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The working title of the film was Jeremy Rodock. Although Irene Papas is listed fourth in the closing cast credits, she is listed after Vic Morrow in the opening credits. Voice-over narration provided by Don Dubbins as "Steve Miller" introduces the frontier territory known as "Rodock's Valley" at the beginning of the film, then closes the film with his appreciation for "Jeremy Rodock" and "Jocasta Constantine," who helped him become a man.
As noted in a June 20, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, Spencer Tracy was initially cast as the lead role, but was considering leaving the picture due to illness. June 1955 Hollywood Reporter production charts reveal that Tracy was on location in Montrose, CO for initial shooting during that month. As of June 23, 1955, Hollywood Reporter reported that Gregory Peck and James Cagney were both being considered as replacements for Tracy. According to an July 18, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, Tracy had just withdrawn from the film. The production resumed shooting August 15, 1955 with Cagney in the lead. Although production charts' initial cast list also included Emile Meyer and Robert Francis (1930-1955), Meyer was presumably replaced and Francis died on July 31, 1955 in a plane crash. Francis' last film was The Long Gray Line.
Several biographies of Cagney note that Tracy was having conflicts with M-G-M because he disliked the script and departed the studio shortly after leaving the set in Montrose. Tracy, who had been under contact to M-G-M for 21 years, made his final M-G-M film appearance in Bad Day at Black Rock (see entry above). Cagney, better known for gangster and musical comedy roles, had acted in only two previous Western films, The Oklahoma Kid in 1939 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40) and Run for Cover in 1955, but agreed to take over the role of Rodock to help Tracy and the crew, who were waiting in Montrose for the studio to find a new lead. Tribute to a Bad Man was Cagney's final Western.
According to a February 1956 American Cinematographer article about the film, Academy Awarding-winning director of photography Robert Surtees used photographs of the American West shot by photographer William H. Jackson as the basis for creating the film's period scenes. Surtees carefully planned the "hanging" scene at dusk during an overcast day, to create an ominous mood, insisting that the crew wait for four days for the right weather conditions. The article also noted that 90 percent of the film consisted of exterior shots, which were marked by a photographic realism.
The song "They Are Giving My Sweetheart Away" was sung by Irene Papas in Greek during the film. May and June 1955 Hollywood Reporter news items add David McMahon, Jay Brands, Gene Coogan, Tom McDonough, Danny Sands, Phil Schumacher and Jerry Schumacher to the cast; however, their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. In addition to Montrose, portions of the film were shot in Miller's Mesa, Ouray, Grand Junction and San Juan Mountains, CO. Additionally, according to the M-G-M pressbook found in the production file on the film at AMPAS Library, the numerous horses and trainers for the film were kept at Ridgway Fairgrounds, CO. Although Papas had appeared in the American-Italian co-production The Man from Cairo in 1953, Tribute to a Bad Man was the first film she made within the United States. Modern sources add Eugene Zador (Orchestrations) to the crew.