Later in life, Gregory Peck lamented that he felt this film was overlooked because it was released in between two of his more well-known films: Duel in the Sun (1946) and Gentleman's Agreement (1947). Despite this film's critical success, Peck felt that it quickly became overlooked and forgotten.
In the mid-1940s, screenwriter Casey Robinson optioned the rights to this story with Gregory Peck envisioned as the lead. Robinson had brought Peck to Hollywood in 1943 for Peck's debut role in Days of Glory (1944), and the actor had agreed to appear in another film of Robinson's choice.
Gregory Peck was a big fan of Ernest Hemingway's short story that served as the source material for the film. Because Peck was so invested in the story, he took an active role in the production of the film. Peck later recalled that he was, "an uncredited co-producer on the picture."
Gregory Peck helped Zoltan Korda land his position as director of the film. Peck recommended Korda to the studio because the director had reputation for creating successful films with exotic locales and intense action sequences.
Reminiscing about the film, Gregory Peck recalled getting along swimmingly with director Zoltan Korda. Peck acknowledged that Korda could be ill-tempered, but he explained that both men mutually admired and respected one another. Peck called Korda one of his favorite directors.
According to Gregory Peck biographer, Michael Freedland, director Zoltan Korda and producer Benedict Bogeaus were intensely antagonistic with one another. In his book, "Gregory Peck: A Biography," Freedland recounted a story Peck described from the production of this film. In Peck's recollection, Bogeaus arrived on set late one day while Korda was deep in concentration setting up a shot. Bogeaus loudly announced that he had come up with the perfect title for the picture: Congo. Bogeaus's brusqueness interrupted Korda's concentration, and the director launched into a profanity-laced tirade. Peck then recalled that Korda pulled a pocketknife out of his pocket, brandished it against Bogeaus's chest, and exclaimed, "You get off my set and if you ever come back here again I'll cut your liver out." According to Peck, Bogeaus was not seen on set again.
The filmmakers and screenwriters worked diligently to ensure that they kept the script as close to Ernest Hemingway's source material as possible. Aside from Production Code-mandated changes, little was changed from Hemingway's story. The only major alterations were the flashback-style structure of the film and Robert Wilson's American (rather than British) nationality.
United Artist's promotion for the film read: "Gregory Peck makes that Hemingway kind of love to Joan Bennett in The Macomber Affair! After the biggest game of all - a woman! On the hunt he took two things as they came - the charge of a snarling lion - the fury of a fear-crazed coward - the lips of a love-crazed woman - cruelty and yearning - of such things was their love made."
As early as 1941, Samuel Goldwyn announced that he planned to make a film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's short story, "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber." Goldwyn wanted the film to be co-directed by Howard Hawks and Victor Fleming and to star Gary Cooper. Goldwyn's film never materialized, but his announcement motivated Casey Robinson to option the rights to the story. An adaptation of Hemingway's story ultimately came to fruition with this film.
The studio hired a second unit to travel to Africa and shoot scenes on the veldt. The second unit never left North American, however, and set up operations in Tecate, Mexico, instead of heading to Africa. The location they chose in Tecate had doubled for the African veldt in Trader Horn (1931). The crew spent six weeks shooting on location in the desert, and matched shots of actors firing in the distance with footage of wild animals on the African plains.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Production Code censors forced a change to the film as it was originally written. At the time, the code mandated that characters be punished for immoral or illegal behavior. Ernest Hemingway's original short story, and the screenwriters' adaptation of Hemingway's work, ended with the surviving characters avoiding punitive action. The filmmakers had to change the ending so that someone was punished for the wrongdoing.
Once the Production Code forced the studio to change the ending of the film, the filmmakers reached out to Ernest Hemingway in order to collaborate with him to ensure that the mandated changes met with the author's approval. Hemingway failed to respond to the filmmakers' attempts to reach him, though they tried by letter, telephone, and telegraph. Gregory Peck said that the ending included in the film was the "best and least compromising ending that we could think of."