Spencer Tracy initially turned down the role of Manuel because he thought it was too secondary to the boy. He did not attempt a Portuguese accent but instead based his accent for the film on a Yiddish voice he had used during an early theater performance. He initially hated his performance in the movie until it won him good reviews and an Oscar nomination.
In the novel (which first appeared as a serialization in "McClure's" magazine beginning November 1896) Harvey Cheyne is 15 and his father and mother travel by train from San Diego when they are notified Harvey has arrived in Gloucester. In the film his father says (at 05:23) "I wish his mother had lived to see him now, ten years old and yet he's one of the editors of his school paper."
Manuel was a replacement for the grief-crazed priest character who falls off the fishing boat into the storm in the original novel. The Hayes act forbade the use of such a character.
None of the filming actually took place at sea. A four fifth size replica of the fishing schooner was built in the "tank". The actors merely walked on to it every day while filming. Distance and tracking shots of the schooner were a real ship that was filmed at sea and spliced into the movie where necessary.
Spencer Tracy was initially reluctant to take on the part of Manuel, mainly because he had to sing in several scenes and get his hair curled. His new curly locks provided a lot of amusement to his friends and fellow actors. Joan Crawford, for instance, referred to him as Harpo (after Harpo Marx, the curly-haired Marx Brother).
The Fishermen's Memorial at the end of the film is a replica of the one in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The actual memorial can be seen at the beginning of The Perfect Storm, another movie about Gloucester fishermen.
The only film where Freddie Bartholomew was allowed to play a less-than-virtuous character.
This was one of the final films Lionel Barrymore made before his degenerative arthritis crippled him. The following year, he was hobbling around on crutches in Frank Capra's "You Can't Take It with You" (1938); after that, he was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Was the first MGM film to be shown on television, in 1955.
When Spencer Tracy received his Oscar statuette for this movie, he was surprised to find it inscribed to comic-strip hero "Dick Tracy". An embarrassed Academy replaced the statuette.