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The working titles of this film were Beyond the Call and Beyond the Call of Duty. The closing credits include the following written acknowledgment: "We thank the Department of Defense, especially the Marine Corps. and its officers and men of the Third Marine Division on Okinawa, for the cooperation extended during the filming of the battle sequences of this motion picture."
The film is based on the true experiences of Marine hero Pfc. Guy Gabaldon (1926-2006), who, according to military historians, captured over 1,500 Japanese soldiers and cilvilians during the Battle of Saipan. Known as "The Pied Piper of Saipan" for his success in capturing prisoners, the then eighteen-year-old Gabaldon was nominated for a Congressional Medal of Honor and awarded the Silver Star. Many of the events of the film mirror Gabaldon's life: In Los Angeles, after his mother was hospitalized, the Mexican-American Gabaldon was taken into several Nisei homes, where he was reared in a traditional Japanese fashion. At the age of sixteen, he attempted to enlist in the Army, but was refused because of a punctured eardrum.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, while Gabaldon's foster parents were interned, he tried to join the Marines, and although he was slightly undersize, he was accepted because of his fluency in Japanese and assigned to an intelligence unit. While on the island of Saipan, Gabaldon repeatedly went behind enemy lines, usually alone, and talked many Japanese soldiers and civilians into surrendering. At first, Gabaldon persuaded small groups of Japanese to surrender, then on July 8, 1944, single-handedly took 800 prisoners. In 1960, around the time of the release of Hell to Eternity, Gabaldon's Silver Star was upgraded to a Navy Cross, and in the 1990s, Hispanic veterans and lawmakers began a campaign to request the reevaluation of Gabaldon's eligibility for the Congressional Medal of Honor. At the time of Gabaldon's death in 2006, the reevaluation remained unresolved.
On June 20, 1957, Daily Variety reported that the screen rights to Gabaldon's life story, which had been featured on the NBC television show This Is Your Life the evening before, had been purchased by Gramercy Pictures. A October 26, 1960 Variety news item then announced that the American Broadcasting-Parent Theatres company (AB-PT), which had been headed by producer Irving H. Levin, had originated the project and provided a major portion of the financing for it. Atlantic Pictures, the production company listed onscreen, was formed by Levin after AB-PT became inactive, and Hell to Eternity was the first and only production for Atlantic.
A March 28, 1960 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that actress Joan O'Brien withdrew as the female lead due to scheduling conflicts and was replaced, according to a April 5, 1960 Hollywood Reporter news item, by Patricia Owens. Hollywood Reporter news items add the following actors to the cast, although their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed: Frank Allocca, Morgan Jones, Ron Kennedy, Charles Victor, Alan Wells, Leon Lontoc, Rick Murray, Raymond Yanagita, Jill Miyahara and Teru Shimada.
Press information contained in the copyright record noted that the U.S. Marine Corps. staged battle scenes on Okinawa with several hundred veterans of the Japanese Imperial Army appearing as extras. A March 17, 1960 Hollywood Reporter news item added that 500 Marines from nearby Camp Hansen were also extras in the battle scene shooting. In addition to the location shooting in Okinawa, portions of the film were shot at Palos Verdes and Century Ranch in Calabasas, CA. Hell to Eternity was actress Tsuru Aoki Hayakawa's first American film in thirty-five years, and her last film before her death in 1961. She and her husband, Sessue Hayakawa, were frequent co-stars in the silent film era.
According to information contained in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, strong objections were made to the scene in which "Famika" and "Sheila Lincoln" perform a striptease. An January 11, 1960 letter from PCA official Geoffrey Shurlock to Allied Artists demanded that the suggestion of an illicit sexual affair between "Guy" and "Sono" be removed. In February 1960, Shurlock informed the company that an altered version of the scene was still unacceptable, and on June 7, 1960, shortly after production was completed, studio official Gordon S. White agreed to reduce considerably the length of the scene, removing various sexually explicit shots. On June 14, 1960, the scene was accepted, and the script approved.
The speech delivered by Hayakawa's character to the troops captured by Gabaldon is spoken in Japanese. The story of "Momotaro, the Peach Boy," is one of the best known folktales in Japan. Its principal character exemplifies kindness, courage and strength. A September 19, 1961 Daily Variety news item reported that Gabaldon made personal appearances in connection with free screenings of the film in provincial areas of Mexico. Hell to Eternity was the last produced screen story of writer Gil Doud (1914-1957).