Parts of the film were shot in Auvers-sur-Oise, where Vincent van Gogh lived and died. Kirk Douglas had his hair cut specially in the style of the artist and had it dyed to a similar reddish tint. This was enough to make some of the older inhabitants of the town believe that Van Gogh had returned.
A very young Michael Douglas and his brother ran screaming from the theater during the scene where Van Gogh severs his own ear because they believed their father, Kirk Douglas, had actually harmed himself.
In his memoir "The Ragman's Son" Kirk Douglas recounted that John Wayne attended a screening of the film, and was horrified. "Christ, Kirk! How can you play a part like that? There's so few of us left. We got to play strong, tough characters. Not those weak queers," Wayne said. Douglas tried to explain, "It's all make-believe, John. It isn't real. You're not really John Wayne, you know." Wayne looked at him oddly, as if Douglas had betrayed him.
The color process used for the film (Ansco Color, but labeled in the credits as Metrocolor) was unsuitable for long term color preservation. As a result, revival prints lost the extraordinary brightness and range of the movie's original images, and began to turn beet read. Happily, the original colors have now been properly restored in the DVD edition.
Irving Stone's novel was first published in 1946 and MGM purchased the film rights in that year. However, there was a rider to the purchase - the film would have to be made within ten years or else the rights would revert to the author. MGM took a very long time to decide on whether or not to make the film (producer John Houseman believed that it was the big box-office success of "Moulin Rouge", with Jose Ferrer as Toulouse-Lautrec that finally spurred them on) and the film had to be made against the clock, as it were. However, the completed movie was in cinemas before the end of 1956.