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The working titles of the film were Across the Everglades and Lost Man's River. The opening title reads "Budd Schulberg's Wind Across the Everglades." Voice-over narration after the opening credits states that, at the turn of the century, birds were illegally slaughtered for the fashion industry from the Gulf to the Atlantic, and that the Audubon Society fought to save the tropical birds from extinction by deputizing wardens as state marshals. The names of characters George Leggett and his wife are spelled "Liggett" in some sources.
According to a January 1958 New York Times article by producer Stuart Schulberg, who had previously been in Europe for nine years making documentaries, his older brother Budd Schulberg, an author and screenwriter, got the idea for the film in the late 1940s during a fishing trip through the Everglades. In a July 25, 1958 Los Angeles Times article, Budd stated that the story was based on "an actual event-a forgotten `war' between the Audubon society and Everglades squatters." Wind Across the Everglades was the first film produced by Schulberg Productions. Budd's script was published in book form in 1958, the same year as the film.
As noted in the Los Angeles Times review, folk musician/actor Burl Ives and stage and screen actor Christopher Plummer led an "offbeat collection of supporting players." In addition to the professional actors, were novelist MacKinlay Kantor, heavyweight fighter Tony Galento, and horse-racing jockey Sammy Renick. The famous clown Emmett Kelly, who appears as one of "Cottonmouth's" men, shadow boxes during a sequence in which the other men are fighting with one another. Although, according to modern sources, some of her scenes were cut from the final film, former striptease dancer Gypsy Rose Lee, who was noted for her "prim" performances, portrays a bordello madam who scolds one of her employees for dancing too close to her partner. According to a December 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item, Mary Osceola, who was the daughter of a tribal chief and direct descendant of the historical Seminole leader, Chief Osceola, was cast in the film. Although her appearance in the released film has not been confirmed, she is mentioned in a modern source as having portrayed the wife of "Billy One-Arm," who was played by Cory Osceola. Cory and Mary share the same last name, but it is not known whether they were related offscreen. Although he did not appear in the film, a modern source states that Ben Gazzara was originally cast as "Walt Murdock."
The following actors were added to the cast by contemporary Hollywood Reporter news items, but their appearance in the film has not been confirmed: Minella Jiras and David and Stephen Schulberg, sons of Budd. Modern sources add Hugh Parker (Lord Harry), Thelma Smallwood, Sally Marlowe, Sandra Schulberg, the daughter of Stuart Schulberg, and Hank Simms (Narrator) to the cast. Wind Across the Everglades marked the screen debut of actor Peter Falk.
An August 1958 Daily Variety news item reported that the film was the first to be shot entirely in the Everglades. Turn-of-the-century Miami was recreated in Everglades City, an unpaved town that was located seventy-eight miles west of the real Miami. According to a January 15, 1958 Variety news item, an empty Everglades City warehouse was converted into a studio, and the film editors worked onsite. A January 1958 New York Times article by Stuart Schulberg reported that nesting plume birds were filmed at Duck Rock, an Audubon sanctuary, before principal photography began. According to a September 1958 Hollywood Citizen-News article, chickens were re-feathered to portray the rare, highly-protected snowy egrets.
Most of the songs heard in the film were performed by Cottonmouth's men, accompanied by traditional folk instruments. Because of a lengthy studio musician's strike in progress at the time of production, the score was created from the studio's library of "canned" music. According to several modern sources, many additional obstacles challenged the completion of the film. The start of production was delayed to accommodate Ives, who was scheduled for the film The Big Country (see entry above) prior to Wind Across the Everglades. Inclement weather and the consequent illnesses of both Ives and actor Plummer, who performed in wet, cold conditions, caused further delays. A subject much discussed in modern sources is the personality clashes between director Nicholas Ray and Budd Schulberg and some of the actors, and the fact that Ray did not direct the final days of shooting or do the editing. In his introduction to his published script, Budd Schulberg wrote, "When Nick Ray was forced to withdraw because of illness, [Charles] Maguire [Jr., the assistant director], [director of photography Joseph] Brun and I worked harmoniously to guide our vessel through tropical storms and safely into port."
In the viewed print, some scenes seem vague or out of context. Modern sources state that some of the filmed sequences were later cut. In the final film, the relationship between Cottonmouth and his son, "Slowboy," is barely mentioned, but in one of the excised sequences, according to a modern source, a more fatherly Cottonmouth brings the injured Slowboy into town surreptitiously for medical treatment. In that same sequence, which occurred after Walt and "Naomi" declare their love under the bandstand, the couple are heading to their house to make love and encounter the father and son. Other sequences cut from the final film revealed more about the Jewish background and progressive beliefs of the Nathansons. In sequences that were cut, Naomi, who is later described in the final film as "bold," smokes and initiates a kiss with Walt.
Versions of the script which May not have been filmed, according to a modern source, added a prologue of Walt being arrested in Boston for drunkenness and ended shortly after Cottonmouth is bitten by the snake and before he refuses Walt's offer to help and the character's last monologue.