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The working title of this film was The Good Samaritan. Although onscreen credits offer the following spelling for the actors names: Marc Lobell and Perry Ivins, the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Theater Arts Library and the Variety review spell their names Marc Loebell and Perry Evans. The picture was not released nationally until 1941, but had its previews in Joplin, MO, and at the Ambassador Theater in Los Angeles, CA, on 2 October 1939.
According to the Film Daily review, the Reverend James K. Friedrich, an Episcopal minister, produced this picture in order to portray a "correct" version of the crucifixion. Memos contained in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library note that after Joseph I. Breen voiced concerns about the onscreen representation of Jesus, producer John Coyle decided to eliminate Jesus as an onscreen character and to use the camera's point of view to represent him instead. News items in Hollywood Reporter note that Cathedral Films borrowed Albert Dekker from Paramount to appear in this film. The film was shot on location at Lone Pine and Sherwood Lake, CA. An article in Time adds that the picture cost $130,00 to produce.
The Great Commandment was made without a pre-arranged distribution deal, and Cathedral Films planned to roadshow the film with the backing of religious groups. A 1948 article in Variety notes that in 1939, Fox bought the film for $170,000 with the intention of remaking it into a spectacle co-starring Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell. After spending $340,000 preparing for the new production, Fox decided to release the original version. A news item in Los Angeles Examiner adds that Fox production head Darryl F. Zanuck was so impressed with Irving Pichel's direction of the film that he hired him to direct for Fox. The 1948 Variety article notes that after the end of World War II, Fox shelved the picture and Cathedral re-purchased it for screening in churches.