Are you institutionalized when it comes to loving these prison guys? Enjoy these Shawshank Redemption fun facts in celebration of the film’s 20th anniversary.
Nineteen ninety-four was a time of runaway white Ford Broncos, physically assaulted figure skaters, and bad shit going on in Rwanda, or something. But most importantly, this year-of-years established Zihuatanejo as THE vacation destination for wrongly accused bankers who go on the lam after exposing money-laundering schemes conducted by the very prison they just broke out of.
Normally we’d preface that with “spoiler alert” but, frankly, if you haven’t seen The Shawshank Redemption by now, than you’re already beyond help. The Warner Bros. classic, based on a Stephen King short story, was adapted into a script by first-time director Frank Darabont, and starred Tim Robbins as the aforementioned bad-luck accountant, Morgan Freeman as a black man named Red, and Bob Gunton as one seriously “obtuse” warden. While the film’s initial box office was disappointing, it went on to find huge success in video rentals and ad nauseum TNT broadcasts. In this, the 20th anniversary of the greatest guy flick to ever feature so few women, it’s time to find out just how well-versed you are on all things Andy…
1) In the book, Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding was a ginger-haired, middle-aged Mick. Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood and Paul Newman were all considered for the role that went to Morgan Freeman. Darabont alluded to the unusual casting choice by having Red jokingly reply to Andy’s inquiry about his nickname with the line, “Maybe it’s because I’m Irish.” Happily, they opted to not follow the quote with audio of a studio audience laughing.
2) Steven Spielberg praised Shawshank by telling Darabont that the film was a "a chewing-gum movie—if you step on it, it sticks to your shoe.” (It’s crap like that, that makes us sometimes feel like Steve’s massively overrated.)
3) The film was adapted from the Stephen King short story Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption. The compilation also brought the Nazi-riffic Apt Pupil and leach-tastic The Body (aka Stand By Me) to the silver screen. Rob Reiner famously directed the latter while trying and failing to do the same with Shawshank.
The role of Tommy Williams—which was played by Gil Bellows of, uh… Gil Bellows fame— was originally intended for Brad Pitt.
4) Two women had speaking roles in the film: One chick complains about Brook’s skills as a grocery clerk, and another dame assists Andy at a bank.
5) The book mentions that Andy smuggled $100 into Shawshank via his, yet to be tapped, rectum; which is how he pays Red the $10 for the rock hammer.
6) The film’s title was released in Israel as Walls Of Hope. Mostly because Oye, This Cell Is Drafty had already been used for Escape From Alcatraz, years before.
7) Stroh’s was the brand of beer Red and the gang drank on the roof during the day Andy cleverly got them all off work duty—which proves the old adage “prison guards are cheap.”
8) Tom Hanks turned down the role of Andy Dufresne because he’d already committed to Forrest Gump—proving, yet again, that he’s less a “national treasure” and more “Hollywood’s biggest monster.”
9) Although set in Maine, (mostly because Stephen King is unaware that any other state exists) the prison that doubled for Shawshank is in Mansfield, Ohio. The state reformatory was abandoned, and scheduled for demolition once the film was finished. Happily it was successfully saved and became a tourist attraction that holds the uprooted oak tree where Andy buried his letter to Red, as well as his escape tunnel. As for where Andy’s unyielding belief in the human spirit now resides? That’s inside all of us, friend.
11) Darabont credited multiple viewings of Goodfellas as inspiration for using narration to illustrate the passage of time.
12) The mugshot of a young Red, attached to his parole papers, was actually a photo of Morgan Freeman’s son Alfonso.
13) The role of Tommy Williams—which was played by Gil Bellows of, uh… Gil Bellows fame— was originally intended for Brad Pitt.
14) The song Andy plays through the prison’s loudspeakers is titled “Canzonetta sull’aria.” It was composed by Mozart and, we assume, hated by Salieri.
15) The American Humane Association insisted that the maggots Brooks fed to his beloved crow had to have died of natural causes. Even more unbelievable than that? The production complied!
16) In Finland, the movie was called Rita Hayworth—The Key To Escape. Way to throw a spoiler within the damn title, Finland!
17) According to Red, Andy slogged through this much sewage before escaping: “Five hundred yards…the length of five football fields…just shy of half a mile.” And yet, 500 yards is not even a third of a mile, fans-of-math.
18) In the book, Red’s life term is not because of a botched robbery-turned-fatal-shooting, but for murdering his wife by disabling her brakes, which accidentally killed a neighbor and child, as well.
19) Red’s cell number and the cursed hotel room in The Shining are both 237.
20) The Marlboros that Warden Norton offers a doomed Tommy were historically inaccurate because they had a surgeon general’s warning on them, which didn’t appear until the 1970s. Truly, movie bloopers are the opposite of “flavor country.”