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The viewed print bore the title I Was a Criminal, the title under which it was reviewed in 1946. No reviews have been located prior to 1946 and it is possible that the picture had been theatrically released until that year. The opening credits bore the following written prologue: "This story is not a legend, it really happened, Wilhelm Voight really lived." In the opening credits, composer Daniele Amfitheatrof's first name is spelled "Daniel," and screenwriter Albrecht Joseph's first name is spelled "Allbright." There is a small animated sequence in the film in which "Wilhelm" looks at the military handbook and a black and white sketch of marching soldiers comes to life. The style of the animation suggests that it May have been made for the 1931 German picture, Der Hauptman von Koepenick, on which the 1941 film was based. The 1931 film, also directed by Richard Oswald, was written by Carl Zuckmayer and Albrecht Joseph. Zuckmayer, a noted German playwright, wrote a play of the same title (Berlin, 5 March 1931), and Joseph adapted the German screenplay for the American version.
According to a feature article on the film in a January 4, 1942 issue of PM's Weekly, the film was made at a cost of $350,000 and shot in ten days. The cast and crew reportedly worked for nothing, in exchange for a share in the picture's profits. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item on February 5, 1940, Columbia pictures had considered filming a version of the story to star Edward G. Robinson; another news item, on August 27, 1940, noted that M-G-M was planning to film a short version of the story as part of John Nesbitt's "Passing Parade" series, with a screenplay to be written by Doane Hoag. Neither film was produced, but another German version was made in 1955. In one scene of the 1941 picture, set in a train station, an actor resembling a young Adolf Hitler is seen painting a sign, a reference to the fact that the future Nazi leader had been a sign painter prior to World War I. A German television version of the story was broadcast on the Premiere network in 1997.