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A news item in New York Times notes that producers Gene Towne and Graham Baker originally offered the role of Elizabeth Robinson to Lillian Gish. According to the Film Daily review, this was the first film produced by Towne and Baker's The Play's the Thing Productions. Towne and Baker, former screenwriters, established the company to make films based on well-known stories in the public domain. The film also marked the first motion picture work of Orson Welles, who narrated the opening minutes of the film. According to an unidentified comtemporary source in the production files at the AMPAS Library, Towne and Baker met Welles at the RKO commissary, where they told him that they needed a "radio voice" to open their picture. In response to their query, Welles offered to narrate the film for a fee of twenty-five dollars, which he donated to charity. Studio publicity adds that Welles, who had won acclaim with the Mercury Theater, which he organized with John Houseman in 1937, had signed a carte blanche contract with RKO in August 1939 to produce, write and direct one film per year. He was working on his first project, an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness when he was approached by Towne and Baker.
The film received an Academy Award in the Special Effects (Photographic Effects, Vernon L. Walker; Sound Effects John O. Aalberg) category. The Wyss novel was remade by Disney in 1960 and was directed by Ken Annakin and starred John Mills and Dorothy McGuire. In 1975, it was filmed again as a television movie, directed by Harry Harris and starring Martin Milner and Pat Delany.