The stunt where the wall falls on Buster Keaton was performed with an actual full-weight wall. Half the crew walked off the set rather than participate in a stunt that would have killed Keaton if he had been slightly off position. Keaton himself, told the previous day that his studio was being shut down, was so devastated that he didn't care if the wall crushed him or not.
This and The General (1926) are generally considered by critics to be Buster Keaton's last great films. Shortly after these two were made, the independent-minded Keaton made the mistake of signing a contract with MGM, whose regimented ways clashed with his scrupulous perfectionism. Five years after MGM hired him, it dropped his contract and Keaton drifted into obscurity, complicated by a severe drinking problem, from which he didn't emerge for many years.
During the hurricane sequence, there is a scene that pays homage to Buster Keaton's childhood on the vaudeville stage. One brief moment has a table move in the wind, apparently animating the dummy and turning its head to face Keaton. Keaton is startled and runs. This is based on a real experience from when he was a kid and became fascinated with a dummy named Red Top, who belonged to ventriloquist Trovollo. The young Keaton had a "conversation" with the dummy and conspired to kidnap his new friend one night when the theater was empty. Trovollo, anticipating Keaton, slipped to his props offstage and when Keaton approached, brought Red Top to life, scaring Keaton out of the theater.
The famous collapsing wall gag was previously used by Buster Keaton in Back Stage (1919) and One Week (1920) with smaller buildings. This was to be the ultimate version of the stunt. The comedian remarked later in his career, "I was mad at the time, or I would never have done the thing."
Marion Byron could not swim, so the scenes where her character is in the river with Buster Keaton were filmed with Buster's real-life sister Louise Keaton serving as Marion's stunt double (the two were both the same size: 4'11"). The water was very cold and during a day of filming Buster and Louise consumed four to five glasses of French brandy to keep them warm.
The movie was originally meant to incorporate a large flood as the disaster that hits the town. However, due to a real Mississippi flood and bickering amongst the producers, the flood plot was changed to a "cyclone."
For the wind effects, six enormous airplane propellers powered by Liberty engines were brought in. A large crane and a number of cables were also needed to carry aloft buildings, props and, in one scene, Buster Keaton himself--clinging to an uprooted tree trunk. The latter effect was achieved using a conventional crane swinging the tree, yet another of the stunts Keaton performed without a body double or special effects.
Filming began in late 1927 on the west bank of the Sacramento River, just across from the junction with the American River. There near the California capitol, a full three blocks of city sets were built for the mythical town of River Junction, Mississippi.
Buster Keaton's technical director was Fred Gabourie, who was responsible for the sets and in particular for rigging gags--and re-rigging them when changes in plot dictated substituting a cyclone for a flood in the film's climax. Multiple buildings were required to either splinter into a million pieces, collapse inward a section at a time or--in one particularly notable instance--lose its facades and plop to the ground with pinpoint accuracy.
The failure of the original copyright holder to renew the film's copyright resulted in it falling into public domain, meaning that virtually anyone could duplicate and sell a VHS/DVD copy of the film. Therefore, many of the versions of this film available on the market are either severely (and usually badly) edited and/or of extremely poor quality, having been duped from second- or third-generation (or more) copies of the film.