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William E. Barrett's novel first appeared as a serial in Redbook magazine (Jul 1950-October 1950). According to a January 21, 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item, the screen rights to Barrett's novel were originally acquired by Howard Hawks and Edward Lasker for their independent company Winchester Productions. A April 1, 1951 New York Times article reported that Hawks and Lasker were producing the project for RKO, with a screenplay written by William Faulkner. In June 1951, Los Angeles Times noted that Kirk Douglas was set to star. Twentieth Century-Fox purchased the property in early 1954, and a modern source adds that the studio paid $110,000 for Faulkner's screenplay and the rights to the novel. The extent of Faulkner's contribution to the completed picture has not been determined, however. Several contemporary sources noted that it was difficult to adapt the book for the screen due to censorship concerns about the consequences of a layman impersonating a priest. In order to gain approval from the PCA, the studio decided that "James Carmody" would not be shown hearing confessions, saying Mass or carrying out any duty that would be considered sacreligious if performed by anyone other than a priest.
In August and September 1954,Hollywood Reporter news items noted Gregory Peck was set to star in the film. When Humphrey Bogart was signed for the role of Carmody, his contract called for "a participation arrangement under which [he] gets ten percent of the distribution gross," according to a December 30, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item. Dona Drake was tested for the picture, according to a March 15, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, but her appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Hollywood Reporter items also relate that backgrounds for the picture were shot on location in Hong Kong, and that location shooting was done at the Twentieth Century-Fox Ranch in Malibu, CA.
The film's September 21, 1955 premiere in New York was a benefit for The Boys Towns of Italy. The picture marked the last starring screen appearance of actress Gene Tierney (1920-1991). Tierney, who had been under contract to Twentieth Century-Fox since 1940, had been suffering from mental illness for a number of years and entered a series of sanitoriums for treatment. In her autobiography, Tierney noted that Bogart, whose sister was also mentally ill, was extremely supportive of her during filming. After marrying Houston oilman Howard Lee in 1960, Tierney retired to Texas, but occasionally returned to Hollywood for TV and films, beginning with the 1962 production Advise and Consent (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70).