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The working title of this film was Chuck-a-Luck. An unidentified, contemporary source in the AMPAS Library production file for the film lists the title of Silvia Richards' screen story as "Gunsight Whitman." In a modern interview, director Fritz Lang claimed that RKO head Howard Hughes changed the title from Chuck-a-Luck to Rancho Notorious because he felt that European audiences would not be familiar with the casino game. The ballad "The Legend of Chuck-a-Luck" is heard over the opening credits and intermittently throughout the picture, and its lyrics comment on the action of the story. Rancho Notorious was the first American film to use a song in this manner. Although Lang recalled in the modern interview that the picture was shot on the General Service Studios lot, Hollywood Reporter production charts and news items indicate that it was filmed at the Motion Picture Center Studios. According to Lang, Republic Studios' Western street was also used.
According to Daily Variety news items, Twentieth Century-Fox originally was to distribute the film. Fidelity Pictures, which was in need of cash after spending $900,000 on the production, backed out of the deal when it learned that Fox would not release or pay for the film until 1952. In mid-1951, RKO paid Fidelity between $700,000 and $780,000 in advance for distribution rights. Daily Variety notes that Hughes approved the sale in part because it featured one of his contract stars, Mel Ferrer. An October 1951 Variety news item states that RKO also agreed to give Fox a sixteen percent interest in the picture's profits. According to the same item, Lang and stars Marlene Dietrich and Arthur Kennedy protested the sale, because they feared that additional production costs incurred by RKO would lead to the loss of their partially deferred salaries, which could not be paid out until the film showed a 2.5 million dollar profit.
In the modern interview, Lang commented that Rancho Notorious "was conceived for Marlene Dietrich" as a picture "about an ageing (but still very desirable) dance hall girl." According to Lang, Dietrich "resented going gracefully into a little, tiny bit older category" and fought with the director throughout the production. Lang also noted that after he delivered his cut of the picture, the "producer" re-edited the film without Lang's approval. Another modern source notes that because actor Lloyd Gough, who plays "Kinch" in the picture, refused to answer questions before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, his name was removed from the screen credits by Hughes.