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The onscreen credit for Hal Mohr, director of photography, notes that Garutso Balanced Lenses were used. Director Fred Zinnemann, in his autobiography, stated that the new lenses gave an enormous depth of focus. Carson McCullers' play, which was directed on Broadway by Harold Clurman, won the New York Drama Critics Circle and Donaldson awards as best play for the 1949-50 season. Ethel Waters, Julie Harris, Brandon de Wilde, William Hansen and Harry Bolden recreated their Broadway stage roles for the film. According to news items, in February 1951 Stanley Kramer paid $100,000 for the screen rights to the play. A February 27, 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item indicates that Margaret O'Brien met with Kramer to discuss a role in the film.
News items noted that Zinemann scouted locations in Georgia, Louisiana for the film's exteriors, but settled on the small Sacramento Valley town of Colusa, CA. Interiors were shot at the Columbia Ranch in Burbank, CA. A Hollywood Reporter item indicates that Charlcie Garrett, who played "Aunt Pet," also served as a technical advisor for the story's Southern background. Hollywood Reporter casting lists add Bob Haines, Ed Peil, Sr., Peggy Leon and Lulumae Bohrman to the cast, but their appearance in the film has not been confirmed.
Reviews remarked on the film's faithfulness to the play, but New York Times noted that one scene, in which "Frankie" wanders through a disreputable part of town, was taken from the novel rather than the play. Harris, who played the twelve-year-old Frankie, was actually twenty-six at the time of filming. In a modern interview, Zinnemann called the film "the best picture that I have ever made."
Harris received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress and Brandon de Wilde won a Golden Globe award for best juvenile actor. In June 1958, NBC broadcast a television version of the play, on the DuPont Show of the Month, which was produced by David Susskind, directed by Robert Mulligan, and starred Claudia McNeil, Collin Wilcox and Dennis Kohler. In December 1982, NBC Live Theatre broadcast another version, which was directed by Delbert Mann and starred Pearl Bailey, Dana Hill, Howard Rollins and Benjamin Bernouy. In 1986, the publishing house Stock, which owned the French-language adaptation rights to the novel, alleged that the novel was adapted without permission to provide the scenario for the French film L'Effronte, produced by Oliane Productions and directed by Claude Miller. No further information concerning this has been located. A Hallmark Productions television version, starring Anna Paquin and Alfre Woodard, was broadcast in 1997.