Michael Cimino was asked to direct this film but didn't think it was a good film for him. As a favor to the producers, who were on a deadline, he went to New York and did all the preproduction. When they were set to begin shooting, the producers again tried to get Cimino to direct but he told them he thought, considering the budget, they needed someone who could work faster than he was used to working and so they hired Rosenberg.
According to author' Christopher Heard', the movie was originally planned to feature the first on-screen pairing of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, with the duo set to play Charlie and Paulie respectively. In the end, Charlie and Paulie were cast with Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts respectively.
While being nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, Geraldine Page was on-screen in only two scenes with a running time total of only about eight minutes. When Page was Oscar nominated, Page became the first woman to receive seven nominations without a win, a feat also achieved by actors Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole. Page would finally win an Oscar on her eighth nomination the next year for The Trip to Bountiful (1985).
Over 15 years later, three of the cast members here would be playing regular or unforgettable guest roles on The Sopranos (1999): Frank Vincent and Paul Herman would co-star as crew members Phil Leotardo and Beansie Gaeta, while Burt Young would mesmerize in one killer appearance as Bobby Bacala, Sr. a mob hit man on his last legs.
The film's closing credits dedication states: "Mickey Rourke's Performance is Dedicated to The Memory of James Hayden 1953-1983" who was an actor friend of Rourke's who passed away around the time this movie was made.
Rickie Lee Jones had originally written and recorded an instrumental demo as a theme, but it was rejected in favor of Frank Sinatra's "Summer Wind." The demo, which retained the title "Theme for the Pope" (because of the movie), wound up on her 1984 album The Magazine.
Though actor Mickey Rourke and the film's reported original director Michael Cimino did not work together on the production of this film, the pair did end up collaborating on another crime picture about a year later, on Year of the Dragon (1985). The two had previously worked together around four years earlier on Heaven's Gate (1980) and would collaborate again around six years later on Desperate Hours (1990).
Stuart Rosenberg replaced Ron Maxwell as director. Maxwell was allegedly fired early on during production by MGM/UA after Maxwell lobbied to have actor Eric Roberts replaced. Maxwell didn't see Roberts as a New York City street hustler, but was overruled by the studio & producers.
The movie's main setting is an Italian ethnic locale known as "Little Italy" which is situated in the "Greenwich Village" of the film's title on the west side of Lower Manhattan in Manhattan, New York City. According to website 'Wikipedia', Little Italy "is bounded on the west by Tribeca and Soho, on the south by Chinatown, on the east by the Bowery and Lower East Side, and on the north by Nolita".
"This film was originally planned as the first on-screen pairing of legendary actors Robert De Niro and Al Pacino" according tio website 'Wikipedia'. 'The Examiner' website states the film "...was originally supposed to be directed by 'Michael Cimino' and would star Robert De Niro and Al Pacino".
The movie was able to garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Geraldine Page, the movie's only major nod, but Page lost out to Dame Peggy Ashcroft for David Lean's A Passage to India (1984). Page would win the Best Actress Oscar the following year for The Trip to Bountiful (1985), a film with a title which had a voyage name similarity to the movie that Ashcroft had won for (viz: Trip/Passage; India/Bountiful).