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The working title of the picture was Stella. The film opens with the following written prologue: "In 1940 and 1941, while Britain stood alone in the darkest days of World War II, ocean going tugs of the Salvage Service played a major part in maintaining the Atlantic convoys-lifeline of resistance. The tugs were inadequately armed and virtually defenceless against attack by plane or submarine. At one time, every mission undertaken by the men who manned these tiny rescue ships was, in effect, a suicide mission. They were very gallant men. But they were flesh and blood, too, and they often knew fear and despair." The cast credits end by listing "H.M. Tug Restive and her Master and Crew." Carl Foreman's onscreen credit reads "written for the screen and directed by Carl Foreman." The Key marked Foreman's first production for Columbia. The opening and closing cast credits differ slightly in order. The Variety review incorrectly lists actors Sidney Vivian as "Sydney" and Beatrix Lehmann as "Beatrice." According to a March 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item, Gary Cooper was originally slated to star.
The British and American release versions had different running times. The British running time was 134 minutes, according to the London reviews. By the time the film was released in the United States, it had been trimmed to 125 minutes. According to an August 1958 New York Times article, Foreman, who, according to the film's file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, had been warned by the PCA that "the immoral sexual relationship" depicted in the film should not serve as a "prelude to a happy ending," shot two different endings for the film. In one, "David" is left standing alone on the station platform as "Stella's" train pulls away. The second, happy ending, had David jump onboard the moving train to reunite with Stella. According to the New York Times, the PCA unexpectedly approved the happy ending, leaving Columbia with too few prints to distribute for the blanket opening of the film. As a result, the prints with the unhappy ending were shown at several Manhattan theaters, while those with the happy ending were distributed throughout the rest of the country.
The PCA files reveal the following additional information about the film: Warner Bros. had initially considered producing the picture until PCA director Joseph Breen warned in an September 18, 1952 letter that the story was unacceptable and "impossible to bring within the requirements of the code." An August 18, 1957 Sunday Dispatch (London) article, included in the file, stated that Foreman intended to make two versions of the film, one intended for the European market, the other for the American. The American version would only "imply" a sexual relationship between Stella and David, and at no time would an "unmarried pair be seen occupying at the same time a room containing a bed."
Although a December 1957 Hollywood Reporter production chart places Belita in the cast, but she was not in the released film. According to a September 1957 New York Times news item, the outdoor scenes were shot on a promontory off the English Coast of Dorset and at Her Majesty's Naval Dockyard, Portland, England. In a modern source, Sophia Loren stated that after she had been cast as "Stella," Foreman told her that she was too young for the part and wanted to replace her with Ingrid Bergman. Because she had a signed contract and wanted to play the role, she refused to resign from the project. Modern sources state that Michael Caine appeared in the film, possibly as an extra, but he was not identifiable in the print viewed.