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The working titles of this film were Private Secretary and Secrets of a Secretary; the latter was also the title of a 1931 Paramount production that is unrelated to this film. Night of January 16th was the first film based on a work by novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand. Under the title Woman on Trial, the play had its premiere in Los Angeles, CA in 1934. When it was performed on Broadway, where it was a hit, the opening scene portrayed the court trial of "Karen Andre" ("Kit Lane" in the film), who is being tried for Faulkner's murder. A jury would then be selected from the theatre audience and they voted on a verdict, which then determined the ending of the play. Rand wrote two endings to accommodate either verdict, and according to contemporary reviews, the audience members comprising the jury were paid Equity wages. The Hollywood Reporter review noted that only "the barest outline" of the original plot survives in the film.
According to news items, RKO, where Rand worked as an extra and wardrobe woman, purchased the rights to Rand's play in January 1939, intending to produce a film starring Claudette Colbert or Lucille Ball. Paramount then purchased the play in July 1939. In April 1940, Paramount filed a $170,000 suit against actor Don Ameche after he withdrew from this film because he felt the main character was not suitable for his portrayal. Ameche had been loaned to Paramount in a special deal that would have added Barbara Stanwyck to the cast. In September 1940, Paramount dropped its lawsuit after Ameche agreed to appear in Kiss the Boys Goodbye. The film was then tentatively recast with Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard. Director William Clemens was loaned by Warner Bros. for this film.