Writer James A. Michener wrote the story after spending time aboard the USS Essex. One of the pilots aboard the Essex at the time was Neil Armstrong. It is not known for certain whether any of the characters in the book or movie were based on Armstrong.
F9F Panther jets from US Navy squadron VF-192 were also used to film Men of the Fighting Lady (1954). After the filming of these two movies, the squadron name was changed from "Golden Dragons" to "World Famous Golden Dragons".
William Holden's younger brother, Robert Beedle, was a Navy fighter pilot who was killed in action in World War II. After this film was released, he was remembered by his squadron-mates as having been very much like the character of Lt Harry Brubaker.
The USS Oriskany (CV-34) now sits on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico near Pensacola Florida as an artificial reef. The Oriskany is frequently named as one of the top ten recreational shipwreck diving sites in the world.
The shipboard scenes were filmed on the U.S.S. Oriskany, whose number CV-34 is visible when Lt. Brubaker walks out to the bow to gather his thoughts before the mission. However, during shooting, the Oriskany needed repairs, and the shooting was completed on her sister ship U.S.S. Kearsarge, CV-33. For continuity the 33 was painted out and and replaced with a 34.
In the movie, Brubaker (William Holden) and his squadron mates fly the Grumman F9F Panther, but in the book by James A. Michener upon which the movie is based, they fly a different plane, the McDonnell F2H Banshee. Both planes were used contemporaneously by the U.S. Navy and both flew combat missions in Korea, so the use of the F9F Panther in the film isn't at all anachronistic. In all likelihood the change in aircraft was due either to logistical considerations or possibly to the fact the Panther is just a sexier and more photogenic jet then the gangly, vulture-like Banshee.
The Japanese resort hotel that appears in the film is modeled on the Fujiya Hotel, located in the village of Miyanoshita near Mount Fuji. This famous hotel was actually commissioned by the U.S. Army as a "rest and relaxation" hotel for American soldiers for several years after World War II, and possibly up to the Korean War. The exterior shots of the hotel are real, but the lobby scenes appear to be studio replicas of the original lobby.
One of the large F9F Panther jet airplane models used in the film's bridge attack sequences was housed, in the mid-1990s at The Studios of Las Colinas in Irving, TX, a film and television studio that also contained items of movie memorabilia.
The propeller aircraft that provided RESCAP support for Brubaker after the jets leave are Douglas Skyraiders, designated then as AD-3 or AD-4. These were attack planes that were produced too late for World War II but saw extensive action in Korea and Vietnam. It may be assumed this flight of Skyraiders had been on station for a while, since they had a ten-hour cruising range and would normally have been able to provide cover for quite a while longer than shown in the movie.
1. The book uses the name of the decommissioned/mothballed escort carrier Savo Island instead of the name of an Essex-class carrier on which author James A. Michener was a journalist (an escort carrier is incapable of launching or landing jet aircraft and only had propeller driven aircraft in its air group). The U.S. Navy aided in the production of this film by allowing the use of its fleet carriers (it did not use escort carriers, as they were incapable of performing the jet aircraft attack missions that were required of the film). This did not mean that the CVEs were not used during the Korean War; in fact, the following escort carriers did serve: USS Rendova (CVE-114); USS Bairoko (CVE-115); USS Badoeng Strait (CVE-116); USS Sicily (CVE-118) flagship of Carrier Division (CarDiv) 15; USS Point Cruz (CVE-119). The CVEs carried piston-engined aircraft such as the F4U Corsair and A-1 Skyraiders.
The novel and film were based on actual missions flown by pilots of the U.S.S. Essex and U.S.S. Valley Forge against bridges at Majon-ni and Changnim-Ni, North Korea, in the winter of 1951-52. The two rescue missions depicted in the film--the sea rescue of a pilot downed in the Sea of Japan and the attempted land rescue of a pilot downed behind enemy lines--both took place on the same day, February 8, 1952. However, unlike in the film, the jet pilot and rescue pilot from the U.S.S. Valley Forge who were shot down behind enemy lines both survived. They were captured by the North Koreans, taken to a prison camp and released at the end of the war. At the time James A. Michener wrote his novel, the two pilots were officially listed as "Missing, presumed dead."
In 1960s screenings of this picture on British television channels,there would sometimes be an extra, very short, sequence very near the end which showed a small group of 'North Korean' peasants approaching Brubaker as he hides in the ditch. They appear to be unarmed and just curious, possibly even trying to help. Realizing that they will be regarded as hostile by the 'rescap' aircraft circling overhead, he desperately tries to get them to go back to safety, but he's too late and to his horror they are shot up (off camera). This scene may have been carefully filmed so as to be excised from the picture if required without its absence being noticed, as is now the case: seeing ' 'Toko Ri' on t.v. today, you won't notice anything amis and the missing footage may have gone for good. Quite why the director filmed it in the first place is puzzling, since U.S. audiences wouldn't have wanted to see 'their side' shooting-up civilians: that was "unamerican" ( the earlier Korean War picture "One Minute To Zero" justified Robert Mitchum's ordering the shelling of a Korean civilian refugee column because it contained armed 'Commie' infiltrators).