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The working title of this film was Bar-B-Q. A January 1945 Hollywood Reporter news item indicates that Gregory Peck was considered for the role played by John Garfield. Garfield was borrowed from Warner Bros. for this picture, and Cecil Kellaway was borrowed from Paramount. Some filming took place at a gas station thirty miles southeast of Los Angeles. A biography of Lana Turner notes that the actress once stated that her role in the film was her favorite assignment.
Material contained in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library provides the following information about the film: In early February 1934, before James M. Cain's novel was published, a synopsis of his story was submitted to the PCA by RKO executive Merian C. Cooper. After reviewing the synopsis, the PCA persuaded RKO to abandon its plans to film Cain's story, calling it "definitely unsuitable for motion picture production." Columbia and Warner Bros. also expressed interest in the property, but Warner Bros. quickly rejected the story, "fearful that any attempt to get a screen story out of it would end in disaster." An internal memorandum of the Hays Office dated March 9, 1934 indicates that M-G-M production executive Eddie Mannix purchased the rights to the story only "two hours" after the PCA convinced Columbia studio executives to kill their plans to acquire the rights. In the memo, Joseph I. Breen, the Director of the PCA, noted that Columbia and RKO were likely to "set up a squawk the minute they hear Metro has purchased this story, which we persuaded them not to purchase."
The Breen Office made several impassioned pleas to M-G-M to drop their planned film, warning of the dangers of filming a novel that it called "unwholesome and thoroughly objectionable" in its general theme. Breen later elaborated on his objections, stating that many of the story's elements, including "numerous sexual irregularities," the explicit treatment of criminal acts and the "emphasis upon the dishonesty of the lawyers and representatives of the insurance companies," would prevent the film from gaining the PCA's approval. By April 1934, M-G-M agreed to abandon the property, and it was shelved for six years. In 1939, a short time after the release of a French version of Cain's story, entitled Le Dernier Tournant, Breen stated in a letter to MPPA treasurer Col. Frederick L. Herron that "you will be glad to know that the film is a fairly complete flop. Very few of the critics liked it and I understand that the public hisses it from time to time. Some of this material might be used in defense of our industry when people over there claim that we make mistakes in refusing to permit certain stories to be filmed."
In early 1940, M-G-M submitted to the PCA a proposed treatment of Cain's novel as outlined by Czechoslovakian director Gustav Machaty and Albert F. Joseph. As indicated in a letter from Breen to Louis B. Mayer, the new treatment did not contain the novel's "adultery or illicit sex," and it would "not be a story about murder." The treatment deviated from the novel in many respects, namely in that no attempt would be made to murder "Nick," that the bathtub scene would be treated as an accident, and that "Frank" and "Cora" would have no guilt in Nick's drunk driving accident. Despite M-G-M's willingness to alter much of Cain's story, Breen wrote Mayer that the material "still continues to be pretty sordid stuff, and questionable from the standpoint of popular entertainment." Machaty and Joseph were not mentioned in conjunction with subsequent versions of the script or story, and the extent of their contribution to the final film has not been determined.
Various treatments and scripts were submitted by M-G-M to the PCA between 1940 and 1945, and in May 1945, the PCA approved a revised temporary script. In an April 1946 New York Times article, Cain notes that while some "details about sex were omitted," nothing else was changed in the story's adaptation to the screen to win the approval of the PCA. Regional censorship reports contained in the MPAA/PCA file indicate that the film was banned in Indonesia, Switzerland and Spain, and that deletions to the picture were made in other countries.
Cain adapted his novel for the stage in 1936. The New York production starred Richard Barthelmess, Mary Philips and Joseph Greenwald. Other films based on Cain's novel are: the 1939 French film Le Dernier Tournant, directed by Pierre Chenal and starring Fernand Gravet and Corinne Luchaire; the 1942 Italian film Ossessione, directed by Luchino Visconti and starring Massimo Girotti and Clara Calamai; and the 1981 Lorimar film The Postman Always Rings Twice, directed by Bob Rafelson and starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange. The 1942 Italian film, which did not credit Cain or his story, was the subject of an international copyright infringement dispute that resulted in M-G-M's successful lobbying to keep any prints of the film from being shown in the United States. Ossessione has never been released in the United States, and is shown illegally in most parts of the world.