According to Ann Rutherford, although the filmmakers were committed to begin shooting on a particular date, they discovered that Producer David O. Selznick had used every available reel of Technicolor film in existence to make Gone with the Wind (1939). Therefore, despite the lavish sets and opulent costumes, this movie had to be shot in black-and-white.
Although Jane Austen's novel was set in Regency England (late eighteenth to early nineteenth century), the period was set at a later time. This anachronism has been explained in a couple of ways. Those more favorably disposed to the studio system claim the styles of the Regency Period (when women's dresses resembled nightgowns) were thought too plain for public taste, so new gowns were created in the voluminous Victorian style of the 1830s to give it a more romantic flair. Others have pointed out that because MGM wasn't willing to put a huge budget behind the risky venture, costumes left over from Gone with the Wind (1939) were altered slightly and placed on background players to save money. New gowns in the same flouncy style were designed for the female leads.
Phil Silvers was asked to screentest for a role as a vicar, despite having a strong New York accent. It turned out to be a cruel prank by studio executives who passed the screentest around Hollywood. In his autobiography, Silvers says "These three minutes were perhaps the funniest I've ever done."
MGM imagined this movie as a romantic comedy, in contrast to Jane Austen's novel, which was a sharp social satire. As a result, dance scenes were added, a pivotal plot point set at Pemberly was removed, and some of Elizabeth's witty and biting dialogue was softened.
Sir Laurence Olivier was less than thrilled with the movie after production began, certain it would be a flop and complaining that key scenes were missing and that more attention was lavished on the costumes than the actors.
During production, Sir Laurence Olivier was distracted by plans for a stage production of Romeo and Juliet. He occupied his thoughts off camera with every detail of the production: blocking, lighting, set design, and the total look of the play. He also took lessons in music composition and began composing motifs and flourishes for the stage production. It delighted him that he and Vivien Leigh would finally be acting together and capitalizing on their off-screen romance, after their efforts to co-star in Hollywood movies had been repeatedly thwarted.
Initially scheduled to start pre-production in 1936, under the supervision of Irving Thalberg with his wife, Norma Shearer as Elizabeth Bennett, but pre-production was put to a halt after Thalberg's death.
Sir Laurence Olivier said of this movie, "I was very unhappy with the picture. It was difficult to make Darcy into anything more than an unattractive-looking prig, and darling Greer seemed to me all wrong as Elizabeth."
This movie sparked a large interest in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. At least five editions of the novel were printed to coincide with the movie's release. In less than a decade after the movie's release, the novel had grown so popular, that it had gone through twenty-one printings.
The five thousand pounds sterling per year Mr. Bingly is said to receive as income would equate to twenty-three thousand eight hundred U.S. dollars in 1830, or about about five million six hundred thousand U.S. dollars in 2014 currency.
Key characters from the novel underwent changes during scripting, filming, and editing. To avoid the Production Code taboo against portraying the clergy in a negative light, the theological occupation of the Bennets' hypocritical, toadying cousin Mr. Collins was considerably downplayed. Either to provide a more upbeat tone to the ending, or to accommodate the sort of character most often associated with Edna May Oliver, the haughty and forbidding Lady Catherine de Bourgh was portrayed as a comic figure. Her final visit to Elizabeth is presented as merely a ruse to test the girl's feelings for Darcy. Finally, the last scene, contrary to the novel, shows all of the Bennet girls on the verge of marriage.
Acting on behalf of MGM, Irving Thalberg purchased the rights to Helen Jerome's stage adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in 1936. Jane Austen's original novel had gone into public domain by that time, so Jerome's work was the only version of the story that held a copyright. Thalberg's friend, Harpo Marx, suggested the purchase after attending Jerome's play. The studio paid Jerome fifty thousand dollars for the rights to the play.
