Some films, such as the Oscar-winning 1939 Civil War epic "Gone With the Wind," resonate with audiences on release, but others, such as Frank Capra's 1946 yuletide tale "It's a Wonderful Life," take time to become part of the cultural lexicon..
In that latter category is "The Shawshank
Redemption," which languished at the box office in fall 1994. It became
enormously popular on home video and cable after receiving seven Oscar
nominations, including best film, lead actor for Morgan Freeman and
adapted screenplay for director Frank Darabont.
On Tuesday, the
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is celebrating the 20th
anniversary of the humanistic prison drama, which is No. 1 on IMDB's Top
250 list of films voted on by the website's users.
believes audiences initially stayed away because it was a prison movie
without any action. "It looked to the casual observer like a spoonful of
medicine," he said. "One of those movies that just kind of looks like
it's going to be a difficult chore to sit through."
He felt the
turning point was the Oscar nominations. "Nobody had heard of the movie,
and that year on the Oscar broadcast, they were mentioning this movie
seven times," he said.
The academy's director of programming,
Bernardo Rondeau, believes the film has become a modern-day favorite
because "it balances humor and poignancy."
"It takes a very
hard look at the realities of incarceration, and then sometimes, it
almost has a dreamlike feel to it," he added. "I think it connected to
people, because it feels timeless in a way."
screening Tuesday evening at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater will reunite
Darabont with his stars, Freeman and Tim Robbins.
Stephen King's 1982 novella, "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption,"
the story chronicles 20 years in the lives of two inmates at the brutal
Shawshank State Prison: Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding (Freeman), a convicted
murderer and long-term prisoner there who narrates the film, and Andy
Dufresne (Robbins), a young banker falsely accused of murdering his
wife, who finds a strong ally and friend in Red.
"It was the best script I had ever read," said Robbins.
recalled being sent the script by his agent. "Nobody said what part to
read for," he said. "So I read it and when I called to find out what
part they wanted me to consider, he said Red."
The actor was thrilled because Red was the lead character. "He was the movie," said Freeman. "I said, 'I'll do it.'"
was a true passion project for Darabont, who made his feature
directorial debut with the film. He had previously adapted and directed
the 1983 short film "The Woman in the Room," based on a King short
story. It was an offer Darabont couldn't refuse.
"He had done a
dollar deal with me for 'Woman in the Room,' which was a policy he had
for student or young filmmakers who wanted to make a short movie out of
one of his shorter pieces," said the filmmaker.
Darabont recalled writing a check for a few thousand dollars to option "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption."
the truth is, Stephen never cashed the check," said Darabont, who later
adapted and directed the 1999 Oscar-nominated adaptation of King's "The
"He held onto it and sent it back to me years
later framed," said Darabont. "He signed on the matte of the frame —
something to the effect — 'Just in case you ever need bail money, Love,
Though Red is a middle-aged Irishman in the novella, as
soon as Freeman was suggested for the role, "he became a very good,
obvious choice," said Darabont. "Certainly, he never dawned on me when I
was writing it. But when someone like Morgan is mentioned, you get the
surprise and delight of picturing that actor in the role."
Darabont was drawn to Robbins after rewatching him in the 1990 psychological horror film "Jacob's Ladder."
thought there is something enigmatic and fascinating about this actor,"
recalled Darabont "I thought he and Morgan would have terrifically
interesting chemistry on-screen, and they did."
They also developed a deep bond off-screen.
did feel from the start that Morgan was a person I could hang out
with," said Robbins. "We were on the same page regarding the script."
film was primarily shot at the old Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield,
which had closed in 1990. Darabont noted that the cast and crew
couldn't help but feel "the weight of all of those years of human
suffering and misery" when they entered the prison.
palpable," agreed Robbins. "I walked my son Jack, who was 4 years old,
on the cell block with me and he said, 'Daddy, this place is very sad.'
He could tell."