Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
The Shawshank Redemption is the greatest movie ever made, right? That’s what IMDb tells us, via the site’s users and their voting power. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but it’s definitely not the only movie in the world. And it wouldn’t even be what it is had there not been movies made beforehand. In fact, the very title comes from that of a Stephen King novella with a movie-informed extension: “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.” The adaptation removes the Hollywood actress’s name (apparently because people thought it was a biopic) but still prominently features her iconic face.
In the 20 years since the release of Shawshank, other movies have been influenced or informed by Frank Darabont’s Best Picture nominee. You won’t find any of those on this week’s list, though, not Dolores Clairborne with its mention of Shawshank Prison nor multiple Muppets movies with visual allusions nor Toy Story 3 with its admitted inspiration. These dozen titles are all precursors, some of them informing parts of the plot, others informing parts of the making of the movie, and others that are relevant. I don’t think I give away too much that isn’t common knowledge, but just in case you haven’t seen Shawshank, you really should get on that already.
Obviously we have a movie starring Rita Hayworth in here, and it has to be this one because there are clips of it actually in The Shawshank Redemption. It’s the movie the inmates are watching on movie night and of course has that famous introduction of her character with the sexy flip of the hair. It’s almost as significant to sex in cinema as George Macready’s introduction in the film with his phallic, stilettoed cane – aka his “friend.” Another Hayworth movie to consider is You’ll Never Get Rich, as that’s the one she was making when she posed for the photograph that was used for the poster on Andy Dufresne’s (Tim Robbins’s) cell wall.
The Lost Weekend (1945)
In both the novella and Darabont’s original screenplay, this is the film playing when Andy asks Red (Morgan Freeman) for Rita Hayworth. But it wasn’t easily available since it’s another studio’s film, and in the end it made sense for Rita to be on the screen when Andy makes the request. It might have been a little too hot for a prison screening, however. As King wrote, Billy Wilder’s classic about an alcoholic was one of the movies with a “morally uplifting message” they were permitted to see. The scene playing at the moment of the request is when Ray Milland is “having a bad case of the DTs.”
The Seven Year Itch (1955)
Wilder does get some representation in another part of Shawshank the movie, at least. Andy’s second poster is one of Marilyn Monroe in her iconic pose from a moment in The Seven Year Itch, when her dress is blown up as she walks over a subway grating. This was the same as in the novella, as the character specifically had the Hayworth from 1948 to 1955. Then the Monroe from 1955 to 1960. After that, and missing in the movie, is a Jayne Mansfield from 1960 to 1966. Next, on both page and screen was another that was very specific to a movie…
One Million Years B.C. (1966)
After the Monroe poster (in the movie; after Mansfield in the book), Andy receives one of Raquel Welch and her bosoms in a publicity image from this Don Chaffey picture that places cavemen living in the same era as dinosaurs. In the movie, he only has it for a brief time before he makes his escape, while in the book she’s on that wall longer than any of the others, from 1966 to 1972. After that, a young Linda Ronstadt took her place. That poster of “fuzzy britches” was one of the best-selling of its time; also, the actress is supposedly a fan of the movie and loves her role in it.
The Count of Monte Cristo (1934)
While this one is not everyone’s favorite adaptation of the Alexadre Dumas (or “Dumbass”) adventure novel, if the guys in Shawshank had seen any movie version it was probably this very popular feature, the first of an eventual trilogy of films. As Andy tells Heywood (William Sadler) the story has relevance to the inmates (though particularly himself), because it’s about a man wrongfully imprisoned who escapes and gets his revenge on someone. It’s not enough for too many parallels, but the movie – or I guess better yet the book – is worth checking out to appreciate its reference in Shawshank.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Darabont is a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick, and so you can find homage to the latter filmmaker throughout the former’s works. The most glaring in Shawshank is probably in the names of two characters, Heywood and Floyd (Brian Libby), which is a reference to William Sylvester’s character, Heywood Floyd, in Kubrick’s sci-fi masterpiece. It’s one of Darabont’s favorites, as he told The Telegraph in 2002 that he’s “a crazy nut for that film” and has a giant replica of the spaceship in his TV room. He calls it Kubrick’s “crown jewel” and was inspired by its use of classical music with the scene in Shawshank where Andy plays Mozart’s “Canzonetta sull’aria” from The Marriage of Figaro. Another Kubrick reference in the movie is Red’s cell, which is number 237, just like a significant room in The Shining – which of course is also based on a work by Stephen King.
The Great Escape (1963)
Besides being one of the other great prison breakout movies of all time, this World War II POW camp movie from John Sturges also likely inspired part of Andy’s own plan, specifically in how he would take the dirt he’d dug from his tunnel and spread it around the yard from the insides of his pants. That isn’t to say the movie would have inspired the character, because there’s no way The Great Escape would have been shown in a prison. Maybe Andy could have gotten his hands on a copy of the book while acquiring texts for the library, though.
I can’t find anywhere indicating that the Shawshank prison is based on any real correctional facility, but much of the corruption and horrible treatment of prisoners and food quality reminds me of the infamous Arkansas prison system later fictionalized in this 1980 drama starring Robert Redford. I guess there were probably a lot of prisons with similar problems. The movie also features a very early movie role for Freeman, also as a prisoner.
The Massachusetts 54th Colored Infantry (1991)
I’ve seen it claimed that Shawshank is the first movie that Freeman narrated. That might be true as far as dramatic/narrative/fiction movies go, but he was already lending his distinctive voice over nonfiction films for a few years. In 1991, he narrated two documentaries, both on the real story portrayed in the historical drama Glory – or, more respectably, about the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The other, which is now available on DVD and Blu-ray releases of the drama, is called The True Story of Glory Continues. Whereas The Massachusetts 54th Colored Infantry aired on PBS as an episode of The American Experience. Or, really, they could be the same movie, for all I can tell. But here’s the one with the PBS title either way:
Give ’Em Hell, Harry! (1975)
James Whitmore, who plays the old librarian prisoner, Brooks, had a long career filled with some great movies. You should seek out a bunch of them, including Them!, Oklahoma!, Tora! Tora! Tora! and others without exclamation points in their titles. Planet of the Apes and Black Like Me, of course. Also, Battleground, one of his first movies, for which he replaced lookalike Spencer Tracy and managed his first Oscar nomination for the supporting role – he’d win the Golden Globe. That start of his career, interestingly enough, came around the same time as Shawshank’s timeline begins. Also at the time, Harry S. Truman was president. Whitmore went on to play that Commander in Chief in this one-man-show-turned-movie, earning his second Oscar nomination in the lead performance. Below is the stage version.
Early on while adapting the story into the Shawshank screenplay, Darabont started having doubts about its voiceover narration. “I suddenly thought, oh my God, I’m breaking the rule,” he told Creative Screenwriting magazine. “I’m going to be damned to movie hell. I’m telling instead of showing.” Then he turned on the TV and Goodfellas was on. “As if a sign from God,” he was inspired to believe that the voiceover could work, and he brought a VHS tape of the Martin Scorsese film to the set and watched it regularly during the making of Shawshank as a reminder.
The Woman in the Room (1983)
Darabont made his directorial debut with this short film, for which he adapted King’s short story from the book “Night Shift.” He apparently asked the author for permission to make it, and afterward King was impressed enough that he sold the rights to “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” for very cheap to the up-and-coming filmmaker. The story goes that King never even cashed the check. But they became friends, Darabont has also made movies out of King’s “The Green Mile” and “The Mist” and owns the rights to adapt “The Long Walk” and “The Monkey.” Watch The Woman in the Room in full on YouTube starting with part one below.