I wonder if it’s giving anything away by revealing that this week’s Maine International Film Festival presentation, “The Shawshank Redemption,” was originally called “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”? Probably not. The film is often rated as one of the top most beloved and constantly viewed films of all time.

I’m sure that is why the directors of MIFF decided to include it in this year’s catalogue.

The hero of the piece is one Andy Dufresne (a young and sandy-haired Tim Robbins), a youthful banker in trouble. For those few who haven’t read or seen the film, I’ll cut the details, but our boy is about to enter Maine’s Shawshank State Prison because his unfaithful wife and her lover have wound up dead.

“Every con in this place says he’s innocent,” he’s told. But that’s no consolation to Andy.

Yes, it’s a prison movie. Yes, there is violence, rape, murder and assault; but in all the inherent darkness, there is light, ironic humor and tenderness.

Andy’s first friend is Red, the great Morgan Freeman we’ve all come to know and love as president of the United States, scientist, cold-blooded Western gunman and the voice of God.


But here, his Red is a wise man who is known in prison circles as the “Sears Roebuck” man, who can get anything for you from the outside. Red is revered and, by some, feared for his almost unnerving calm demeanor.

And best of all, there is the sad, humble old librarian, Brooks Hatlen (James Whitmore), an actor you might remember from great films such as “Battleground” and “Shane.”

Whitmore provides one of the saddest, most poignant chapters in the film. After 50 years, when he is finally released from prison, he is stunned and frightened by suddenly being pushed out into a society so different from the one he had left behind.

Brooks goes to work in a grocery store, where he has to learn to bag groceries and take abuse from younger coworkers.

We follow Brooks to his lonely room, where a bench and chair are his only companions and where we read carefully the inscription carved in an overhead beam. It’s a gripping, heartbreaking moment.

We meet the warden (Bob Gunton), a corrupt, cynical, sadistic bureaucrat who offers Andy the job of handling the prison books, carefully moving huge amounts of cash around to enrich the warden’s personal life. Andy, with his banking experience, quickly realizes what a juicy position he’s in.


Keep your eye on the poster of Rita Hayworth on Andy’s cell wall, as it changes through the years he spends there and goes from one sex goddess to the next.

“Shawshank” is about hope, friendship in dark places and ultimately sweet revenge. Karma plays a big part in the outcome, and it’s a joy to see.

The story is often hard to watch as the years move on and Andy fights despair. But chickens really do come home to roost, even in prison.

Keep your eye on Rita, and listen for carefully dropped clues. Somewhere in Andy’s future, there is a stone wall and a box. Don’t give up hope. Andy doesn’t.

Roger Deakins’ camera soars, prowls and lurks like an inmate. Frank Darabont wrote from Stephen King’s novella and directed with precise, carefully wrought moves.

Enjoy a real blast from the past.

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.

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