Beer in Movies – The Shawshank Redemption

Movie Poster for “The Shawshank Redemption”

This past weekend I got caught by what I call the “6 or 7 film barrage”.  That’s where a TV channel will take a film and show it at least 6 or 7 times over a span of several days.  The pattern will usually go something like this, once on Thursday, once on Friday, twice on Saturday, and twice on Sunday, sometimes with one more broadcast tossed in somewhere for good measure.  On top of that, one of the days where they broadcast the movie twice, it will be shown back to back.  The movie this weekend was Frank Darabont’s  The Shawshank Redemption.  After stumbling across it several times channel surfing, I finally landed upon it at it’s begin and decided to give it a re-watch (I guess that’s part of the network’s master strategy, toss it at you enough times and sooner or later your resolve will break down) even though I’m not usually a fan of the cuts and edits network TV will normally do to films.

Released in 1994, The Shawshank Redemption tells the story of an intelligent banker named Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) who is convicted of murdering his wife and her lover, and sentenced to 2 life terms in Shawshank prison.  Once there, he meets Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman) with whom he begins a friendship with along with Red’s circle of inmate friends.  The movie is filled with themes of man’s attempts to find hope and dignity in an impossible situation; which Andy finds himself in when he’s pulled into service by Warden Samuel Norton who uses Andy’s expert banking skills to launder money Norton is receiving for using the prison inmates as skilled labor in the public sector.

The movie has a couple elements that make the it note worthy.  First, it was based on a novella by Steven King entitled, “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” that was published in his 1982, “Different Seasons” collection.  Also the movie began what I call, “the Morgan Freeman” narration.  The scenes of the movie are tied together by a voice-over performed by Freeman’s character Red.  Freeman’s deep, non-wavering voice throughout the movie has become iconic and has been parodied on everything from TV commercials to Family Guy.

One of my favorites however is Clancy Brown who, as Chief of the Guards Captain Hadley, delivers one of the best profanity laden performances in a movie by a non Drill Sergeant character.

The movie  benefits from a stellar cast.  Robbins and Freeman are both excellent in their respective rolls, and Bob Gunton is superb as Warden Norton.  One of my favorites however is Clancy Brown who, as Chief of the Guards Captain Hadley, delivers one of the best profanity laden performances in a movie by a non Drill Sergeant character. Sadly, you miss out on this on network TV as most of Brown’s tirades are either cut or overdubbed.  The Shawshank Redemption was nominated for seven Academy Awards including best picture and best actor (Freeman) but sadly went home with none having been over shadowed that year by Forrest Gump.

As I mentioned, a common theme through the film is man’s constant struggle to find dignity in the brutal environment of prison.  This theme is very well depicted when, tarring the roof of one of the prison buildings, Andy over hears Hadley bemoaning to the other guards about a large sum of money he’s just come into and how the I.R.S is going to take a large portion of it.  Andy informs him (while Hadley is about to push him off the roof for ease dropping) that he can keep all the money tax free if he gifts it to his wife.  This exchange really shows off cinematographer Roger Deakins at his best.  When Hadley pushes Andy against the edge of the roof the camera shot is over head looking straight down Andy’s back to the ground below.  The camera then pans over head and down behind Hadley, catching Andy in his first line of the shot and then swings around along side the two for a dialog exchange and then ends behind Andy on Hadley’s face for his last line of the shot.  Andy offers to do the paper work to set up the gift for a price – three bottles of beer for each of his co-workers who are tarring the roof. The next scene shows Andy’s co-workers (and the guards) sitting on the roof of the building enjoying what Red’s voice tells us was, “…ice cold Bohemian style beer.”

“Bohemian style” beer, was (back in the time frame of the film) a common term used in America to describe pilsner beer.  Pilsner gets its name from Pilsen, a city in Bohemia which is in today’s Czech Republic. Brewers in the city of Pilsen started producing beers with bottom fermenting yeasts rather than the more commonly used  top fermenting yeast and aging the beer in caves to produce a clearer, better quality beer.  The beer type can be considered the father of the early American lager beer as many of the beers initialed brewed back then (and still brewed today) came from a Bohemian style background and indeed, used the term “Bohemian” as a description.  The best example today is probably National Bohemian Beer (or Natty Bo, as it is known in the region) which has been brewed since 1885.  Another brand known for its Bohemian label is Stroh’s which started brewing in Detroit in 1850.  Other examples that have long since faded into time (or prohibition) are Knapp’s, Burger, Duluth, Weideman, Old Tap, Forest City, Prager, Dorf and Cooper’s out of Philadelphia

So which beer are the men supposed to be drinking on the roof ?  The movie never says.  But if you compare the images below, I think we can make a strong case for what the movie makers thought was Andy Dufrense’s  “bottle of suds” of choice.

Left and Center: Screen shots from Shawshank Redemption.
Right: Post 1950’s Stroh’s beer bottle label.

While The Shawshank Redemption might not be for all people with its hard look into prison life and rough language, I highly recommend it.  Its gripping story, excellent acting and Oscar nominated cinematography make it a definite American classic.  Just make sure you have some ice cold Bohemian style beer to go with the popcorn.

Time for another beer.

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