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This film marked director John Ford's first Technicolor film, and followed Twentieth Century-Fox's successful teaming of producer Darryl Zanuck, director John Ford, screenwriter Lamar Trotti and star Henry Fonda in Young Mr. Lincoln (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.5256). According to early 1937 Hollywood Reporter news items, Fox initially set Warner Baxter for the male lead and listed Henry King as the director. A studio press release noted that Nancy Kelly was originally set for the female lead and that Don Ameche was considered for the role that was eventually given to Fonda. The press release reported that Ameche was unable to take the assignment because he was tied up with Hollywood Cavalcade (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.1956). An August 1939 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that novice actress Linda Darnell was pulled from the cast of the film because Zanuck had decided that she would be better suited for a role as society girl in Public Debutante No. 1 (see below), a film in which she did not finally appear. Although the film credits Ward Bond with the role of Adam Hartman, reviews erroneously list his character as "Adam Helmer."
A March 1937 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that William Faulkner was signed to write the screenplay for the film, however material contained at the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Theater Arts Library suggests that Faulkner's sole contribution was that of an early treatment of the story. A modern source notes that the final film was almost entirely devoid of Faulkner's contributions. The UCLA files also indicate that Zanuck criticized Sonya Levien's first draft of the continuity, dated December 2, 1938, for having too much emphasis on the epic nature of the story rather than the more personal tale of Gilbert and Lana, which he preferred. In April 1939, Zanuck, after having read Lamar Trotti's draft of the screenplay, argued against the script's "flag waving patriotism" and reasserted his desire to see the clash of personalities between Lana and Gilbert more fully developed. According to the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, Zanuck purchased the rights to the film for $25,000.
According to Hollywood Reporter, some scenes were shot at Cedar City, Utah, where 350 local residents were used as extras. A biography of Ford notes that filming began without a completed script, and that rain and unpredictable lighting conditions in Utah's Wasatch Mountains forced many production delays. The biography also indicates that Ford, pressed for time at the Utah location, decided to forgo filming a large-scale battle scene, which had been scheduled for a three-week shoot, and instead used footage taken from an unscripted description of the battle spoken by Fonda. The sequence was taken from an improvised conversation between Ford and Fonda that had been filmed and later edited with Ford's questions removed. The result was a continuous shot of Fonda giving a descriptive narration of the battle scene. Modern sources add actors Tom Tyler (Morgan) and Noble Johnson (Indian) to the cast, and note that Mae Marsh played a pioneer woman in the film.
Edna May Oliver was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in her role as Mrs. McKlennar. A radio dramatization of Drums Along the Mohawk, featuring Colbert and Fonda, aired on Kate Smith's radio program on November 3, 1939.