Final film of legendary costume designer Edith Head. There is a tribute to her and the personnel who worked on films from the Golden Age of Hollywood in the closing credits. Head died a short time after production on the movie had wrapped. Fittingly, the film features many of her earlier designs in cleverly edited clips from old movies.
The movie was initially planned by Steve Martin and Carl Reiner to be a '30s-era film titled "Depression". After Reiner incorporated some footage of a '30s star into the movie, he and Martin decided that the entire movie should be done that way, and re-wrote it into a mock-detective story.
The Universal Pictures logo seen at the start of this film, naturally, was not the current color one that was in use at the time of the early 1980s, but one of the old black-and-white Universal logos, from the period of the 1940s.
Eighty-five sets were constructed for this movie overseen by production designer John DeCuir. The number of sets built was considerably much larger than the average picture due to the high number of scenes required to edit into the movie from the old film footage that needed to be merged.
When Rigby Reardon (the character played by Steve Martin) finds the "Top Secret" Nazi packet labeled "Final Instructions", the date on the packet is 14 August 1946. Steve Martin's actual birth date is 14 August 1945.
The picture was predominantly shot on the sound stages of Culver City's Laird International Studios which had hosted a number of classic Old Hollywood movies on its lot, many from the era that this collage film homaged. Such pictures included Suspicion (1941) (which featured some of its footage in this film), Rebecca (1940), Spellbound (1945), Duel in the Sun (1946), and Gone with the Wind (1939).
The studio number breakdown of the nineteen movies that this film used for footage to edit into this movie from was as follows: both Warner Brothers and Universal Pictures provided five films, four were used from MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), Paramount Pictures and RKO Radio Pictures both supplied two titles each and one came from Columbia Pictures. No titles were sourced from the United Artists or 20th Century Fox studios, the only two majors from the eight Golden Age of Hollywood movie studios not to have a film used for this picture.
Actor Steve Martin didn't watch any old movies nor the types of classic film noir and detective films that this picture featured or referenced because Martin, according to the picture's production notes, "didn't want to act like Humphrey Bogart ... [he] didn't want to be influenced".
Second consecutive back-to-back movie which referenced the Golden Age of Hollywood for actor Steve Martin whose previous picture, Pennies from Heaven (1981), was an MGM musical in the style of that studio's Old Hollywood musicals.
First of two back-to-back genre spoofs for both actor Steve Martin and director Carl Reiner. This picture parodied film noir and detective films mostly from the 1940s whilst their immediate next movie, The Man with Two Brains (1983), spoofed science fiction and horror films. Both pictures had longish titles which were both five words long.
Debut screenplay and the first of only two ever produced scripts that were co-written by screenwriter George Gipe who co-wrote this film along with director Carl Reiner and actor Steve Martin. This same writing team then re-united very soon after for Reiner and Martins' next movie, The Man with Two Brains (1983).
Of the almost twenty old movies that were used as footage and edited into this picture, all were from the 1940s except for one, from the 1950s, that film being In a Lonely Place (1950), which had debuted pretty close to the 1940s in May 1950.
As Rigby leaves Altfeld's office, he is taken by three thugs whom he refers to as the Three Stooges. In the confrontation with the Thug Boss (Kirk Douglas), he assaults one of the thugs in the slapstick style of the Three Stooges.