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Working titles for the film were One Trip Across, The Gunrunners and The Gun Runner. The story was based on an Ernest Hemingway short story published in April 1934, entitled "One Trip Across," that partially served as the basis for Hemingway's 1937 novel To Have and Have Not. According to a February 1958 Daily Variety news item, Hemingway protested the use of the title "One Trip Across" despite producer Clarence Greene's assertion that the author had not read the script. Greene insisted the property, which Warner Bros. had filmed first in 1944 as To Have and Have Not then in 1950 as The Breaking Point (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films; 1941-50), was part of the property sold to Howards Hughes, resold to Warner Bros. and eventually sold again to Eliot Hyman and Ray Stark, owners of Seven Arts Productions. The Gun Runners was the company's first release.
Hemingway, at the time of The Gun Runners was released a resident of Cuba, also protested the change in plot line from rum running in Prohibition Cuba to gun running during the Cuban revolution. The film was released without further protest from Hemingway. Although a Hollywood Reporter news item lists Joey Ray and Billy Wayne in the film, their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Portions of the film were shot on location in Balboa and Newport Bay, CA.