Stephen King may be a master of horror, but as stories like “The Body” (which later became “Stand by Me”) and “The Green Mile” have shown, King is also a master of the heart. Adapted and directed by Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption,” “The Walking Dead,” “The Mist”), “The Green Mile” sees Tom Hanks as Paul Edgecomb, a prison guard sentenced to death during the Great Depression who bears witness to unexplained events after a larger-than-life convict named John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) arrives at his facility to serve out his final days. The film was a commercial success at the box office, earning four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.
Although “The Green Mile” is a period piece, no one in the cast or crew would ever claim that the film is historically accurate. For starters, there’s the whole “is John Coffey really Jesus Christ?” question to be answered, but on a smaller scale, the costumes are intentionally inaccurate.
Entertainment Weekly interviewed Hanks in 1999 in preparation for the film’s release, where he admitted that the entire crew had no problem changing the accuracy a bit, especially in terms of costumes. “The reality is they didn’t wear uniforms on death row in 1935,” Hanks said. “But Frank [Darabont] I loved them because they looked cool, and I loved them as an actor because it gave me this exoskeleton that communicated some of the more subtle aspects of the scenes.” Given how prominent Hanks’ uniformed image was in the marketing campaign for “The Green Mile”, it’s hard to imagine without him.
Guard hats hardly make it.
One crucial part of the uniforms that Hanks wanted to include had the potential to become a production nightmare: the guard caps. Hanks told EW that there were countless discussions about the hats, with many worried that they would be a problem for the cinematographer.
“We had so many discussions about the hats. ‘Are we going to wear these hats?’ ‘Oh God, what are we going to do with hats that cast a shadow?’ Can you put them way back on your head? But the hats were really important because when they’re on, that means a guard is officially on duty. And when they’re off, things loosen up a little bit. They were this intangible sign to everyone of when they had to get fit and fly well and when they don’t.”
Seeing Doug Hutchison’s Percy Wetmore stripped of his uniform after shooting William “Wild Bill” Wharton for the first time is a powerful moment, one that would have diminished were it not for the uniformed appearance. Costume design is a vital part of visual storytelling, and while the costumes weren’t crafted with textbook accuracy in mind, it’s clear that non-verbal storytelling was prioritized instead.