This was reportedly one of Sir Alfred Hitchcock's unhappiest directing jobs. He felt caught between Charles Laughton and Laughton's business partners. Later, he said that he did not so much direct this movie, as referee it.
In a 1972 interview with Pia Lindström, Sir Alfred Hitchcock said that it took one full morning to get one close-up of Charles Laughton. He also said that "He was a nice man. A charming man. He really was. But oh! He suffered so much, because he felt he couldn't get it out, and we were one whole morning on the one close-up until he got up, and he was crying in the corner, and I went over and patted him on the shoulder."
Although Sir Alfred Hitchcock was unhappy with the script and Charles Laughton's performance, still, he experimented on this movie just as he did on The Lady Vanishes (1938). This movie has background music only at the beginning and the end. Hitchcock and Cinematographer Harry Stradling, Jr. gave the movie a darker look in order to make it very atmospheric. Stradling later worked with Hitchcock in Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941) and Suspicion (1941).
Maureen O'Hara (Mary) was "Introduced" in the opening credits. She made Little Miss Molly (1938) before this, but that movie wasn't released until 1940. This officially marked her theatrical movie debut.
The failure of the original copyright holder to renew the copyright resulted in it falling into public domain, meaning that virtually anyone could duplicate and sell a VHS or DVD copy of the movie. Therefore, many of the versions of this movie 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 movie. It is available on Blu-ray though.
This movie received its initial U.S. telecasts in Los Angeles Sunday 30 October 1949 on KTLA (Channel 5), in Detroit Sunday 20 November 1949 on WWJ (Channel 4), in Atlanta Wednesday 7 December 1949 on WSB (Channel 8), in Cincinnati Sunday 18 December 1949 on WLW-T (Channel 4), and in New York City Friday 24 March 1950 on WPIX (Channel 11).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
In the original script written by Sidney Gilliat and Joan Harrison, the villain was a hypocritical preacher. However, the villain was changed to a squire because unsympathetic portrayals of the clergy were forbidden by the Production Code in Hollywood. Charles Laughton was originally cast as the uncle, but he cast himself in the role of villain. Since Laughton was the co-producer and the star of this movie, he demanded that Sir Alfred Hitchcock give his character, Squire Pengallon, greater screentime. This forced Hitchcock to reveal that Pengallon was a villain in league with the smugglers earlier in the movie than he had planned. Laughton's acting was a problem as well for Hitchcock. Laughton played the Squire as having a mincing walk, to the beat of a German waltz which he played in his head, while Hitchcock thought it was out of character.
Alfred Hitchcock once told François Truffaut that he was "truly discouraged" when he became aware of a major logical incongruity of the plot, specifically that it made no sense for the judge played by Charles Laughton to openly hang around the inn with his gang while he would have every reason to avoid the place as much as possible.