Those familiar with Gene Kelly's film catalogue consider his role as Oedipally-afflicted psychotic killer Robert Manette to be a radical departure from his typically sunny screen persona. In fact, the role was closer to his norm at the time. This film was made at a point in Kelly's career where MGM, his home studio, was unsure of how to capitalize on his image, which resulted in several loanout assignments to Columbia and Universal. This was chiefly because Kelly's initial fame came with his portrayal of charming antihero Joey Evans in Broadway's Pal Joey (1940) and his first film, For Me and My Gal (1942), in which he portrayed a replica of the Evans character. Kelly also played a heel, to varying degrees, in his follow-up films Thousands Cheer (1943) and Anchors Aweigh (1945). It was his character's redemption at the end of each of these films that finally solidified the Kelly screen persona, that of the streetwise everyman whose better nature prevails, and when he returned from service in WWII, he was firmly established as a leading man.
Screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz changed the setting from a Paris brothel to a nightclub in New Orleans and the main character was changed from a prostitute to a more ambiguous nightclub singer and hostess, when adapting the 1939 novel of the same name by W. Somerset Maugham, due to the Hays Code.