Shawshank panel

Actor Bob Gunton, director/writer Frank Darabont and Ben Mankiewicz from Turner Classic Movies share a laugh on stage Friday evening.

MANSFIELD -- Ben Mankiewicz doesn't hesitate when asked to evaluate "Shawshank Redemption."

The popular host of Turner Classic Movies simply loves the movie filmed in Mansfield, which is celebrating the 25th year of its release this weekend.

"Considering where I work, this is saying something ... I think of this movie the same way I think of Casablanca ... it delivers exactly what you want," the 52-year-old film critic said.

Mankiewicz is in Mansfield to join the anniversary celebration, including hosting a cast and crew panel discussion Friday night at The Renaissance Theatre that included director/writer Frank Darabont.

He sat down for an interview before the panel discussion began.

"Some critics, when (Shawshank) came out, found it a little corny, a little syrupy. That's not untrue," Mankiewicz said.

"But when corny and sentimental are done perfectly, that's the part that matters ... this film was executed perfectly. These are great artists working at the top of their game, just as was the case with Casablanca, and knocking what you want out of the park," he said.

Mankiewicz said the film's ending, which features Red (Morgan Freeman) and Andy (Tim Robbins) reuniting and hugging on the beach, exemplifies the perfection of which he speaks.

He said Darabont didn't want that ending. He preferred to end the film with Red on the bus. The film's producer insisted Darabont shoot the beach scene and then not use it if he didn't like it.

"Darabont wanted to end with Red on the way. Will he get there? Who knows, he's taking a chance. It was too much to have them end on the beach hugging, except if it's perfect, right?

"If that movie isn't great before then, that last scene makes you roll your eyes. Darabont was right about that. What he wasn't right about is he would do everything so perfectly that the (beach) ending works, which is what he came to recognize, as well," Mankiewicz said.

The critic, who was graduated from Tufts University before attending the Columbia School of Journalism, has deep family ties to both the film and news business. His father was a journalist and then press secretary for Robert F. Kennedy. Several other relatives are screenwriters. His brother is a reporter for NBC News.


Film critic and Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz talks to cast, crew and friends of the "Shawshank Redemption" before a panel discussion Friday night at The Renaissance Theatre.

SLOW START: Mankiewicz made his debut on TCM in 2003, nine years after "Shawshank" opened to a quiet reception in movie theaters. The cast and crew were disappointed in the small box office, especially since Freeman, Robbins and others called it the best screenplay they had ever read.

"Why didn't it work at the time? It was long (2 hours and 20 minutes), it had a funny title and the timing just didn't work out for it. Word of mouth would have worked for it except there weren't enough people to see it the first time to tell their neighbors," Mankiewicz said.

Television resurrected "Shawshank," just as it has many films, according to Mankiewicz.

"The reason it succeeded, the reason we're here, the reason why there is a (Shawshank) museum here, the reason we're doing this interview is television.

"The reason all this happened is because Ted Turner bought it (and other movies) and put them on TNT in an effort to help grow that network and establish the credentials of TNT," Mankiewicz said.

"This movie made little money (in theaters), then turned around and got seven Oscar nominations and is now ranked No. 1 on the IMDB movies list ... that's a huge win."

CLASSIC FILM: Mankiewicz said "Shawshank" is rightfully considered among the movie classics.

"The IMDB poll is not scientific, but it shouldn't be ignored either. The emotion from the film lingers 25 years after its release. The same people who weeped when they saw it in 1994 are still crying in 2019, just like with Casablanca.

"I don't know if the movie broke new ground, but it's perfect. These actors, these artists ... production designer Terence Marsh didn't get an Oscar nomination because people think he used the prison for the cell block scenes. He built it! It's so good ... when you have set designers and production designers and cinematographers ... the best screenplay any of them had read .... when a movie achieves that kind of excellence, it puts into a new tier, even if it doesn't break new ground," Mankiewicz said.

In 1994, "Shawshank" didn't win any Academy Awards, despite the nominations. It was a big year for "Forrest Gump," which received six Oscars, and "Pulp Fiction," by director/writer Quentin Tarantino, which was loved by critics.

"No disrespect to Tom Hanks. There is no better ambassador for movies. But Shawshank and Pulp Fiction are going to last longer in the public consciousness as movies that matter longer than Forrest Gump," Mankiewicz said.

"The snobby critic part of me wants to pick Pulp Fiction. But there is a reason I have watched (Shawshank) more than Pulp Fiction. It speaks to me. They are both perfect pictures for doing what they set out to do, which makes 1994 a pretty great year to produce two movies that matter so much," Mankiewicz said.

Darabont and cast

Actors Mark Rolston, Gil Bellows and Bob Gunton join director/writer Frank Darabont on stage at The Renaissance Theatre on Friday night.

NO SALE: During the 80-minute panel discussion, which preceded a showing of "Shawshank" on the big screen at The Ren, Darabont received a standing ovation from the sold-out theatre.

Darabont wrote the screenplay after obtaining the rights from author Stephen King, expanding on the original novella. He paid King just $5,000 for the rights.

Castle Rock Entertainment loved the screenplay. In fact, director and Castle Rock co-founded Rob Reiner offered Darabont about $4 million if Reiner was allowed to direct it, perhaps using Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford in the lead roles.

Darabont declined and Castle Rock ultimately allowed him to proceed with the film on a $25 million budget. The filmmaker said he declined the millions for a myriad of reasons.

"It probably boils down to ... you feel like you have been put here for a reason. If not this, then what? If not now, then when?

"You can always defer your dream for a buck. But no one remembers you for your bank account when you are gone. They might remember you for your art. They might remember that you reached out and touched their hearts ... and that mattered more to me than anything," Darabont said.

"Rob is an exceptional film maker. I think he would have made an excellent movie. But it wouldn't have been this movie. To Rob's credit, he was such a booster to the movie. He was such a mentor presence to me.

"Rob also understands the passion that goes into art. He is a filmmaker, not a suit," Darabont said.

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"