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The opening credits contained the following written prologue: "This story is about a man who defended his country. His name is Joe Smith. He is an American. This picture is a tribute to all Joe Smiths." Hollywood Reporter news items contribute the following information about the production: For several months prior to the start of production, Dore Schary was set to direct the picture based on "his own yarn" (which May have meant that he was also set to write the screenplay). Schary was also said to have been given cooperation by Lowell Mellett, head of public relations for the U.S. government's "defense branch." The extent of Mellet's contribution to the released film has not been determined. Van Heflin was at one time set to star in the title role. Some shooting took place at two different locations in the Montebello oil district in Southern California and, according to an M-G-M press release, the bowling alley sequence was shot at the Culver City Bowling Alley, close to the M-G-M lot in Culver City.
Although some modern sources indicate that actress Ava Gardner made her motion picture debut in the film, she was not identifiable in the viewed print. Other modern sources indicate that she made her debut in the 1941 film H. M. Pulham, Esq., which was filmed just prior to Joe Smith, American. New York Times film critic Bowsley Crowther gave the film an "honorable mention" to his "Ten Best Films of the Year" list, and several consumer magazines praised the low-budget film for its excellence. According to an article in Hollywood Reporter on October 27, 1942, Joe Smith, American was one of ten films selected by the East and West Association to be sent for exhibition in Asian countries as "most nearly representative of life in the U.S." The 1959 M-G-M release The Big Operator, directed by Charles Haas and starring Mickey Rooney and Steve Cochran, was based on the same Paul Gallico short story, but that film was centered on racketeering and trade unions and updated to a late 1950s setting.