One of Adolf Hitler's favorite films. He watched it at least three times. Hitler, an Anglophile, never wanted war with the British Empire. The UK and France rejected a joint German-Soviet peace proposal on 28 September 1939. Hitler personally offered to end the war with France and the British Empire on 6 October 1939, following the German-Soviet conquest of Poland. After the Fall of France in June-July 1940, and again in May 1941 before the beginning of the invasion of the Soviet Union, he repeatedly offered to end the war in the West, stating he had no interest in destroying the British Empire. He only authorized the London Blitz in September 1940 after the RAF had already bombed German cities for four months.
Paramount had planned to produce the film in 1931 and sent cinematographers Ernest B. Schoedsack and Rex Wimpy to India to film location shots such as a tiger hunt. However, much of the film stock deteriorated in boiling heat, so when the film was eventually made in 1934, much of the production took place in the hills surrounding Los Angeles.
Paramount hired hundreds of Paiute Native Americans from nearby reservations and Indian (mostly Hindu) fruit and olive pickers from California's Napa and Imperial Valleys to play the Afridi tribesmen in the battle sequences.
The verse Lt. Forsythe recites in the dungeon is from a poem by William Ernest Henley, entitled 'England, My England'. This is the complete poem: "What have I done for you, / England, my England? / What is there I would not do, / England, my own? / With your glorious eyes austere, / As the Lord were walking near, / Whispering terrible things and dear / As the Song on your bugles blown, / England - / Round the world on your bugles blown! Where shall the watchful sun, / England, my England, / Match the master-work you've done, / England, my own? / When shall he rejoice agen / Such a breed of mighty men / As come forward, one to ten, / To the Song on your bugles blown, / England - / Down the years on your bugles blown? Ever the faith endures, / England, my England: - / 'Take and break us: we are yours, / England, my own! / Life is good, and joy runs high / Between English earth and sky: / Death is death; but we shall die / To the Song of your bugles blown, / England - / To the stars on your bugles blown!' They call you proud and hard, / England, my England: / You with worlds to watch and ward, / England, my own! / You whose mail'd hand keeps the keys / Of such teeming destinies, / You could know nor dread nor ease / Were the Song on your bugles blown, / England - / Round the Pit on your bugles blown! Mother of Ships whose might, / England, my England, / Is the fierce old Sea's delight, / England, my own, / Chosen daughter of the Lord, / Spouse-in-Chief of the ancient Sword, / There's the menace of the Word / In the Song on your bugles blown, / England - / Out of heaven on your bugles blown!"
According to a "Daily Variety" news item on March 4, 1935, the film was screened for the king and queen of England on March 2, 1935, and reportedly was one of the few films seen by the couple in many years.
A news item in "Daily Variety" on April 24, 1935, states that the film had been banned by Chinese censors because it "depicts the British downtrodding of Oriental races." According to a "Hollywood Reporter" news item, despite the Chinese censors' fear that the film would have a negative effect on Muslims, it was passed for exhibition in late January 1936.
More than 500 Hindu olive pickers were recruited in the Imperial Valley and around Oxnard, CA, to play Afridi tribesmen and lancers for battle sequences. A "New York Times" article on June 28, 1936, reported that the Hindu were unable to eat the lunches provided by Paramount because they reportedly could eat only curry made by a person of the "correct" caste.
Henry Wilcoxon was initially cast as Lt. Forsythe, but after reportedly being dissatisfied with the role, was replaced by Franchot Tone. The official reason for Wilcoxon's departure was that he had a scheduling conflict with The Crusades (1935). Four days of retakes with Tone were necessary (the sets for this film were reportedly retained and used with minor alterations for The Crusades (1935)).
Fredric March was originally cast as Lt. Post and Clive Brook was cast as Maj. Hamilton. In the script, March was billed second, after Gary Cooper, suggesting that the character of Lt. Post became Lt. Forsythe.
On March 8, 1935, "Daily Variety" reported that the picture had been classified by German censors for screening on national holidays, making an exception to a law that banned regular runs of pictures on holidays.
According to a January 1932 "New York Times" article, Ernest B. Schoedsack returned from India after three months' shooting on this film. He, his wife, brother, a cameraman and several assistants spent six weeks on the northwest frontier where, with the aid of British military authorities, he was able to send "thousands of feet of film back with a fine assortment of interesting stills." Although Schoedsack most likely directed the shooting of footage in India, the "Variety review" for the film credits him with photography. During Schoedsack's sojourn in India, there was a lull in the tribal wars among the Moslem Pathans (nowadays called the Pashtuns, who come mainly from Afghanistan), a group of tribes that includes the Afridis, who are portrayed in the film. In the article, Schoedsack describes the Afridis as the "most warlike of the tribes . . . big, powerfully built men."
A news item in "The Hollywood Reporter" on July 31, 1933, stated that Lawrence Stallings had been offered a job refurbishing the screenplay for this film. A "Reporter" news item on August 4, 1933, states that Waldemar Young and Achmed Abdullah (who are credited on the screen) were working on the script. It is unclear what contribution Stallings made to the final screenplay. According to a modern source, Francis Yeats-Brown and Maxwell Anderson contributed to the script.
Paramount sent 300 cast and crew members on location to the Sierra Mountain town of Independence, CA, where it recruited 100 Piute Indians from nearby reservations, Hindu fruit pickers from the Napa Valley, and country ranchers from Inyo.