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The working titles of this film were Operation O and The Korean Story. Voice-over narration, spoken by Ann Blyth as her character, "Linda Day," is heard at the beginning of the picture. The score's love theme, written by Victor Young, was adapted into a song entitled "When I Fall in Love." Edward Heyman wrote lyrics for the tune, which became a hit for Nat King Cole.
Hollywood Reporter, Los Angeles Times and Daily Variety news items add the following information about the production: In November 1950, Sam Bischoff was announced as the film's producer and Ted Tetzlaff, the director. Bischoff conferred with military authorities in Washington, D.C., and hired Lt. Col. Stanley Paul Latiolais, the director of combat operations for the 5th Air Force in Korea, as technical advisor. Tetzlaff scouted locations in Tokyo and Korea as well as Hawaii and Texas, and met with Army officials in San Francisco. According to Hollywood Reporter, the U.S. Army and Air Force requested that production on the film be "expedited." In late January 1951, however, the picture was postponed because events in Korea made shooting there untenable and no American location was deemed suitable. Jayne Meadows tested for the female lead in early 1951.
Edmund Grainger replaced Bischoff as producer in early May 1951, and in late May, sent a second unit to Lake Success, Long Island, NY, where shots of United Nations sessions were reportedly taken. In mid-June 1951, Tay Garnett signed on as director. Following conferences with the Department of Defense, Camp Carson and Peterson Field near Colorado Springs, CO, were chosen as location sites for the ground and aerial sequences. Formations of Mustang fighter planes from Buckley Field in Denver and F-80 jets from Peterson Field were used in the aerial sequences. In late August 1951, a second unit crew was sent to Korea to shoot "preliminary sequences." Robert Young was announced as Robert Mitchum's possible co-star in late August 1951, just before the start of principal photography. Claudette Colbert was first cast as Linda, but was replaced by Ann Blyth two months into filming after Colbert contracted pneumonia. Following Colbert's departure, Andrew Solt was hired to rewrite the script's "feminine" scenes.
In addition to Latiolais and Capt. Edward R. Harrison of the Army, Dr. Henry de Young, a former Korean Minister to General Douglas MacArthur's headquarters, was hired as technical advisor. De Young also appeared in the picture as "General Chin." One hundred seventy-five Korean War veterans performed as extras in the film. Added scenes were shot at Nellis Airport in Las Vegas, NV. Dale Van Sickle, Bud Wolfe, John Daheim, Jimmie Dundee, Joy Dixon and Ronnie Patterson were announced as cast members, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. John Mallory, who plays a soldier in the picture, was Mitchum's real-life brother, and One Minute to Zero marked the first time that the two appeared together onscreen.
Although RKO publicized the picture as the first Korean War film made with full, "official cooperation" from the Army and Air Force, the Pentagon notified all Army Public Relations offices in July 1952 not to endorse the film in any way. According to a Daily Variety news item, during pre-production, the Army and Department of Defense had objected to a particular sequence in the script, which RKO refused to remove. The item speculates that the offending sequence was the one in which Mitchum orders an assault on a crowd of Korean refugees. According to the item, One Minute to Zero marked the first time that any major studio received military cooperation during production, then lost it upon release. Modern sources list the production budget at $2,181,000 and note that actual Korean War footage is included in the picture.