powered by AFI
The working titles of this film were The Splinter Fleet, Suicide Fleet and Wooden Anchors. In a September 4, 1936 story outline in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, Tyrone Power is suggested for the role of Perry Townsend; this was prior to his first starring role in Lloyd's of London (see below). William Faulkner was employed as a writer for the film from 4 September to November 30, 1936 and contributed a screenplay with Kathryn Scola. An unsigned summary and analysis of his work included in the Produced Scripts Collection notes, "Unlike the characters in Mr. Faulkner's serious works, the characters in this screen play are ordinary puppets. The incidents are either trite, lacking in humor or pointless, the majority of them being totally unrelated to the general story thread. The story as a whole is diffused to a point where whatever intensity it might have is diluted....The hero, Perry, is flat in character, does not develop with the story, fails to earn our sympathy, and displays nothing of courage or intellect to rate a hero role....The dialogue as dialogue is splendid." The Produced Scripts Collection file on this film contains memos to Zanuck from Jason Joy, Aidan Roark, Jerry Hoffman, Bess Meredyth and Ben Markson, which contain suggestions about the script. A memo in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department Collection, also at UCLA, acknowledges that the screen credits and advertising for the film mistakenly spelled the author's name "Milholland." The legal records also contain correspondence which relates that although the studio purchased a screen story based on the book by Charles Bruce Millholland, the brother of the author, no part of that material was used in the final film.
In a memo to Darryl Zanuck dated March 12, 1937, Sol M. Wurtzel, in charge of the studio's "B" picture productions, stated that because of the cost to build the boat needed, the film should be considered an "A" picture and be given an "A" cast; this, in fact, is what occurred. According to Variety, four subchasers from 1917, which were still in service in the U.S. Navy, were used in the film in location shots filmed at Annapolis. This was the first film in a number of years for Nancy Kelly, who earlier appeared as a child actor and had recently starred in the Broadway production of Susan and God. According to studio publicity, actor Elisha Cook, Jr. lost the top of his left thumb during the shooting of the storm sequence when his thumb caught on a wire as a wall of water hurled down on him. Added dialogue was then written about his bandaged hand.
Reviewers greatly praised this film. Frank S. Nugent, who later wrote screenplays for director John Ford, wrote in his New York Times review, "That is the way adventure stories should be filmed. We have no qualms about calling this the best of its type this year." Motion Picture Herald commented that the climactic battle scene "is among the best of its kind ever filmed." According to a modern source, Ford cited this as one of his favorite films.