Robert Mitchum told Roger Ebert he smoked so much, that when the camera was rolling on this film and Kirk Douglas offered him a pack and asked, "Cigarette?", Mitchum, realizing he'd carried a cigarette into the scene, held up his fingers and replied, "Smoking." His improvisation saved the take, and they kept it in the movie.
Jane Greer recalled that the laconic Robert Mitchum projected an equally cavalier attitude off camera. She got the impression that he came to the set unprepared, in order to give a more spontaneous performance. She explained, "I remember him saying 'What are the lyrics?' to the script person. 'I never know the lyrics,' he'd say, and she would give him the lines. I said, 'You don't learn your lines beforehand?' and he'd said, 'Naah.' Gosh, I learned mine a week ahead of time. I thought that might be part of why he seemed so much more spontaneous, why he was so easy and underplayed. I decided I'd do that, not be letter perfect. So I tried learning my lines under the dryer in the morning. I hoped I'd look as though I was thinking. But I blew take after take, and he was letter perfect. Well, I figured out later that, of course, he knew the lines."
By all accounts, it was obvious that an undeniable tension developed between Kirk Douglas and Robert Mitchum early on during the filming. Certainly the acting styles of the two men could not have been more different. Mitchum's relaxed, laconic manner contrasted with the aggressive, grandstanding Douglas. In the first scenes to be shot with the two actors, Douglas attempted some scene stealing by manipulating distracting props, such as swinging a key chain or flipping a coin, George Raft style. Jacques Tourneur saw through these ploys and put a stop to them. For his part, Mitchum would retaliate by making faces when the camera was behind his head, so as to throw off Douglas' reaction shots. Eventually the one-upmanship faded, and the two let their natural styles compliment each other.
In terms of developing her character, Jane Greer got helpful but minimal direction from Jacques Tourneur. "Zzjjane, do you know what ahm-pahs-eeve mean?" he asked the actress. "Impassive? Yes." "No 'big eyes'' No expressive. In the beginning you act like a nice girl. But then, after you kill the man you meet in the little house, you become a bad girl. Yes? First half, good girl. Second half, bad." "I get you," she said. That was his direction, Greer recalled. "But I did throw in a few big eyes anyway. I couldn't help myself." Tourneur also discussed with her his plan for the character's wardrobe, something typical of his films' subtle, insidious visual design. "At first you wear light colours. After you kill the man, darker colours. In the end, black."
On November 14, 1987, Robert Mitchum was the guest host on Saturday Night Live (1975), broadcast from the NBC Studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York. One of the sketches he participated in was a black-and-white spoof of the film called "Out of Gas." The sketch featured an unbilled guest appearance by none other than Jane Greer.
Jane Greer took notice of the differing personalities and styles of her leading men. She found that Robert Mitchum was protective on the set. She said that he 'was just terrific to me and just took care of me. Even the way I looked. One costume I wore was a little too large - Bob was the one who noticed it was bulging around the waist. So he stopped everything, borrowed a pin from the wardrobe lady and gathered it in and pinned me up in the back.' On the other hand, Greer said, Kirk Douglas is a more physical actor. He bruised my arms grabbing me, and my face was roundly slapped. How he did Champion (1949) without maiming his partner is a miracle.'
Filming got off to a rocky start with a near-fatal plane accident at the Bridgeport, California airport landing field. The pilot, accompanied by Robert Mitchum, a studio accountant and an assistant to executive Walter Duff, realized his brakes didn't work when they touched down, causing the plane to crash through a fence, over a ditch, and through an outhouse before coming to a stop. Although the two men in the back seat were knocked unconscious, Mitchum and the pilot were not hurt. Typical of Mitchum's nonchalant attitude, he quickly crawled out of the wreckage, dusted off his clothes and thumbed a ride into town to begin filming.
Jane Greer's first scene in the movie with Robert Mitchum was the famous kissing scene on the beach. She remembered shooting the scene, "I'm looking at Bob and I see he has something on his mouth and it looked funny. Finally I got courage enough to say, 'Excuse me, Bob, but they've done something with your makeup; I think they messed it up. Your lips, that brown lip liner, or whatever it is, is smeared." Mitchum said, "What are you talking about?" He yelled for the makeup man. "They bring him a mirror," said Greer, "he takes a look into the mirror, and he says, "Oh, honey, that's just chawin' tabbacky." Bob wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and resumed kissing position. Greer thought, "Well, this movie is going to be different."
Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer were teamed again for the RKO Film Noir The Big Steal (1949). While at first glance it might seem like a natural follow-up to the success of this film, Mitchum and Greer were paired up again only after very trying circumstances. Originally, Lizabeth Scott, on loan from Paramount and Hal B. Wallis, was to star opposite Mitchum in the film, which had been set to start production in October of 1948. On August 31st, however, Mitchum was arrested in Los Angeles on marijuana possession charges. Howard Hughes had acquired RKO just a month prior and decided to rush production, and start shooting The Big Steal (1949) as soon as Mitchum was out on bail. Then Scott dropped out of the film, so Greer was brought in only at the last minute. Later, production on the film was halted for two months as Mitchum served his sentence. Daniel Mainwaring worked on the script for the film, which was directed by Don Siegel.
Dickie Moore plays "The Kid", despite barely being younger than the main actresses in the movie. For instance, there is only one year between him and leading lady Jane Greer, and less than five months between him and Virginia Huston.
In the mid-1970s, producer Jerry Bick, who had already produced the Neo-Noir movies The Long Goodbye (1973) and Farewell, My Lovely (1975), staring Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe, announced plans for a new adaptation of Build My Gallows High. He had a screenplay and a director lined up, but the project fell through.
Two lines from this film ("Do you wanna talk business or do you wanna play house" and "I'm tired of gettin' pushed around") were sampled in an early house music track entitled "Tired of Getting Pushed Around." It was the only song released by 2 Men, a Drum Machine and a Trumpet, which was comprised of 2 of the 3 members of the band Fine Young Cannibals (who took their name from the film All the Fine Young Cannibals (1960)).
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
PCA director Joseph I. Breen rejected early drafts of the script in which "Kathie" is shown living with both "Whit" and "Jeff" without benefit of marriage. Noting in a June 12, 1946 letter that "such a brazen portrayal of gross illicit sex is in violation of the Code," Breen strongly recommended that the novel not be filmed. However, after changes had been made in two different scripts, Breen softened his objections and stated that, as long as Kathie does not appear to be living with Jeff, the story would be approved. In the film, Kathie and Jeff's living arrangements are left rather vague. Breen also objected to Jeff's "deliberate suicide" at the end, but agreed that his demise was morally necessary.