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The working titles of this film were Mad with Much Heart and Dark Highway. According to an October 1949 Hollywood Reporter news item, RKO purchased Gerald Butler's novel as a vehicle for Robert Ryan. Prior to filming, producer John Houseman, director Nicholas Ray and writer A. I. Bezzerides discussed the project with Los Angeles and Boston police departments, according to an April 1950 New York Times item. The police reportedly were pleased that the subject of police violence was to be treated openly and gave their approval to the production. According to modern sources, as part of their research, Ray and Bezzerides went on ride-alongs with detectives in Boston's South End, as well as with patrol officers in Los Angeles. In a modern interview, Ray stated that Ryan's character, "Jim Wilson," was modeled on a Boston detective, "a bachelor who began being a police officer in order to put his brother through college" and was almost kicked off the force due to excessive violence.
Modern sources note that, in addition to Ward Bond, the following actors were considered for the role of "Brent": Lee J. Cobb, Howard Da Silva, Albert Dekker, Rhys Williams and James Bell. Bond was also considered for the part of "Pop Daly," as were Wallace Ford, Ray Collins and Jay C. Flippen. In addition to Ida Lupino, Jane Wyman, Susan Hayward, Olivia de Havilland, Deborah Kerr, Janet Leigh, Wanda Hendrix, Lauren Bacall, Teresa Wright, Margaret Sullavan, Faith Domergue and Margaret Phillips, a Broadway newcomer, were suggested for the role of "Mary." Sumner Williams, who plays the killer "Danny," was Ray's nephew. Location shooting took place in Granby, CO, according to RKO production files contained at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library. According to modern sources, Ryan and Lupino persuaded Ray to change the scripted ending, in which "Jim" leaves a crying "Mary" with no reconciliation, to the more upbeat conclusion seen in the finished film. Modern sources note that the picture lost $425,000 at the box office.