This was given to studio director Michael Curtiz as a small assignment to tide him over as the bigger profile Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) was coming together. (Curtiz was just coming off the huge success of The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), one of Warner Brothers' biggest hits.) Much to everyone's surprise, Curtiz delivered a film that was critically acclaimed and a big box office success, earning five Academy Award nominations to "Angels"' three.
This was originally set to be a much bigger production and a vehicle for Errol Flynn. However, when he dropped out, the film was retooled into something a bit more modest. Nevertheless, it went on to be a big box office hit and scored five Academy Award nominations.
(Screenwriter Julius J. Epstein on John Garfield) Garfield was a nice guy, but kind of a sad sack. We'd tease him. Thhere was something called The Writers' Table, where writers sat around at lunch in the commissary, and I remember Garield coming up once and saying, 'Let's have an intellectual discussion.' I said, 'Sure, who's going to represent you?