A small group of British sailors stationed on a Scottish island engaged in top-secret research on a new and dangerous torpedo are joined by a US Navy scientist, Lt. Brad Bradville (Gene Kelly), and his assistants. When several tests of the weapon fail, and men are killed, tensions within the group mount. Bradville must prove that the torpedo can work and win over the British, especially Lt. Rogert Wharton (John Justin), before the Admiralty pulls the plug on the project.
The original stage play was written by Australian playwright Hugh Hastings and was based on his experiences in World War II. It opened in London's West End on 14 June 1950, and was a hit there, but played for only two weeks on Broadway in New York City. Bernard Lee played the same role in the London stage production.
The play ran for over 1,600 performances in London. Film rights were sold to the Boulting Brothers for £10,000.
Because the play – in which all the characters were British, and the emphasis was more on the enlisted men than in the film – was a hit, MGM retained the title for the film everywhere except in the US and Canada, where the title Crest of the Wave was used.
Although set on a Scottish island, the movie was filmed in Jersey and at Fort Clonque on Alderney in the Channel Islands, with interiors filmed at MGM's British studios at Borehamwood, Elstree. Production took place between 4 May and late July 1953. The corvette monitoring the tests was HMS Hedingham Castle (pennant F386).
Ernesto de Curtis's song "Torna a Sorrento" ("Come Back to Sorrento"), is performed on the concertina by David Orr, and was also used as background music throughout the film.
MGM was contractually obligated not to release the film until Seagulls Over Sorrento finished its West End run, which delayed the film's release until 13 July 1954, almost a year after filming had completed. The film then premiered in New York City on 10 November of that year, and went into general American release on 6 December.
An Australian television production of the stage play was produced by Crawford Productions for Melbourne's HSV-7, airing on 1 May 1960. The cast included Brian James, Bill Hodge, Stuart Wagstaff, Frank Taylor, Peter Aanensen, Carl Bleazby, Don Crosby, Mark Kelly and John Norman. Hodge, James, Taylor and Bleazby had appeared in the 1952 J.C Williamson production of the play. A kinescope recording of the production exists.
According to MGM records the film earned $349,000 in the US and Canada and $59,000 elsewhere, resulting in a loss of $58,000.