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The working titles of this film were Bed-Rock, Man Lock and East River. Fox purchased the novel before it was published, when it was entitled Sand Hog. It subsequently appeared in serial form in Argosy, 6 October-November 3, 1934 under the title of East River. According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, J. Robert Bren and Norman Houston wrote and submitted to Fox a story on speculation expressly for Victor McLaglen and Edmund Lowe in which the climax dealt with the troubles and conflicts of two tunnel workers; however, the studio determined that the Bren and Houston story bore no similarity to the one used for the film, and thus refused to compensate them for it. On August 25, 1934, the Gaelic American, a newspaper called the "Irishman's Bible" by author Frank G. Fowler, who wrote under the name of Borden Chase, published an editorial warning that the film should be protested if a reported demeaning portrayal of an Irish wake was included in the film. George Wasson, of Fox's legal department, responded with a letter instructing the filmmakers that "Every endeavor should be made to see that there are no objectionable scenes from the standpoint of Irish or Irish-American groups." Fowler, who worked for ten years in river tunnels, responded by pointing out that there was no scene of an Irish wake in the script and that it did not show the Irish in an unfavorable light. He further stated that some shots were made in New York with the complete cooperation of the president of the "sandhogs'" union, 55% of which was Irish.
According to news items, after the original shooting was completed in mid-October 1934, James Tinling was selected to direct new scenes and major revisions instead of Raoul Walsh, who directed the original scenes. It was subsequently announced that Tinling would not direct the film and that a number of other directors were looking at the footage shot. Irving Cummings eventually was selected to direct the reshoot, which lasted for most of the month of December 1934. According to a Daily Variety news item in November 1934, $400,000 had already been spent on the production, and the reshoot was expected to cost another $200,000. At the time, a new treatment was being rewritten for the film. Grace Bradley, who appeared as "Pat" in the footage shot by Walsh, was replaced by Florence Rice for the reshoot. According to the legal records, Guinn Williams was originally signed to play "Nipper Moran." Williams is listed in early production charts, as is Ruth Peterson; while Williams was replaced by Charles Bickford, it is not known if Ruth Peterson was in the final film. Jack Donohue was the dance director for the original shooting, but it is not known if any of his work survived in the final film. The song "I'll Go to Flannigan," lyrics by Jack Yellen, music by Dan Dougherty, was written for the film, but was not in the final film. According to an unidentified article dated November 30, 1934 in the AMPAS file for the film, a huge tube, nearly 500 feet long and seventeen feet in diameter, an exact replica of a vehicle tunnel during construction, was copied as a set from the Fulton Street tunnel in New York, which connects Brooklyn and Manhattan.