The huge escalator linking this World with the Other, called "Operation Ethel" by the firm of engineers who constructed her under the aegis of the London Passenger Transport Board, took three months to make, and cost three thousand pounds sterling (in 1946). "Ethel" had one hundred six steps, each twenty feet wide, and was driven by a twelve horsepower engine. The full shot was completed by hanging miniatures.
The first scene shot was David Niven washing up on the beach. Originally planned to fade in from black, Michael Powell decided on the spot that the effect would be too cheesy. When Jack Cardiff told him to look through the camera, Cardiff then deliberately breathed right onto the lens, which fogged the glass for a few seconds until it evaporated. Powell loved the idea and had him use it for the shot.
It was during a visit to Hollywood in 1945 that Director Michael Powell decided to cast the then-unknown Kim Hunter as June, the American servicewoman, largely upon the recommendation of Sir Alfred Hitchcock, who had done a series of screentests of actors and actresses auditioning for parts in his upcoming production, Notorious (1946). The trouble was that in these screentests, Hunter was not seen but, rather, heard off-camera, feeding lines and cues to the actors Hitchcock was actually screentesting. But Hitchcock assured Powell that he would arrange a "face-to-face" with Hunter and her agent, so that he could see for himself whether she fit the requirements of the "all-American" girl Powell had envisioned opposite David Niven. And upon first encountering Hunter, Powell agreed with Hitchcock that she indeed was a perfect choice for the role.
For the ping pong scene, Kim Hunter and Roger Livesey were trained by Alan Brooke, the British champion who played many games with International Champion Victor Barna. During a visit to Denham Studios the two champions played a couple of games before an admiring audience of artists and technicians. For luck, Hunter borrowed one of Brooke's tournament paddles for her movie game.
The inspiration for Peter's medical condition came from the semi-autobiographical novel "A Journey Round My Skull" by Hungarian novelist Frigyes Karinthy. More precise medical detail came from Emeric Pressburger's research in the British Library and consultations with Michael Powell's brother in law, Dr. Joe Reidy, who was a plastic surgeon in London.
The animation scene of the star fields leading to Earth at the start was later re-used in the 1970s as the background image for the J. Arthur Rank Screen Advertising logo. NOTE: This is a J. Arthur Rank movie.
The backcloth of the High Court scene, suggesting tiers of seats stretching into infinity, measured three hundred fifty feet long and forty feet high. Altogether eight backcloths of similar large dimensions were used in Other World scenes, and twenty-nine elaborate sets were constructed. In all of these vast scenes, five thousand three hundred seventy-five extras were used, including real Royal Air Force crews, Red Cross nurses, and W.A.A.C.s.
This movie has been adapted for the stage twice. First, in 1994 as a musical by Thomas Morgan and Kevin Metchear, at the King's Head Theatre, London, England, and then again in 2007, as a play, by Tom Morris and Emma Rice at the National Theatre (Olivier), London, England.
After this movie was released, there were oppositions against how heaven was interpreted. One of the oppositions against the interpretation of heaven in this movie is that there is not a single German, Italian, or Japanese person that can be seen. So several people consider this movie as an allied propaganda.
The judge quotes Walter Scott's lines from a stanza which is part of the third Canto of :"The Lay of the Last Minstrel". Since Scott's death, the stanza has been separately published under the title "Love".
A sixty minute (with ad breaks) adaptation of this movie was broadcast on July 26, 1951 as part of the "Screen Director's Playhouse" series on American radio (NBC) using its alternative title of "Stairway to Heaven", starring Robert Cummings and Julie Adams.
According to Ben Mankiewicz of Turner Classic Movies, this movie's production was delayed nine months, due to the scarcity of Technicolor film and equipment at the time. That makes Conductor 71's remark upon leaving black-and-white heaven somewhat of an inside joke.
"Lux Radio Theater" broadcast a sixty-minute radio adaptation of the movie under the alternate title "Stairway to Heaven" on April 12, 1955, with David Niven reprising his movie role, and Barbara Rush as June.
An adaptation of this movie was broadcast as a live television show on April 9, 1951 in the "Robert Montgomery Presents" on NBC as "Stairway to Heaven". It starred Richard Greene as Peter, Jean Gillespie as June, and Bramwell Fletcher as Dr. Reeves.
"The Hedda Hopper Show - This Is Hollywood" broadcast a 30 minute radio adaptation of the movie under the alternate title "Stairway to Heaven" on May 17, 1947 with David Niven and Kim Hunter reprising their film roles.