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The working titles for this film were Deal a Blow, Strike a Blow and Is This Our Son?. The film's opening title card reads: "RKO Radio Pictures presents James MacArthur as The Young Stranger." The story originally aired on August 25, 1955 on the CBS television program Climax! under the title "Deal a Blow." The television version featured many of the cast and crew who went on to work on the film, including stars James MacArthur and Whit Bissell, writer Robert Dozier and director John Frankenheimer. According to a November 1956 McCall's article, the film was based on a real-life incident that happened between Dozier and his father, then-RKO production head William Dozier.
In January 1956, according to a Daily Variety article, RKO producer Stuart Millar purchased the film rights to the story from Robert Dozier. Contemporary reviews noted the youthfulness of the film's cast and crew, including the 25-year-old Dozier, 28-year-old Millar, 26-year-old Frankenheimer and 19-year-old MacArthur. A December 1956 Cue article stated that the "picture and production both typify the trend toward big-studio-financed independent production-with the advent of young blood proving that the demand for New Faces extends further than merely to the stars."
MacArthur, the son of actress Helen Hayes and playwright Charles MacArthur, made his feature film debut in The Young Stranger, as did Shirley Popkin and Chuck Tyler. The film also marked the feature debut of famed television director Frankenheimer (1930-2002). Modern sources note that Frankenheimer called his experience on the production one of the worst of his career, and for the next four years he returned to television, until the production of his 1961 United Artists film The Young Savages. He followed that picture with The Manchurian Candidate and Birdman of Alcatraz, both released in 1962 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70, for all). Notices for The Young Stranger were universally favorable, with the Hollywood Reporter reviewer calling the film "an important and special picture."