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The working title of this film was Convict Lake. The picture begins and ends with a voice-over narrator describing the convicts' escape, and the possible fate of "Canfield" and "Marcia." The film is loosely based on the escape of twenty-nine prisoners from a Nevada prison on September 17, 1871. The majority of the convicts were re-captured or killed, but some of them reached the area of Monte Diablo Lake in Mono County, CA, which was renamed Convict Lake after a gun battle between the convicts and a posse claimed several lives.
According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, Ben Hecht worked on the film's screenplay but declined an onscreen credit for unspecified reasons. A April 6, 1950 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Dana Andrews and Linda Darnell would be starring in the picture, and studio records add that Connie Gilchrist was originally cast as "Mary." Portions of the picture were filmed on location near Bishop, CA and in Durango, CO, according to studio publicity.
The film's file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library reveals that the Breen Office rejected the screenplay several times, primarily due to the depiction of "Clyde" as a "psychopathic rapist" and "sex-murderer." The PCA instructed the studio to lessen Clyde's sexual aggressiveness, and also requested that the character of "Barbara" clearly be a young woman of seventeen or eighteen years old rather than a child, as the character was originally written. After several conferences between PCA and studio officials, the story was finally approved in January 1951.
The picture marked the first freelance assignment undertaken by Ethel Barrymore after ending her long-term contract with M-G-M. Director Michael Gordon, who was blacklisted due to his refusal to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, did not direct another film in Hollywood until the 1959 Universal production Pillow Talk. According to a January 14, 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item, The Secret of Convict Lake was nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Memorial Award for the "best mystery picture of 1951" by the Mystery Writers of America.