The movie was adapted by Wendell Mayes from the novel by Robert Traver. It was directed by Otto Preminger. The film was noted for featuring unusually frank (for 1959) dialogue, and was among the first Hollywood films that challenged the stringent Hayes Production Code.
It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (James Stewart), Best Actor in a Supporting Role, (Arthur O'Connell), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (George C. Scott), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Film Editing, Best Picture and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.
The role of the judge was offered to both Spencer Tracy and Burl Ives, but finally was given to Joseph N. Welch, a real-life lawyer who had made a name for himself when representing the United States Army in hearings conducted by Sen. Joseph McCarthy.