By 1941, Hitchcock was considered by pop culture to be in the same league as Frank Capra and Orson Welles as being a recognizable personality as well as filmmaker. Hitchcock had begun to receive some autonomy on his films of this periods from studios like RKO (who also afforded the same courtesy to Welles). However, while Welles’s autonomy came contractually, Hitchcock’s came from people’s dislike of confrontation with the standoffish director. With RKO unsatisfied with the progress of one of his projects, they began to seek more direct involvement. Hitchock responded by leaving the studio after the projects completion, with David O. Selznick helping him work out a deal with 20th Century Fox.
Unused to and unaccepting of studio interference, Hitchcock’s brief stint at 20th Century Fox saw Hitchcock having to deal with studio head Zanuck over many of the elements of production. Zanuck’s biggest issue with Hitchcock was his slow production pace. It took twenty weeks for a script for Lifeboat to be produced. A short production schedule was imposed on Hitchcock which was ignored. Zanuck constantly sent letters complaining of the inefficiency of Hitchcock’s shooting scenes in sequential order and wanted cuts to be made to keep the project under budget, with Hitchcock frequently never responding. Hitchcock disliked the even stronger studio interference then in his earlier projects, and Zanuck disliked Hitchcock’s disregard for the budget. With Hitchcock’s value to the studio questionable, a second film for Fox was not produced (as originally intended).
Leff also notes that although Hitchcock sought after Steinbeck, he still hesitated working with The Grapes of Wrath author. Familiar with Steinbeck’s work, Hitchcock was afraid of the “political baggage” that would be brought to the film that was meant to be a technical challenge above all. Ironically, Steinbeck’s original work was far less politically controversial then Hitchcock’s eventual film. Even in interviews after filming, Hitchcock denies any reading of the film other then a political one. Leff states this as being the film’s chief weakness. Instead of focusing on the development of real characters, Hitchcock is more concerned with the allegory of political ideal and ideals colliding.