In Frances Marion's original script, the characters played by Leila Hyams and Robert Montgomery were husband and wife. After the film flopped in a preview screening, MGM studio executive Irving Thalberg decided that the problem was that audiences, especially women, didn't want to see the Chester Morris character have an affair with a married woman. So the script was rewritten to make Montgomery and Hyams brother and sister. Scenes were reshot and the film, in its modified form, became a major hit.
Passing through the MGM canteen one afternoon, Frances Marion spotted Wallace Beery ferociously attacking a plate of spaghetti. This convinced her that he would be ideal for the part of Butch.
Hal Roach, who produced his own comedies but released them through MGM, obtained an agreement allowing him to use the prison set from this film for a Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy comedy short. However, as the comedy was being planned, MGM stipulated that Laurel & Hardy would have to make a film for them. Not wanting to loan out his biggest stars, Roach built his own set, an expense so great that the short was expanded to feature length to recoup the cost. The film became Pardon Us (1931), the pair's first starring feature.
This movie relaunched Wallace Beery's career. Before the coming of sound, he had been a top supporting player in silent films but had been dropped by his studio when sound came in. With this film being a huge hit, and Beery earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, he was back in favor, and within two years was the world's highest paid actor.
Wallace Beery's mess-hall diatribe is parodied by Leslie Nielsen in Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994), when he goes undercover in the prison and complains about the quality of the food.
Robert Montgomery and Chester Morris also appeared in The Divorcee (1930), another of that year's Best Film nominees.
Frances Marion's Academy Award for Best Screenplay made her the first woman to win an Oscar in a non-acting capacity.
Writer Frances Marion toured prison facilities and interviewed prisoners and prison personnel to research her screenplay.
Lon Chaney was originally cast in the role of Butch Schmidt. Due to his untimely illness, the role was given to Wallace Beery.
This film was released in Buenos Aires, Argentina, without Spanish subtitles nor any title in Spanish. It was released only for a "distinguished English-speakers audience" from Buenos Aires.
Ward Wing concurrently directed a Spanish-language version of this film. Pál Fejös directed separate German- and French-language versions.
MGM Production Chief Irving Thalberg sent screenwriter Frances Marion to San Quentin State Prison in northern California to observe real prison conditions and adapt them as closely as possible to her script. The warden at the prison reminded Marion of the actor Lewis Stone, who was cast to play the prison warden in the film.
The tanks used in the film were WWI-era M1917 or French Renault FT light tanks of the 40th Tank Company of the California National Guard from Salinas, California - part of the U.S. Army's 40th Infantry Division.
The Director, George Hill, was married, at that time, to the film's screenwriter, Frances Marion.
This film's television premiere took place in Philadelphia Wednesday 24 April 1957 on WFIL (Channel 6), followed by New Haven CT 1 May 1957 on WNHC (Channel 8), by Altoona PA 8 May 1957 on WFBG (Channel 10), by Chicago 18 May 1957 on WBBM (Channel 2), by Los Angeles 16 June 1957 on KTTV (Channel 11), by Hartford CT 3 July 1957 on WHCT (Channel 18), by Norfolk VA 8 August 1957 on WTAR (Channel 3), by Seattle 29 September 1957 on KING (Channel 5), by Portland OR 15 October 1957 on KGW (Channel 8), by San Francisco 22 February 1958 on KGO (Channel 7), by Minneapolis 22 July 1958 on WTCN (Channel 11), and, finally, by New York City 25 August 1958 on WCBS (Channel 2).