Sergei M. Eisenstein was originally in talks to direct this film. He even wrote an early script, several hundred pages long. Eisenstein hoped to make his English-speaking directorial debut with this film, and Paramount wanted him to as well, but nothing came of it.

Theodore Dreiser sued Paramount for misrepresenting his novel by transforming it into an ordinary murder story. The judge ruled in favor of Paramount; Dreiser's motion to prevent release of the film was denied.

Theodore Dreiser's novel was based on the actual 1906 murder case of Chester Gillette, convicted of drowning his girlfriend Grace Brown in Big Moose Lake in upstate New York. Gillette was executed in the electric chair on 30 March 1908.

One of over 700 Paramount Productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since.

One of the very few feature films to be dubbed in Swedish. The audience, however, did not take to Swedish voices in an American film and preferred the subtitled version. Since then, subtitling has been the general practice in Sweden, with the exception of animated films and children's films (even then, an option of seeing the original version is usually available).

The mother of Grace Brown, the real-life murder victim, filed a $150,000 libel suit against Paramount in 1934. The suit was settled out of court.

The movie was banned in England, South Africa and Italy because of reference to abortion. Other states required allusions to abortion to be deleted before release.

Writer Theodore Dreiser was dismayed to find that director Josef von Sternberg and Paramount had taken so many liberties with his book, and he successfully sued, which forced von Sternberg to add many scenes that had been edited out of the movie. The resulting final cut was so far from what von Sternberg had intended, he disowned the picture.