Producer Darryl F. Zanuck sought legal advice regarding the naming of the three anti-Semitic political figures. When told there was only a small risk of libel, Zanuck, who wasn't Jewish, replied, "Let them sue us. They won't dare, and if they do, nothing would make me more happy than to appear personally as a witness or defendant at the trial." As it turned out, Sen. Bilbo (D - Miss) died before the film's release, Rep. Rankin (D - Miss) lost in his campaign to succeed Bilbo (but remained in Congress), and Gerald L.K. Smith filed a lawsuit that ultimately failed.
When other studio chiefs, who were mostly Jewish, heard about the making of this film, they asked the producer not to make it. They feared its theme of anti-Semitism would simply stir up a hornet's nest and preferred to deal with the problem quietly. Not only did production continue, but a scene was subsequently included that mirrored that confrontation.
The movie mentions three real people well-known for their racism and anti-Semitism at the time: Sen. Theodore Bilbo (D - Miss), who advocated sending all African-Americans back to Africa; Rep. John Rankin (D - Miss), who called columnist Walter Winchell "the little kike" on the floor of the House of Representatives; and leader of "Share Our Wealth" and "Christian Nationalist Crusade" Gerald L.K. Smith, who tried legal means to prevent Twentieth Century-Fox from showing the movie in Tulsa. He lost the case, but then sued Fox for $1,000,000. The case was thrown out of court in 1951.
Laura Z. Hobson wrote her novel after Senator John Rankin's anti-Semitic comments were applauded in Congress. It was then serialized in Cosmopolitan from November 1946 to February 1947, immediately causing quite a stir. This prompted Darryl F. Zanuck (who was one of the few studio heads who was not Jewish) to snap up the novel's rights.
Despite winning an Oscar for his direction, Elia Kazan revealed in a later interview that he was never fond of this movie, feeling that it lacked passion on his part and he thought that the romance was too forced.
Among the concerns that the movie's anti-anti-semitic message would stir up a "hornet's nest" was the bizarre belief that "Jewish friendly" films and novels from the time were linked with communism. The fear was not entirely unfounded, as many of the people involved with the film were brought before the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC), including Darryl F. Zanuck, Anne Revere, (perhaps most notoriously) Elia Kazan, and John Garfield. Garfield was brought before HUAC twice, was blacklisted, taken off the blacklist and put back on it again and it was believed that it was the stress of these experiences which led to the heart attack that killed him at the age of 39.
The timeliness of the film is revealed by a telling exchange that took place between screenwriter Moss Hart and a stagehand, as reported in The Saturday Review, December 6, 1947, pg. 71: "You know," a stagehand is reported to have said to Mr. Hart, "I've loved working on this picture of yours. Usually I play gin-rummy with the boys when scenes are being shot. But not this time. This time I couldn't leave the set. The picture has such a wonderful moral I didn't want to miss it." "Really," beamed Mr. Hart, pleased not only as a scenarist but as a reformer. "That's fine. What's the moral as you see it?" "Well, I tell you," replied the stagehand. "Henceforth I'm always going to be good to Jewish people because you never can tell when they will turn out to be Gentiles."