Originated in 1957 as a project for director André De Toth, about a black soldier accused of raping and murdering a German girl and the lieutenant who defends him and proves his innocence. De Toth wanted Jeffrey Hunter as the defense attorney. Based on the 1955 story "Shadow of the Noose" by John Hawkins and Ward Hawkins in The Saturday Evening Post.
Unsatisfied with Woody Strode's rehearsal of bullet-wounded drowsiness, director John Ford took his own steps to make Strode appear authentically weary for Rutledge's gunshot early on in the film. The day before the scene was to be shot, Ford got Strode drunk early in the day and had an assistant follow him around for the rest of the day to make sure he stayed that way. When the time came for Strode to shoot the scene with Constance Towers, his hangover gave him the perfect (for Ford) appearance of a man who had been shot.
Jeffrey Hunter's character refers early on in the film to the Jorgensen Ranch. Director John Ford's classic western The Searchers (1956), also starring Hunter, ended with Hunter's character arriving at the Jorgensen Ranch.
Lt. Cantrell supplies Mary Beecher with a somewhat sanitized albeit understandable explanation of the term "buffalo soldier," stating that plains Indians applied the term to African-American soldiers upon seeing them in buffalo-hide coats and hats. In reality the relationship between black troopers and the American bison was owing to the nature of the troopers' hair, whose appearance and consistency reminded them of the shaggy capes of the plains animals. No racism was conveyed in the term, as the Indians held the bison as sacred and the perceived kinship between black troopers and the bison caused the Indians to both respect and fear the troopers.