‘The Shawshank Redemption’ explained: The movie star posters Andy Dufresne uses to escape
(Credit: Netflix)

Film Flashback

'The Shawshank Redemption' explained: The movie star posters Andy Dufresne uses to escape

The Shawshank Redemption might be best known as a movie, but the film’s story actually originated as a novella in Stephen King’s collection Different Seasons. King’s story has a longer title, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.

The reason for including 1940s pin-up model and actress Hayworth in its name is that she’s the first in a series of literal pin-ups who play a central role in the plot.

Protagonist Andy Dufresne requests the posters from his fellow Shawshank prison inmate Red, who’s known to other prisoners as someone who can “get things” from outside. During the course of his sentence, Dufresne begins a lifelong friendship with Red. He repeatedly asks him for new posters of different pin-ups. But he hangs each pin-up poster in the same spot in his prison cell.

On the morning that he’s found to have gone missing, his cell is searched. In a state of desperation, the Shawshank Prison warden, Samuel Norton, looks around Dufresne’s cell angrily and begins mocking the poster of Raquel Welch that’s hanging on the wall where Hayworth had once been. 

“Let’s ask her,” he says, gesturing at the image of Welch. “Maybe she knows. What say you there, Fuzzy Britches?” he jokes, referring to the costume Welch is wearing in the poster, from her movie One Million Years BC. “Feel like talking? Guess not. Why should she be any different?”

Norton throws one of Dufresne’s rock carvings at the picture in anger, only for the rock to go straight through it, making a hole. The warden makes the hole bigger with his finger and then tears the poster down, revealing a tunnel carved out of the prison wall, all the way through to the other side.

It’s revealed that Drufresne had managed to crawl through that tunnel to the sewage pipe of his cell block, which he broke into and made his way along. “500 yards of shit-smelling foulness” later, he reached the end of the pipe and his freedom, outside of the prison compound.

But how was the tunnel created?

Not long after arriving at Shawshank, Dufresne asked Red if he could get hold of a rock hammer for him, ostensibly to craft the rock carvings Norton and the prison guards found in his cell. The hammer was actually the tool he would use to carve the tunnel out of his cell wall.

As Red recalls in the film, “I remember thinking it would take a man 600 years to tunnel through the wall with it. Old Andy did it in less than 20.” We see a scene of Dufresne carving the first chunk out of the wall, before his poster of Rita Hayworth is seen re-placed over the spot.

It was the pin-up posters hiding his tunnel that allowed him to continue carving undetected. After all, nothing appears more innocuous in an all-male prison than a picture of a pin-up model.

The skill, patience, concentration, willpower and stealth required to do what Dufresne did is arguably the most extraordinary part of the story, and threatens to bring down the suspension of our disbelief. But, as Red observes, the believability of the act itself is not the point. Its extraordinary nature demonstrates the lengths to which an innocent man might be willing to go to escape a lifetime in prison.

“That’s all it takes, really, Red tells us. “Pressure and time. That, and a big goddam poster.”

Every pin-up model on a poster Andy Drufesne uses to escape in The Shawshank Redemption:

  • Rita Hayworth (1918-1987)
  • Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962)
  • Raquel Welch (1940-2023)