According to Penny Stallings' "Flesh and Fantasy", the crew broke into spontaneous applause after one of Mercedes McCambridge's powerhouse scenes, which infuriated star Joan Crawford. According to Nicholas Ray, he then began shooting the younger actress' scenes in the early morning before Crawford got there. After the star witnessed one of these early shoots she flew into a rage, broke into McCambridge's dressing room and slashed her clothes to shreds. McCambridge blamed her next two years of inactivity on Crawford's repeated attempts to blacklist her.
At one point in the movie Johnny says, "I'm a stranger here myself." This was Nicholas Ray's own personal motto, a recurring theme in his movies, and reportedly the working title for just about every movie he directed.
Joan Crawford, who had bought the rights to the novel and sold it Republic Pictures with the provision that she would star, initially wanted Claire Trevor to play the part of Emma and was jealous of the younger, competitive Mercedes McCambridge.
Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge fought both on and off camera. One night, in a drunken rage, Crawford scattered the costumes worn by McCambridge along an Arizona highway. Cast and crew had to collect the outfits.
Although Philip Yordan is credited as a screenwriter on the film, his contribution to the screenplay actually was written by the blacklisted Ben Maddow, whom Yordan fronted for, splitting the fee with the writer.
Nicholas Ray was quite unhappy during the filming and later admitted, "Quite a few times, I would have to stop the car and vomit before I got to work in the morning." And his unpleasant memories of the production were only reinforced by the mostly negative reviews the film received from American credits when it opened.
The film was part of a package that included Roy Chanslor, a former journalist turned screenwriter, who wrote the screenplay especially for Joan Crawford. At the time, Republic was considered the most prestigious of the minor studios and Nicholas Ray's contract with them gave him a great deal of creative freedom despite the film's modest budget. One of the first things he did was hire Philip Yordan for a complete rewrite of the script. Yordan later said, "He collaborated with me less on the dramatic than the architectural level, creating settings like the saloon, working on the geometrical relationships between places."
In an interview in the Criterion Collection release of The Killing (1956), Sterling Hayden stated that he did not care for the film. "They put string, like you get at the grocery store, over my guitar in case I accidentally hit them," he said, acknowledging that "I can't play guitar, and can't sing a good-goddamn, either." "I was at war on that film, during the daytime, with Joan Crawford," he recalled, "and at night with my second wife." Despite his reservations about the film, Hayden acknowledged its popularity.