By JAMI GANZ | NEW YORK DAILY NEWS |SEP 08, 2019 | 8:00 AM
“No good thing ever dies” — and that’s why “The Shawshank Redemption” is still a fan fave 25 years after the film’s release.
Tim Robbins’ character Andy Dufresne uttered the line in the prison drama that opened with a limited release on Sept. 23, 1994, to lackluster box office results but remains one of Hollywood’s most enduring films — despite some on-set tensions.
“It was the best script I’ve ever read,” Robbins told the Daily News. “For me, it was a no-brainer.”
Written and directed by Frank Darabont, “Shawshank” is adapted from Stephen King’s novella “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.”
The film centers on Andy, a banker who maintains his innocence despite being convicted for killing his wife and her lover and who’s serving two consecutive life sentences. At Maine’s Shawshank State Penitentiary, Andy both endures and witnesses abuse and corruption, and finds solace in his friendship with fellow lifer and narrator, Ellis “Red” Redding, played by Morgan Freeman.
“I just got the script and I called my agent back and said, ‘Any role. I’ll play anything in here.’ That’s how good it was,” Freeman tells The News.
In King’s novella, Red is described as white and Irish, a factor that was thankfully ignored by producer Liz Glotzer.
When Freeman landed the part, he recalls getting “one of those pumps in your chest because that’s the role.” But he also remembers the set’s “testy moments,” as the actor labels them.
He recalls, for instance, disagreeing with Darabont over the finale wherein (spoiler) Andy and Red reunite on the shores of Zihuatanejo, Mexico, after the former’s prison break and the latter has been granted parole.
“Frank thought I should be blowing that harmonica that Andy gave me. And I refused,” Freeman says, dismissing the idea as “sort of asinine, sort of cliched, sort of unnecessary and overkill” given the lack of a proper setup.
Robbins remembers the long shoots. “Every film has its challenges. This one … did feel like it took a long time,” he said. “In the end, we were all fighting for the best realization of a really amazing script and, as on any film, you dig your heels only when you care.”
Made on a $25 million budget, the film’s opening weekend raked in just $727,327, according to IMDb. Awards season helped some, but “Shawshank” was also passed over for the seven Oscars it was nominated for, including Best Picture — which went to “Forrest Gump.”
“It has little to do with the quality of the film,” Robbins says, instead citing marketing and “what the audience wants at that particular time or … the zeitgeist.”
But “Shawshank” has come farther than most box office flops, topping IMDb’s 250 Top Rated Movies list, just ahead of the first two “Godfather” films — which left Freeman feeling “vindicated.”
“The last time I saw it was, I don’t know, 15 years ago or something like that?” Robbins confessed.
Though the film has been a regular fixture on TNT since 1997, Freeman says he only ever saw the full film at the premiere.
“I know it,” he remarked. Fans know it, too, often reciting to its stars the famous line said by both main characters: “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.”
“That spoke to a lot of people,” Freeman says of the signature line, though he prefers the film’s final lines in which his character says, “I hope to see my friend … I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”
Robbins says he feels “really blessed to have been a part of something that caught lightning in a bottle.”
“It’s a nice thing to have participated in something that is considered by many to be the best movie of all time,” he adds. “That’s a pretty good bucket list item to check off … It’s a fool’s game if you’re in a film like this, to try to live your life trying to outdo that.”