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The main title reads: "Philip Yordan's Production of Studs Lonigan Based on the novel by James T. Farrell." Yordan's other credit reads: "Written and Produced by Philip Yordan." Haskell P. Wexler's credit reads: "Associate to the Director and Photographic Consultant." Although the running time for the film is listed as 103 minutes in the Hollywood Reporter and Variety pre-release reviews, later reviews list the running time as 95 minutes, which was the length of the print viewed.
Hollywood attempted several times to film Farrell's 1935 book, which was comprised of three short novels: Young Lonigan (1932); The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan (1934) and Judgement Day (1935). A Daily Variety news item of October 16, 1946 reported that producer Benedict Bogeaus had bought screen rights to the novel, but no film based on the material was made by Bogeaus. According to a September 1953 New York Times news item, publicist Stephen Strassberg optioned the novel. Strassberg stated that Ben Hecht was interested in writing the screenplay and Marlon Brando and Elia Kazan were being sought for the production. A February 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Kerner had just closed a deal with United Artists to produce the film. In September 1955, a Daily Variety news item noted that Kerner had signed David Dortort to write the script.
According to a December 30, 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item, when Kerner originally obtained the film rights to Farrell's work, it was with the proviso that the film "be in exhibition in early 1960." The news item noted that Yordan had been assigned by UA to take over the project in order to accelerate production. A February 23, 1960 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Yordan was considering casting Maggie Pierce in "the leading femme role," but she did not appear in the picture. On February 29, 1960, Hollywood Reporter reported that Wexler, originally assigned to be the picture's director of photography, had been named associate to the director and was replaced as cinematographer by J. Arthur Feindel. Although Hollywood Reporter news items include Jimmie Horan, Raymond Oja, Peter Virgo, Jayme Mylroie and Don Chaffin in the cast, their appearance in the completed film has not been confirmed. The Variety review credits actor Ben Gary with "various roles."
In an April 1960 letter to the New York Times, author Farrell expressed great dissatisfaction with Yordan's adaptation and announced his desire to sell his rights in the production as soon as possible and thus sever all connections to the project. Farrell decried the fact that "Studs" does not die in the film, as he does in the novel, stating that "the Studs Lonigan trilogy was conceived from the standpoint of Studs' death. Without it, the work would have been stupid and foolish." Farrell continued that "it is obvious that [the filmmakers] do not understand the Irish and do not know what life was like in the 1920s."
Correspondence in the film's file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library reveals that a production code seal was denied the film in late April 1960 due to excessive sexual material. After revisions, a seal was issued mid-June 1960. Newspaper advertising for the film promoted it as being in the teenage rebel genre: "The Shocking Story of Today's 'Lost World' of Youth," "The seething teenager who burned with hungers he couldn't understand...rebelling against a world he never made" and "The Key to the Secret of Today's Bewildered Youth!"
Many reviews commented on the picture's visual style and its "arty" feel. Others felt that the conflicts that defined Stud's problems in the novel, including the religiosity of his family, were absent from the film and that his life and dilemmas were played out in a vacuum with no attempt to define his motivations, or lack thereof. Daily Variety noted that "one never gets the proper feeling of passage of time...Scenes that are supposed to be widely spaced in time...seem instead to be happening right on top of one another, creating a ludicrous sequence of disconnected behavior." In a November 1963 review, the British magazine Films and Filming reported that the film's first cut ran two hours and forty-two minutes.
In a 1986 letter addressed to AMPAS, writer Bernard Gordon stated that he was hired to write the film's narration, Stud's stream of consciousness inner monologue, after the production was completely shot and edited. Gordon noted that he had worked with the film's director and editor to give it a stronger sense of continuity.
Studs Lonigan marked the feature-film debut of actor Christopher Knight in the title role. In the opening cast credits, Knight is listed last. Although the film was not Jack Nicholson's first screen appearance, it marked his first significant role. In March 1979, NBC broadcast a six-hour miniseries based on Farrell's novel, starring Harry Hamlin and Colleen Dewhurst and directed by James Goldstone.