Wrongly imprisoned for 19 years for the murder of his wife and her lover, Andy Dufresne's struggle in The Shawshank Redemption is probably the most poignant prison story in movie history. Told by the judge, "It chills my blood just to look at you." Dufresne is sentenced to serve two life sentences back to back, one for each of his "victims."
But you know all of that. Shawshank might even be your favorite movie ever. It's currently at the top of iMDB's "Top 250" chart, and everyone who's experienced it and been moved by its depressing lows and soaring highs cites it as a benchmark film in their lives. It's tough to generalize, but it's pretty safe with Shawshank. The movie is just that beloved.
So we know everyone loves Shawshank. Everyone loves Andy, Red, Heywood, and Brooks. We love Andy risking his life to get free beer for his friends on the rooftop. We love when he plays a piece from The Marriage of Figaro over the PA system and the entire yard stops in awed silence. We love Andy's long con and the incredible sequence that explains how the man who once "chilled blood" is finally spiritually vindicated. And, of course, we love that magnificent ending that reunites the film's two best friends and fades away into the Pacific. But did you know that ending almost didn't happen?
We love The Shawshank Redemption and for that reason we watch it and rewatch it over and over (usually on TNT). We know it inside and out, but it's impossible to know it all without being a part of the production. So to celebrate 20 years of rewatching Red and Andy, we present 20 things you might not know about Shawshank, whether it's your favorite film or not.
1. Tom Hanks, Kevin Costner, Tom Cruise, Nicolas Cage, Johnny Depp, and Charlie Sheen were all considered for the part of Andy Dufresne. Hanks turned it down because he was committed to Forrest Gump. Costner was busy filming Waterworld, and has stated he regrets not taking the part.
2. Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Paul Newman, and Robert Redford were all considered for the part of Red. In the original novella, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King, Red is a middle-aged Irishman with graying red hair. But writer/director Frank Darabont always had Morgan Freeman in mind because of his authoritative presence and deep voice.
3. Darabont watched Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas every Sunday while shooting Shawshank and drew inspiration from it regarding voice-over narration and how to depict the passage of time.
5. Rob Reiner loved Darabont's script so much he offered $2.5 million for the rights so he could direct it. Darabont considered Reiner's offer but ultimately decided it was his "chance to do something really great" by directing the movie himself. Reiner wanted Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise to play Red and Andy, respectively.
6. The Shawshank Redemption was the most-rented video of 1995.
7. In Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, Red serves three life sentences for murdering his wife, his neighbor's wife, and his neighbor's son. Red disconnected the brakes on his car in order to kill his wife to collect on an insurance policy. He didn't plan on two other people being in the car.
8. Red says he has no idea what the ladies in The Marriage of Figaro are singing about. But we do. They're composing a letter to the husband of one of them inviting him to an assignation with the other in order to expose his infidelity.
9. The mugshots of a young-looking Morgan Freeman that are attached to his parole papers are actually pictures of Morgan's son, Alfonso. Alfonso also has a cameo in the movie as a convict shouting "Fresh fish! Fresh fish today! We're reeling 'em in!"
10. Among the changes Darabont made to the story from the original novella: There were originally three wardens, and Brooks' story was conveyed in one paragraph.
11. The character of Andy Dufresne has a cameo appearance in Apt Pupil, another Stephen King novella from the Different Seasons collection that includes Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. Andy handled the investments for Dussander, the Nazi in hiding. Dussander is played by Ian McKellan in the film version of Apt Pupil.
12. Red describes Andy's dream as a "shitty pipe dream." During his escape to live that dream, Andy crawls through the sewer pipe of the prison, literally, a "shitty pipe."
13. The prison that played Shawshank, the Ohio State Reformatory, now serves as a museum. Because it was scheduled for demolition at the time of filming, several set pieces remain intact in the prison, including the tunnel Andy crawled out of and the warden's office.
14. Unusually, the voice-over narration was recorded before filming began and was then played on set to dictate the rhythm of each scene. The guide track was recorded in an Iowa recording studio by Morgan Freeman in only 40 minutes, although it was re-recorded.
15. After Andy has escaped, the warden wants them to question Red. When they call to open Red's cell they shout, "Open 237!" This is an important number in movie adaptations of Stephen King's work. It's the famous room number in The Shining, and it's the amount of change ($2.37) the four boys in Stand by Me (which is based on a King novella) collect between them so they can buy supplies.
16. The rock wall where Red's "treasure" is buried was built for the film and stood for many years. It was built by hand by the art department months before filming began. This allowed for the alfalfa grass to grow to make it look weathered. Eventually, the wall was sold on eBay, one rock at a time, by the farmer who owned the land it stood on. The tree at the end of the wall stood until it was struck by lightning in 2011.
17. King sold the film rights for Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption for $5,000. He never cashed the check. Years after Shawshank came out, the author got the check framed and mailed it back to Frank Darabont with a note inscribed: "In case you ever need bail money. Love, Steve."
18. The final scene was filmed on the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, but in the film it's supposed to be the Pacific Ocean.
19. There are only two women with speaking roles in the film: the customer who complains about Brooks' service at the grocery store and the lady who attends to Andy at the bank following his escape.
20. Darabont preferred to end the film with Red searching for Andy. In fact, if he had been allowed to shoot the ending as he wanted, the closing shot would have been Red on the bus heading for the field. Darabont wanted to end on an open, ambiguous note. But Castle Rock insisted on a reunion between the two to please audiences. So instead of showing us a teary reunion, the film observes it from a distance—Darabont's response to Castle Rock's demands.
[Editor's note: The article had originally stated Stand by Me was the name of a King novella. It's actually titled, The Body.]