This marked the first time that Jane Austen's novel, Pride and Prejudice, was adapted to a theatrical movie. Pride and Prejudice (1938) was released directly to British television. Television was in its fledgling stages in the U.K. in 1938, and the made-for-television movie reached a remarkably small audience. In addition to being the first theatrically released adaptation, this version of Pride and Prejudice was the first to achieve a wide release.
Following an incredibly successful two years in the U.S. (both critically and commercially), Sir Laurence Olivier took a twelve-year hiatus from making movies in Hollywood. Olivier returned to England to work in the movie and stage industries there, and spend time with his new bride, Vivien Leigh.
According to Madeleine Stowe in her introduction to this movie on Turner Classic Movies, MGM ignored Sir Laurence Olivier's pleas to cast Vivien Leigh as Elizabeth. Olivier and Leigh were married to other people, but carrying on a semi-public affair in the period when this movie was being made. Studio executives felt that casting the couple as lovers in this movie had the potential for negative publicity, so Louis B. Mayer personally nixed Leigh's inclusion in the movie.
Production was initially scheduled to begin in October 1936 under Irving Thalberg's supervision, with Clark Gable and Norma Shearer in the leading roles. Following the death of Thalberg on September 13, 1936, pre-production activity on this movie halted.
In August 1939, The Hollywood Reporter announced that George Cukor would direct Robert Donat opposite Norma Shearer, and that MGM was considering making the movie in England. The start of the war in Europe in September 1939 soon caused the closure of MGM's operations in England, however. Cukor, according to The Hollywood Reporter, was replaced by Robert Z. Leonard because of a scheduling conflict with his assignment on Susan and God (1940).
In 1947, MGM considered making a musical adaptation of this movie. The studio hired Sidney Sheldon and Sally Benson to work on converting the script from this movie into a musical production. Ultimately, the project was scrapped, and MGM abandoned attempts to convert it into a musical.
The play by Helen Jerome, also called "Pride and Prejudice," opened in New York City on November 5, 1935 at the Plymouth Theater, and closed in May 1936 after two hundred nineteen performances. The opening night cast included Adrianne Allen as Elizabeth Bennet, Colin Keith-Johnston as Mr. Darcy, Lucile Watson as Mrs. Bennet, Alma Kruger as Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Helen Chandler as Jane Bennet, and Joan Tompkins as Lydia Bennet. There were two Broadway revivals: "All the Comforts of Home" with Celeste Holm in May 1942, which closed after eight performances, and "First Impressions" in 1959, which lasted ninety-two performances, and starred Polly Bergen, Hermione Gingold, and Farley Granger. Jane Austen's original title for the novel was, in fact, "First Impressions".
This movie's first documented telecast took place in Adams, Massachusetts on Sunday, July 7, 1957 on WCDC (Channel 19). It first aired in Philadelphia on August 23, 1957 on WFIL (Channel 6), followed by Syracuse, New York on August 24, 1957 on WHEN (Channel 8), by New Haven, Connecticut on September 6, 1957 on WNHC (Channel 8), by Minneapolis, Minnesota on September 11, 1957 on KMGM (Channel 9), by Altoona, Pennsylvania on September 20, 1957 on WFBG (Channel 10), by Binghamton, New York and Phoenix, Arizona on October 3, 1957 on WNBF (Channel 12) and on KPHO (Channel 5), by Chicago, Illinois on October 5, 1957 on WBBM (Channel 2), by Honolulu, Hawaii on October 6, 1957 on KHVH (Channel 13), by Lebanon, Pennsylvania on October 17, 1957 on WLBR (Channel 15), by San Antonio, Texas on November 30, 1957 on WOAI (Channel 4), and by Cincinnati, Ohio on January 26, 1958 on WLW-T (Channel 5). It first aired in New York City on May 2, 1958 on WCBS (Channel 2), followed by San Francisco, California on June 22, 1958 on KGO (Channel 7), by Seattle, Washington on October 26, 1958 on KING (Channel 5), and by Los Angeles, California on December 24, 1958 on KTTV (Channel 11).