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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"..
John Milius wrote the screenplay with Lee Marvin in mind as Judge Roy Bean. He brought the script to Marvin when he was filming Pocket Money (1972), but Marvin fell asleep after one drink too many. His co-star Paul Newman found the screenplay, read it, loved it and petitioned for the part. This ended being one of Paul Newman's favorite roles.
The most successful film at the UK box office in 1953, as well as a surprise hit in the US and it was said at the time that if this film had been a Hollywood production both Jack Hawkins and Donald Sinden would have been nominated for Oscars.
Burt Lancaster first met Sydney Pollack when Pollack worked as a dialogue director on the Luchino Visconti epic The Leopard (1963), in which Lancaster starred. This was the second of three movies that they made together in quick succession., the others being The Swimmer (1968) and Castle Keep (1969). This was by far the most successful of the three.