Major Asa Barker (Burt Lancaster) limps throughout this movie because Lancaster was recovering from a real-life injury to his knee. It was actually the second movie where Lancaster's knee problems had an effect on a movie's characterization. On The Train (1964), Lancaster took a day off during filming to play golf half way through the shoot. On the links he stepped in a hole and re-aggravated an old knee injury. In order to compensate for the injury, John Frankenheimer had Lancaster's character shot in the leg, thus enabling him to limp through the rest of the shooting.
The title comes from Simonides of Ceos' Epitaph, a quote by Herodotus, the Greek historian, about the famous Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. Greece. 300 Spartan soldiers held a mountain pass against the entire Persian army; they all gave their lives, but the delay allowed Greece to prepare for their victory at Salamis. The epitaph of the Spartan soldiers reads "Stranger, go tell the Spartans that here we are buried, obedient to their orders."
Daniel Ford wrote the movie's source novel based on his experiences covering Vietnam in 1964 for "The Nation", one of forty was correspondents. Ford was part of a Special Forces "A" Team. The assignment he followed was code-named "Operation Blaze".
The south Vietnamese general's building shown about halfway into the movie is actually Throop Hall, which was located on the campus of Caltech in Pasadena, California. Visible in the foreground is Millikan pond and the bridge that both still exist. Throop Hall was torn down in 1971, so this image must have been file footage that was spliced into the movie, since the movie is copyrighted 1977.
Source novelist Daniel Ford has said about the making of this movie: "...I didn't know about its progression through the studios. Over seven years, just about every major and independent Hollywood studio was on the verge of making it, only to back out for lack of money or nerve. [Screen-writer Wendell] Mayes had built the Major Barker character into a central one, in the specific hope of casting a great name who'd work cheap in a good cause. Among those who agreed to make the movie at one time or another were Robert Mitchum, William Holden, and Paul Newman; the final and finest name was that of Burt Lancaster".
The film's source "Incident at Muc Wa" novel by Daniel Ford was first published in hardback in 1967, whilst in 1968 it was first published in paperback and in hardback in the UK. The book was translated into Dutch around 1972/1973 and the novel re-released in 1976 as "Go Tell the Spartans".
Author Daniel Ford changed the name of "Tan Hoa" (aka "Muc Hoa", pronounced "Muc Hwa"), the real Special Forces base in Southern Vietnam's Plain of Reeds, to "Muc Wa", for the film's source novel "Incident at Muc Wa". Tan Hoa is a commune and village in Bac Giang Province's Luc Ngan District in north-eastern Vietnam. "Hoa" is pronounced "wah", "Muc War" is a sub-textual reference that means "muck war".
Scriptwriter Wendell Mayes acquired the screen rights to Daniel Ford's novel "Incident at Muc Wa" in 1970 and changed the title to "Go Tell the Spartans" for the screenplay. After the one-year option expired, Mayes negotiated an annual renewal option with Ford, which Mayes regularly extended every year until the picture got made. Mayes shopped the script around the Hollywood major studios for a number of years with a number of seasoned A-list actors offered the the lead role of Major Asa Barker.
The film was made and released about eleven years after its source novel "Incident at Muc Wa" by Daniel Ford had been first published in 1967. The movie was made three years after the Americans withdrew their troops out of Vietnam and fourteen years after events depicted in this film had taken place in 1964.
The interpretation of the French epitaph above the cemetery has had a variety of English language translations. They include (1) "Stranger, go tell the Spartans that here we are buried, obedient to their orders" ; (2) "Go, stranger, and tell the Spartans that we lie here in obedience to their laws" ; (3) "Stranger when you find us lying here, go tell the Spartans we obeyed their orders" ; (4) "Stranger, tell the Spartans that we remain here in obedience to their orders" and (5) "Stranger, go tell the Spartans how we lie; loyal to their laws, here we die".
The French language subtitling of the French cemetery sign on the DVD's French subtitles says: "Étranger quand tu nous trouveras ici morts va dire aux spartesque nous avons obéi à leurs ordres". However, the French subtitles wording was actually different to the actual French inscription on the French cemetery sign in the movie itself which reads: "Étrangers, dites aux Spartiates que nous demeurons ici par obéissance à leurs lois". This is likely due to a French translation of the English spoken dialogue of the character stating the sign's meaning.
This film's opening prologue states: "In 1954, the French lost their war to keep their Indo-China colonies and those colonies became North and South Vietnam. Then the North aided a rebellion in the South and the United States sent in 'Military Advisors' to help South Vietnam fight the Communists. In 1964, the war in Vietnam was still a little one -- confused and far away".
Some of this film's foreign language title literal English translations are: France: "Le Merdier" ("The Mess"); Spain: "La Patrulla" ("The Patrol"); Austria: "Das tödliche Kommando" ("The Deadly Commando"); Denmark: "Til sidste mand" ("To the last man"); Sweden: "Siste utposten" ("Last Outpost"); West Germany: "Die letzte Schlacht" ("The Last Battle); Italy: "Vittorie perdute" ("Wins Lost"); Greece: "Vromikes nikes" ("Dirty Victories"); Finland: "Viimeinen viesti" ("The Last Post"); Portugal: "Avisem os espartanos" ("Notify the Spartans") and Hungary: "Vidd hírül a Spártaiaknak!" ("Bring news about it to the Spartans").