Josef von Sternberg was contractually obligated to make this film, and he disliked it, saying in his autobiography that it was "no more related to the true text of the novel than the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower is related to the Russian environment."
[Mrs. Patrick Campbell on Josef von Sternberg] I grasped how foolish I had been to imagine for one moment that there was going to be any intelligent pleasure in working even with this man. He wanted only obedience and silence to get his own effects. Anything in my face and figure that wasn't ugly enough, he made into a camera distortion. The director and the cameraman together did the 'acting' of my short role, helped, I suppose, by the cutting room. When I saw the rushes, I knew beyond question that no director asks for imagination, gifts, or experience from the artist. I had myself wished to put the necessary horror and ugliness into my face, voice, and movements, but instead it was achieved through the exaggeration of every shadow on my face, and even of the pores of my skin.