European immigrant Stefan Dubechek (Brian Donlevy) arrives in America in the 1890s and becomes involved in the steel industry. He eventually becomes an automobile manufacturer. And then, in World War II, a plane manufacturer.Brian Donlevy as Stefan Dubechek/Steve Dangos
Ann Richards as Anna O'Rourke Dangos
Walter Abel as Howard Clinton
John Qualen as Anton Dubechek
Horace McNally as Teddy Roosevelt Dangos/Narrator
Mary McLeod as Tina Dangos
Bob Lowell as George Dangos
Fred Brady as Abraham Lincoln Dangos
Billy Lechner as Joe Chandler, Jr.
Jerry Shane as Bob Chandler
Harold Landon as Joe
J. M. Kerrigan as Charlie O'Rourke
The film was part of a trilogy directed and produced by King Vidor consisting of war, wheat and steel. His films on war and wheat were The Big Parade (1925) and Our Daily Bread (1934). This was to be his steel industry epic film. Vidor came up with the story which he proposed to Eddie Mannix. Vidor then sent a telegram to author Louis Adamic, who wrote on the topic of immigration and labor. Adamic wrote the first draft of the script but did not receive a screen credit. The screenplay was written by Herbert Dalmas and William Ludwig. The film's working titles were America, This Is America, An American Story, American Miracle and The Magic Land.
Vidor initially wanted to cast Spencer Tracy as Steve Dangos, Ingrid Bergman as Anna and Joseph Cotten as the lead character's friend Howard Clinton. All three were unavailable so Brian Donlevy as Dangos and Walter Abel as Howard Clinton. Vidor later said that he felt that Donlevy was miscast as Steve Dangos because he was known for playing "blunt and blustering" characters. Frances Gifford and Ann Sothern were reportedly considered for the role of Anna but Australian actress Ann Richards was cast after principal photography began in April 1943.
Vidor used several different locations for exterior and industrial shots. He shot footage of factories and mines in Hibbing, Minnesota, the dock in Duluth, Minnesota and the Ford River A&O Rouge Plant in Dearborn, Michigan. Atmosphere and background shots were filmed in Lake Superior. Additional industrial shots of the Carnegie Illinois Steel Works factory in Chicago and the Indiana Steel Plant in Gary, Indiana were also filmed. For a racing scene, Vidor used footage filmed at the Indianapolis 500 in Speedway, Indiana. Other scenes were filmed at the Chrysler automobile factory in Detroit, the Consolidated Plant in San Diego and the Douglas Aircraft Company in Long Beach, California. Vidor also recalled filming in Wilmington, California. Background footage of a blast furnace used in the film was shot in Irontown, Utah.
An American Romance took fifteen months to complete and its final budget totaled at $3,000,000.
The film was shown at a preview screening in Inglewood, California. The original cut was 151 minutes which Louis B. Mayer praised but still chose to cut thirty minutes of the film after complaints from theater managers that the film was too long. It is unknown if the cut footage still survives. Vidor was not happy with the cuts as he felt they hurt the story.
An American Romance made its world premiere in Cincinnati, Ohio on October 11, 1944, opened in New York City on November 12, 1944, and in Los Angeles on December 13, 1944. The film received mixed reviews and was financial failure. King Vidor never worked for M-G-M again. He later wrote about the film in his 1953 autobiography A Tree Is a Tree:
"I was determined to tell the story of steel from the viewpoint of an eager immigrant in ‘An American Romance….’ When the picture was previewed in Inglewood, Louis B. Mayer came to me on the sidewalk in front of the theater, put his arm around my shoulders and said, ‘I’ve just seen the greatest picture our company ever made. However, an order came from the New York office to cut half an hour. They cut the human elements of the story instead of the documentary sections, explaining that this was the only way a half hour could be taken out without complications in the musical soundtrack. In other words, the film was edited according to the soundtrack and not according to the inherent story values. At the lowest emotional level I have reached since I have been on Hollywood, I went to my office, packed up and moved out of the studio. The picture was not a box office success. Many of the inhabitants of Hollywood and Beverly Hills have never seen the film and many do not even know it was made. I spent 3 years of my life on the project and MGM spent close to $3,000,000."
MGM recorded a loss of $1.7 million on the movie.