Earlier yesterday evening I was lucky enough to skip out of work at the arcade to catch Fathom Event’s 25th Anniversary special screening of 1994’s The Shawshank Redemption. The event which is part of TCM’s Big Screen Classics series was shown for three nights, with the other evening being the last, although I have to say I’m very interested in their upcoming presentations of the 40th Anniversary of Alien as well as The Godfather Part II. The big draw to see The Shawshank Redemption is not that it happens to be one of my all time favorite films but to actually see it on the big screen for the first time.
For what it might be worth, The Shawshank Redemption made it’s US premiere on September 22nd of ’94 with a limited run the following day – it was on October 14th of that year that the film was widely seen. Or not. When it was first released it apparently had the bad timing to open up against Pulp Fiction in addition to dealing with the box office success of Forrest Gump – it managed to earn only 16 million dollars against a budget of 25 million dollars. Some of the reasons cited for the film being passed over by audiences included the title of the film itself as well as it was an all male cast. It was however saved from being known today as a box office bomb thanks to the being re-released after earning seven Academy Award nominations during February and March of 1995. It earned around an additional 10 million dollars – bringing up it’s box office take to 28.3 million so at the very least it managed to earn… barely… it’s production cost back. However as pointed out by Russell Adams in a 2014 article courtesy of The Wall Street Journal, this re-release served to help remind an audience that might have missed the film in theaters – at the perfect time when The Shawshank Redemption was released on VHS. It was in the home market that The Shawshank Redemption thankfully found its audience and has since become one of the most highly respected films of the 90’s – even if it failed to win a single Academy Award in 1995.
There is an embarrassment of riches with The Shawshank Redemption – beginning with the source material of Frank Darabont’s Oscar nominated screenplay. Which just happens to be Stephen King’s novella entitled Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, originally released back in 1982 in Different Seasons. I didn’t know until last evening’s 25th Anniversary showing though that it was Rob Reiner that had originally wanted to direct the movie. Going so far as to offer a couple of million dollars to Frank Darabont for the rights to the script as well as the opportunity to helm the film. Darabont obviously declined the offer and managed to assemble an incredible cast of actors to bring his adaptation of Kings work to life – Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, Clancy Brown, William Sadler, James Whitmore, Jeffrey DeMunn, Gil Bellows, and Mark Rolston to name a few. Some of these actors would go on to become regulars in films and television projects for Darabont like 1999’s The Green Mile or 2007’s The Mist and The Walking Dead. And while I feel The Shawshank Redemption is truly a remarkable ensemble picture – it is Robbins and Freeman that really sell the movie, the friendship of these two men as we follow them over decades in prison is what makes this one of my favorites. Of course it has to be said that while in some movies narration can hinder the finished product – Freeman’s work here is something quite magnificent and it is very understandable why he was nominated in the Best Actor category. Especially when he was given such lines in the film like this, when Robbin’s character of Andy Dufresne plays a selection from “The Marriage of Figaro” on a record player over the prison’s intercom:
“I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free. “
That is some juicy dialogue there, my friends, and only the tip of the iceberg. The theater last night was pretty packed and I am very glad to say that it seemed like a few of the audience were seeing the film for the first time. I say that judging by the gasps I heard in the auditorium during the film – if you’ve seen the movie for yourself you can probably guess what moments those were. And it might have taken me 25 years but it was such a treat to finally be able to see The Shawshank Redemption on the big screen, where it belongs… for the very first time.