It was during a visit to Hollywood in 1945 that director Michael Powell decided to cast the then-unknown Kim Hunter as June, the American servicewoman, largely upon the recommendation of Alfred Hitchcock, who had done a series of screen tests of actors and actresses auditioning for parts in his upcoming production, Notorious (1946). The trouble was that in these tests, Hunter was not seen but, rather, heard off-camera, feeding lines and cues to the actors Hitchcock was actually testing. But Hitchcock assured Powell that he would arrange a "face-to-face" with Hunter and her agent, so that he could see for himself whether she fit the requirements of the "all-American" girl Powell had envisioned opposite David Niven. And upon first encountering Hunter, Powell agreed with Hitchcock that she indeed was a perfect choice for the role.
The huge escalator linking this World with the Other, called "Operation Ethel" by the firm of engineers who constructed her under the aegis of the London Passenger Transport Board, took three months to make and cost 3,000 pounds (in 1946). "Ethel" had 106 steps each 20 feet wide and was driven by a 12 h.p. engine. The full shot was completed by hanging miniatures.
The first scene shot was David Niven washing up on the beach. Originally planned to fade in from black, Michael Powell decided on the spot that the effect would be too cheesy. When Jack Cardiff told him to look through the camera, Cardiff then deliberately breathed right onto the lens, which fogged the glass for a few seconds until it evaporated. Powell loved the idea and had him use it for the shot.
The inspiration for Peter's medical condition came from the semi-autobiographical novel "A Journey Round My Skull" by Hungarian novelist Frigyes Karinthy. More precise medical detail came from Emeric Pressburger's research in the British Library and consultations with Michael Powell's brother in law, Dr. Joe Reidy, who was a plastic surgeon in London.
For the table tennis scene, Kim Hunter and Roger Livesey were trained by Alan Brooke, the British champion who played many games with International Champion Victor Barna. During a visit to Denham Studios the two champions played a couple of games before an admiring audience of artists and technicians. For luck, Hunter borrowed one of Brooke's tournament bats for her film game.
The animation scene of the star fields leading to Earth at the start of this film were later re-used in the 1970s as the background image for the Rank Screen Advertising logo. Note this is a J. Arthur Rank film.
The backcloth of the High Court scene, suggesting tiers of seats stretching into infinity, measured 350 feet long and 40 feet high. Altogether 8 backcloths of similar large dimensions were used in Other World scenes, and 29 elaborate sets were constructed. In all these vast scenes 5,375 crowd artistes were used, including real R.A.F. crews, Red Cross nurses and W.A.A.C.s.
After this film was released, there were oppositions against how heaven was interpreted in this film. One of the oppositions against the interpretation of heaven in this film is that there is not a single German, Italian, and Japanese can be seen in the film. So several people consider this film as an allied propaganda.
A 60 minute (with ad breaks) adaptation of this film was broadcast on 26th July 1951 as part of the "Screen Director's Playhouse" series on American radio (NBC) using its alternative title of "Stairway to Heaven", starring Robert Cummings and Julie Adams.
The judge quotes Walter Scott's lines from a stanza which is part of the third Canto of :"The Lay of the Last Minstrel". Since Scott's death, the stanza has been separately published under the title 'Love'.
The film has been adapted for the stage twice. First, in 1994 as a musical by Thomas Morgan and Kevin Metchear, at the King's Head Theatre, London, England, UK, and then again in 2007, as a play, by Tom Morris and Emma Rice at the National Theatre (Olivier), London, England, UK.
"Lux Radio Theater" broadcast a 60-minute radio adaptation of the movie under the alternate title "Stairway to Heaven" on April 12, 1955 with David Niven reprising his film role and Barbara Rush as June.
An adaptation of this film was broadcast as a live TV show on April 9, 1951 in the "Robert Montgomery Presents" on NBC as "Stairway to Heaven". It starred Richard Greene as Peter, Jean Gillespie as June and Bramwell Fletcher as Dr Reeves.
"The Hedda Hopper Show - This Is Hollywood" broadcast a 30 minute radio adaptation of the movie under the alternate title "Stairway to Heaven" on May 17, 1947 with David Niven and Kim Hunter reprising their film roles.
According to Ben Mankiewicz of TCM, this film's production was delayed nine months due to the scarcity of Technicolor film and equipment at the time. That makes Conductor 71's remark upon leaving black-and-white heaven somewhat of an inside joke.