The "enormous" dressing trailer for Kirk Douglas stood just outside the location's prison set. Reportedly, it had a white picket fence, a mailbox, two flower boxes and a green lawn planted in front with a water fountain and lounge chairs.
In the climactic prison uprising, Barbara Rhoades is last seen wearing a corset (with amply jiggling cleavage), a decorative hat and one elbow-length glove. However, interviews with Rhoades, and an actress who'd turned down the role, reveal that the scene went further and Rhoades was filmed virtually nude. At least one still photo (apparently from the movie) shows her nude from the waist up, wearing the same hat and elbow-length glove mentioned above (she turned down a proposed "Playboy" pictorial). In a pre-release interview, Rhoades told interviewer Dan Lewis that she didn't realize her scene would be so "explicit" until the day of shooting. Her character reportedly flees "after her clothes are torn off in a prison scene and she races across the desert in her birthday suit". Eileen O'Neill was offered the role but turned it down. "When I read the script, my character is ravaged by the revolting prisoners and they tear her clothes off. She then had to run nude from the prison to an outside area lit with floodlights." Even co-star Michael Blodgett "excitedly" told Hollywood gossip columnist Marilyn Beck, "It's a prison story, wild and new . . . man, such nudity!" Why the explicit nudity was deleted is unexplained, and the footage is presumed lost. By today's standards, what remains is fairly tame: a couple glimpses of the bare backside of Kirk Douglas, a glimpse of a bare breast here and there and some mildly risqué drawings. Promoted as a "cynical western," the film was released on Christmas Day 1970. It did poorly at the holiday box office.
The prison set took seven weeks to build. When construction began, it was snowing. When it ended, the temperature was 100 degrees. Upon completion of filming, the entire set had to be removed and the area it occupied restored to its original pristine state, so that no trace would be left.
Much of the filming was done in the Joshua Tree National Monument, 50 miles northeast of Indio, California. This was the first time a movie was allowed to be filmed in the 500,000-acre National Park. The location was so remote that a wagon-rutted road had to be bulldozed and widened for a distance of three miles to provide vehicular access.
Warner Brothers' front office was very worried about this film. It was shot over a five-month period in the first half of 1969, but it was well over a year before it was given any commercial showings. Like Joseph L. Mankiewicz's previous film, The Honey Pot (1967), it opened in Britain some two months before the US, in late 1970. According to Mankiewicz's biographer, Kenneth Geist, his preferred version of the film ran to 165 minutes; however, Warners objected to this and re-cut the film, to his great irritation, to a more manageable 126 minutes. One notable casualty of this re-cutting was the prominently-billed Lee Grant, a very well-known actress at the time, whose appearance is now barely a couple of minutes in length.
A realistic 1880s territorial prison replica was constructed on four acres in the high-desert country of the Joshua Tree National Monument. Designed by Edward Carrere, Oscar-winning designer of such movies as The Wild Bunch (1969), it was one of the most massive location sets ever built. The prison's 20-foot-high, four-feet-thick walls enclosed 14 buildings, including a guards' barracks, warden's quarters, mess hall, kitchen, hospital, blacksmith shop, a mule shed, corral, seven guard towers, a solitary confinement cell and a gallows. Unlike a typical movie set, the buildings had to be roofed because aerial footage of the location would be filmed. Some 80 loads of rocks were trucked in (and later removed) to create the enormous hard-labor rock pile in the movie. Since no indigenous plants could be harmed, thousands of desert plants also had to be trucked to the location.
Hume Cronyn was diagnosed with optic cancer, which required the surgical removal of an eye. Cronyn volunteered to work past 5 p.m. and revamp his shooting schedule so he could finish up his role as soon as possible. Although the situation was very stressful for director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Cronyn handled the situation very professionally.