When Pa first meets Roy at the gas station, Pa says, referring to an accident he almost had, "A jackrabbit jumped in front of the car and I kinda lost my head." Director Raoul Walsh lost an eye a dozen years earlier when a jackrabbit jumped through the windshield of the car he was driving.
This was the last movie Humphrey Bogart made where he did not receive top billing. The studio thought that Ida Lupino should have top billing given the fact that she had been such a big hit in They Drive by Night (1940) and so her name ended up above Bogart's on the title card. Bogart was reportedly unhappy about receiving second billing but never complained.
When Ida Lupino found herself unable to cry during the film's final scene, co-star Humphrey Bogart coaxed her into it by telling her, "Listen, doll, if you can't cry, I'm going to take the picture away from you." Despite this, Lupino disliked Bogart's verbal treatment of her, and refused to accept another co-starring role with him in Out of the Fog (1941). He was replaced by John Garfield.
In addition to Hal B. Wallis, Humphrey Bogart also sent several telegrams to studio head Jack L. Warner, begging to be cast as Roy Earle. After Paul Muni left Warner Bros. in a contract dispute and George Raft also turned down the role, Warner called Bogart and told him the part was his...on the condition that Bogart stop sending him telegrams.
A memo from associate producer Mark Hellinger to Hal B. Wallis suggests that due to favorable publicity generated by Ida Lupino's role in They Drive by Night (1940), she should be billed above Humphrey Bogart who, up to this point, had starred in "B" pictures. Lupino was billed in first position, but Bogart's performance as Roy Earle established him as a star in the opinion of many critics and in later releases, he was billed above Lupino.
John Huston would later remark on Humphrey Bogart's unique appeal in the role of Roy Earle: "Bogie was a medium sized man, not particularly impressive off-screen, but something happened when he was playing the right part. Those lights and shadows composed themselves into another, nobler personality: heroic, as in High Sierra. I swear the camera has a way of looking into a person and perceiving things that the naked eye doesn't register."
John Huston's script was returned to Warners by the censors with over forty objectionable references. They were largely ignored by Jack L. Warner, who wanted to protect the "spirit" of the story. However, the Code was firm on the ending. Gangsters, no matter how sympathetic they might appear at times, had to pay for moral transgressions on the screen. In other words, death or life in prison was their only option.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Humphrey Bogart's part in this movie was originally intended for Paul Muni. Muni did not like the first draft of the screenplay which was authored solely by John Huston and given to him by Hal B. Wallis, so Wallis got the book's author, W.R. Burnett, to assist Huston in a second rewrite. This was presented to Muni who still disliked it and turned the movie and the role down completely. In the meantime, On May 4th, 1940, Bogart sent a telegram to Wallis reiterating his continuing desire, which he had mentioned several months earlier, to play the part of Roy Earle. After Muni turned down the script the next person on the list for Warner Brothers was George Raft. Bogart, knowing that Raft was trying to change his image and move away from gangster roles, found out about this and mentioned to Raft when he saw him next that the studio was trying to get him do another gangster movie where the gangster gets shot at the end. Raft marched into Wallis' office and flatly refused to do the movie. Bogart finally ended up with the role he wanted all along by default.
In the climactic scene, Humphrey Bogart's character slides 90 feet down a mountainside to his death. His stunt double, Buster Wiles, bounced a few times going down the mountain and wanted another take to do better. "Forget it," said Raoul Walsh. "It's good enough for the 25-cent customers."