On the evening of May 12, 1956, during the shooting of this film, Montgomery Clift was involved in a serious car accident on his way back home from a party at the house of Elizabeth Taylor. He apparently fell asleep at the wheel of his car while driving and smashed his car into a telephone pole. His friend Kevin McCarthy witnessed the accident from his car, drove back and informed Taylor and her then husband Michael Wilding, who immediately drove to the location together with Rock Hudson. Taylor entered the car through the back door, crawled to the front seat and removed the two front teeth from Clift's throat that threatened to choke him. Hudson finally managed to pull him out of the wreck and together they protected him from being photographed until the ambulance arrived. This was necessary because soon after the emergency call had come in to the local police station, reporters were already on their way and arrived at the scene when Clift was still in the car. The accident was well publicized. After nine weeks of recovery and with plastic surgery, Clift returned to the movie set and finished the film, but with considerable difficulties. His dashing looks, though, were gone forever. In some scenes throughout the movie, despite the cinematographer's skill, Clift's nose and chin look different, and the entire left side of his face is nearly immobile.
After his car accident during shooting, there was some consideration given to recasting of Montgomery Clifts role. Production insurance would have covered the costs of re-shooting but Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson insisted that Clift be allowed to continue once he recovered for his injuries.
The scenes which Montgomery Clift shot for this picture just before his accident represent the only color footage available of him before he was disfigured. All of his previous movies had been shot in black and white.
The town of Freehaven of the mythical Raintree County was created in 1956 on MGM's vast Backlot #3 at Jefferson and Overland Boulevards in Culver City, California, by re-designing a portion of an old western set and adding some new buildings such as the Freehaven Town Hall and its clock tower. In 1971, MGM's Lot #3 was demolished to make way for a new apartment and condominium complex which became known as "Raintree Estates," named for this motion picture. Several Chinese Golden Raintrees were planted around the new residential property and many of the complex's streets and buildings were named for various MGM productions.
It seems highly likely that M-G-M saw this film as another "Gone With The Wind", a Civil War epic on a grand scale. Like the earlier film, it is based on a first novel by a previously unknown writer who never wrote a second work. However, "Raintree County" proved a huge flop. The novel, published in 1948 after many delays, is set on a single day, many years after the Civil War, albeit with reminiscences of the past, and its author, Ross Lockridge Jr., was so disturbed by its unexpectedly immense success that he committed suicide only a few weeks after its publication.
This has never been available to purchase on DVD, Blu-Ray, or digital, despite its frequent availability on VHS in the past. It was the first of just 2 movies, Ben-Hur (1959) is the other, filmed in the wide-screen process, MGM Camera 65, and the restoration of the remaining elements has always been considered to be prohibitively expensive.
The first preview for this film was held January 24, 1957 at the Granada Theatre in Santa Barbara, the film ran 3 hours and 6 minutes. On March 19, 1957 the New York Times reported that retakes would begin later that month so "that certain dramatic points will be emphasized by re-shooting in close-up and that extra footage will be added to achieve smoother transitions in the sprawling drama." When the film was ready for release two options were offered to exhibitors, either the 168 minute version as a two screenings a day feature or a continuous performance version that ran 151 minutes.
The cast and crew developed code names as to how drunk Montgomery Clift was on any given day. If he was bad, they used the word Georgia, if he was very bad it was Florida and Zanzibar was used when he was off-the-charts drunk.
Hopped up on painkillers and other drugs, Montgomery Clift's post-accident behavior became increasingly erratic. Director Edward Dmytryk noted in his autobiography that one day he went looking for his non-appearing star in his trailer, only to find a hundred containers of virtually every prescription drug and a case full of needles and syringes. Clift would disappear for long periods of time and was even caught running naked through the town that they were filming in (Danville, Kentucky). The situation got so bad that a policeman was stationed outside his hotel room every night to make sure he stayed put.
This film was the first to be photographed in the MGM Camera 65 process; the second was Ben-Hur (1959). Later, the process was renamed Ultra Panavision 70. It involved using a 65mm negative with the addition of lenses that applied a 1.25 X anamorphic squeeze. When projected, the aspect ratio would be 2.21:1 X 1.25 = 2.76:1. However, around 1957 theaters were still showing Around the World in 80 Days (1956), which forced MGM to release this film only on 35mm anamorphic prints, with an aspect ratio of 2.55:1. MGM used the older CinemaScope format because it allowed for the inclusion of four-track magnetic audio, in contrast to the mono-only audio offered by 2.35:1 optical soundtrack prints.
Of the many films produced in the very wide aspect-ratio of 2.55:1 from 1953 to 1957, this was the last released at that aspect-ratio; after this, an optional mono soundtrack was added to many films made in stereo, reducing the aspect ratio on them to 2.35:1. However, Ben-Hur (1959), also filmed in Camera 65, was the first film in that process to be released with an aspect ratio of 2.76:1. When MGM filmed "Raintree County" in Camera 65, they were forced out of necessity to release it in the CinemaScope aspect ratio rather than the correct Camera 65 one.