Victor Sen Yung's first movie.
Sam Wood directed the "robbing of the big house" sequence, some retakes and other additional footage.
James Stewart, who worked as a contract player at MGM in the 1930s, tested for, and almost got, the part of Wang Lung.
Irving Thalberg envisioned casting only Chinese actors for the movie, but gave up the idea because there were not enough suitable Chinese actors.
Victor Adams, who was Paul Muni's stand-in, also played Wang Lung (Muni's character) in long shots when Muni went AWOL from the set.
According to Peter Hay's 1991 book "When the Lion Roars", when MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer learned of production chief Irving Thalberg's desire to film Pearl S. Buck's novel about Chinese peasants, he told him, "The public won't buy pictures about American farmers, and you want to give them Chinese farmers?" Opposed by Mayer, Thalberg had to appeal to Nicholas Schenck, the chief executive of MGM parent Loew's Theaters Inc. and President of MGM, to make the film. Permission was given, but Thalberg never lived to see the film completed. This is the only film that bears a Thalberg producer credit.
Because the Sino-Japanese war was in progress, the Chinese government threatened not to approve the movie if any Japanese actors were cast in any role.
Chinese-born Anna May Wong desperately wanted the role of O-Lan. Being a close friend of author Pearl S. Buck helped. She tested for the role, but producer Irving Thalberg was unsatisfied. Also, since Paul Muni, a Caucasian actor, had already been cast in the lead, Thalberg knew he couldn't cast Wong as Muni's wife. The Hays Code prohibited actors of different races from playing husband/wife couples on film. (This was to avoid offending white audiences in the segregated American South, where there were laws against mixed-race marriages.) Thalberg offered her the "vamp" role of Lotus, but a distraught Anna May turned it down.
For the second year in a row, Luise Rainer won a Best Actress Oscar, becoming the first performer to win two Academy Awards and the first to win two Oscars in two years.
Special effects experts were unable to produce an authentic looking locust plague. Just as they were about to abandon the scene, they received word that a real locust plague was taking place several states away. A camera crew was rushed to the scene to capture it on film.
The first time that Irving Thalberg's name appeared onscreen. The movie - the last one he produced - was dedicated to him "as his last great achievement."
The location shots in China were filmed by director George W. Hill for a movie that was later abandoned. Hill had died by the time this film went into production.
The play by Owen Davis and Donald Davis, based on Pearl S. Buck's novel, opened in New York on 18 October 1933 at the Guild Theater with Claude Rains and Alla Nazimova in the lead roles and ran for 56 performances.
When Irving Thalberg, MGM's production chief, negotiated with Warner Bros. to cast Paul Muni, Muni told him, "I'm about as Chinese as Herbert Hoover." Thalberg had to lend Clark Gable and Leslie Howard to Warners to secure Muni's services.