Hitchcock was under contract to David O. Selznick, so he first pitched the idea for the film to him; Selznick gave theokay for a script to be written, assigning John Housemanto keep an eye on its progress and direction.
Val Lewton,Selznick's story editor, eventually passed on the script, so Selznick forced Hitchcock to offer it to other studios,"causing ill feelings between the producer and his director since it not only showed a lack of belief in Hitchcock'sabilities, but also because the terms of Hitchcock's contract would net Selznick a three-hundred percent profit on thesale."
Universal signed on, but their budgetary limits meant Hitchcock couldn't afford Gary Cooper and BarbaraStanwyck, the two actors he wanted for the leading roles; Universal did bring in Dorothy Parker to write a fewscenes, "mostly the patriotic speeches given by the hero."
Production on the film began less than two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Hitchcock used extensive location footage in the film, especially in New York City, and utilized special long lensesto shoot from great distances. At one point Norman Lloyd glances at a capsized ship in the harbor and smilesknowingly. The ship shown is the former
in the film) which was rumoredto have been sabotaged by the Germans.
Regarding this scene, Hitchcock said: "the Navy raised hell withUniversal about these shots because I implied that the
had been sabotaged, which was a reflection ontheir lack of vigilance in guarding it."
There was clever matching of the location footage with studio shots, many using matte paintings for background, forexample in shots of the western ghost town, "Soda City". The famed Statue of Liberty sequence takes place on thetorch platform, which had actually been closed to public access after the Black Tom sabotage of July 30, 1916. Amock-up built for filming gave an accurate depiction of this part of the statue.Hitchcock makes his trademark cameo appearance about an hour into the film, standing at a kiosk in front of CutRate Drugs in New York as the saboteur's car pulls up. In his book-length interview with François Truffaut (Simonand Schuster, 1967), Hitchcock says he and Parker filmed a cameo showing them as the elderly couple who seeCummings and Lane hitchhiking and drive away, but that he decided to change that shot to the existing cameo.There was no music to underscore the film's climactic movie theatre scene; Hitchcock chose to let the action on thescreen propel the scene on its own. The scene also utilized visual effects that were ahead of their time. In particular,Lloyd lay on his side on a black saddle on a black floor while the camera was hauled from closeup to 40-feet abovehim. Film taken from the top of the Statue was then superimposed onto the black background, making him appear todrop downward, away from the camera.
The film did "very well at the box office even with its B-list cast"; it made a "tidy profit for all involved."
Bosley Crowther of
The New York Times
called the filma "swift, high-tension film which throws itself forward sorapidly that it permits slight opportunity for looking back. And it hurtles the holes and bumps which plague it with aspeed that forcefully tries to cover them up."
Crowther noted that "so abundant [are] the breathless events that onemight forget, in the hubbub, that there is no logic in this wild-goose chase"; he also questioned the "casualpresentation of the FBI as a bunch of bungling dolts, [the film's] general disregard of authorized agents, and [its] sluron the navy yard police", all of which "somewhat vitiates the patriotic implications which they have tried toemphasize in the film."
magazine called it "one hour and 45 minutes of almost simon-pure melodrama from the hand of the master";the film's "artful touches serve another purpose which is only incidental to
's melodramatic intent. Theywarn Americans, as Hollywood has so far failed to do, that fifth columnists can be outwardly clean and patrioticcitizens, just like themselves."
Norman Lloyd states after Ben Hecht saw the film he told Hitchcock, regarding the finale's death of Lloyd'scharacter due to an unravelling sleeve, "He should have had a better tailor."