Stephen King actually had a relationship for over a decade before the release of The Shawshank Redemption. Darabont had adapted one of King’s short stories, “The Woman in the Room”, for a student project and the two struck up a friendship. As a result of the friendship, King sold Darabont the rights to Shawshank for only a dollar.
7. Rob Reiner Wanted To Do the Film
Before Darabont officially decided to direct the film himself, Rob Reiner — who’d previously garnered acclaim after adapting King’s short story, “The Body” into Stand By Me — pitched Darabont on his take on the film. He wanted Tom Cruise to star alongside Harrison Ford. Darabont seriously considered this take, but ultimately decided to move in a different direction.
8. It Wasn’t Shot in Maine
Though The Shawshank Redemption is set in Maine (just like the vast majority of King’s work), a large portion of the filming actually took place in Ohio, at the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield. Shots of the admittance room and the warden’s office, for example, were filmed in the building, which was also used as the exterior of the building. Bits of Air Force One were also shot here.
9. It Was a Total Flop
On the strength of a reported $25 million budget, The Shawshank Redemption released to a miserable opening weekend. It actually only took in $16 million during its initial theatrical run, and it only took in about $30 million more when it was given several Oscar nominations. The film’s popularity didn’t take hold until years later, in fact, when it was played on cable TV.
10. Rocking the Academy Awards
In 1994, the obligatory small film that was getting tons of accolades even though you’d never seen it was The Shawshank Redemption. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor for Freeman, Best Adapted Screenplay, and several more. It might have even won a couple of those, too, if 1994 hadn’t also been the year of Forrest Gump (and Pulp Fiction, for the record.)
11. No Ladies Allowed
Women have exactly two speaking roles in The Shawshank Redemption. After he’s released from prison and gets a job as a bagger at a grocery store, a woman critiques Brooks’ ability to do his job. Then, when Andy breaks out of prison, he’s waited on by a woman at the bank. That’s the only time women actually speak in the film.
12. The Animal Lovers
At one point in the film, Brooks Hatlen feeds his pet crow a few maggots that are plucked from his dinner tray. When the American Humane Society found out what was to take place, they insist that the production only use maggots that had died of natural causes. In a more shocking turn of events, Darabont actually agreed to this crazy request.
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