Harry Belafonte starred in this, the first film-noir with a black protagonist. Belafonte selected Abraham Polonsky, who had written and directed a famous noir, Force of Evil (1948), to write the script. As a blacklisted writer Polonsky used a front, John O. Killens, a black novelist and friend of Belafonte's. (In 1997, the Writers Guild of America officially restored Polonsky's credit.)
The score was written by The Modern Jazz Quartet's pianist, John Lewis. One of the cues, the self-explanatory "Skating in Central Park," became a regular part of the MJQ's repertoire, and was also reused for a similar scene in "Little Murders" (1971).