Author of the original short story Ernest Hemingway liked the film. Prior to its release, producer Mark Hellinger sent publicity man Al Horwits to Sun Valley, ID, to give Hemingway a private screening. Hemingway had a pint of gin in one pocket of his overcoat and a pint of water in the other so that he could sip from them if the film got bad. After the screening, Hemingway held up the full bottles, grinned and said, "Didn't need 'em".
Virginia Christine, who plays Swede's girlfriend before he meets Kitty, also appeared in the 1964 remake, The Killers (1964), in a different role as a blind secretary.
The boxing match in the third flashback was filmed in a boxing arena for an audience of 2000 spectators. Burt Lancaster trained for two months with a boxing champion and played the part of the Swede with realism, against a real boxer, until his second KO and TKO.
After leaving Warner Brothers for Universal with The Killers (1946), producer Mark Hellinger initially wanted to borrow Warner director Don Siegel, but the loanout fee proved prohibitively high for a director of his limited reputation at that time, so Hellinger used Universal's Robert Siodmak. Ironically, almost 20 years later Siegel did go on to direct the remake, The Killers (1964).
Burt Lancaster was the third choice for the part of The Swede, and was signed only after actors Wayne Morris and Sonny Tufts proved unavailable. Lancaster was an ex-circus acrobat from Union City, NJ. When producer Mark Hellinger saw the first rushes of Lancaster's performance in a private screening room, he was so pleased that he yelled "So help me, may all my actors be acrobats!"
The movie was so big when it was released in New York that the cinemas were open 24 hours to meet demand, helping them to break previous box office records.
The musical theme by Miklós Rózsa, heard whenever the killers appear, was later used in expanded form as the theme music for the TV series Dragnet (1951) and its revival Dragnet 1967 (1967).
Former Warner Bros. producer Mark Hellinger, who had started his own independent production unit at Universal-International, initially wanted either Wayne Morris or Sonny Tufts to star in this, his first picture. Tufts was ultimately considered to be too inexperienced, and Warner Bros. wouldn't loan Morris, so Hellinger cast the unknown Burt Lancaster in his first movie. It made Lancaster a star.
The entire Prentiss Hat Company robbery was filmed with one camera and no cuts. It required quick coordination between dozens of people and several vehicles.
The film opened in New York at the Winter Garden Theatre on August 28, 1946. The first day, $10,341 was taken in at the box office, beating a previous house record by $3,000.
Producer Mark Hellinger purchased the rights to Ernest Hemingway's short story for $36,700, although publicity releases announced the figure at $50,000.
According to Ernest Hemingway's biographer Carlos Baker, this film "was the first film from any of his works that Ernest could genuinely admire."
None of the facts given in the astronomy lesson in the prison cell are accurate. The constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major) is nowhere near Orion, while the star Betelgeuse is improperly identified as the brightest star in the sky. However, Sirius, which is the brightest star in the sky, is close to Orion.
There are a few cat references to Kitty's name in the movie, such as the bar called "The Green Cat" and Kitty ordering a glass of milk.
While Mark Hellinger considered many actors for the role of Anderson, Ava Gardner was his only choice to play Kitty Collins.
Mark Hellinger became convinced Burt Lancaster was right for the role of Anderson after seeing his screen test with Constance Dowling. Another independent producer, Hal B. Wallis, was so taken with the screen test Lancaster did with Lizabeth Scott that both producers signed the former acrobat and shared his contract.
Although the fictional Nick Adams only has a small role in the film's opening, the character is a roman à clef for author Ernest Hemingway, and is a prominent character in many of his stories.
In 1956, director Andrei Tarkovsky, then a film student, created a 19-minute short based on the story, entitled The Killers (1956). It is featured on the Criterion Collection DVD release of this film.
The film was an early viewing obsession of Howard Hughes before he latched on to Ice Station Zebra (1968). later in life. He was known to have watched it several times a day.
In-joke: In the scene towards the end of the film where Edmond O'Brien arranges to meet Ava Gardner outside a nightclub, O'Brien stands on the street in front of "The Green Cat" nightclub, waiting for Gardner to drive up. On the wall behind him is a poster, beginning with "Sir Arthur Hilton presents . . . " Arthur Hilton, an Englishman, was the film's editor.
"The Hedda Hopper Show - This Is Hollywood" broadcast a 30 minute radio adaptation of the movie on April 19, 1947 with Edmond O'Brien and Burt Lancaster reprising their film roles.
The film's appeal derives from breaking the traditional narrative structure by using a number of flashbacks, similar to Double Indemnity (1944) and Mildred Pierce (1945).
Producer Mark Hellinger paid $36,750 for the screen rights to Ernest Hemingway's story, his first independent production. The screenplay was written by Richard Brooks and John Huston, the latter of whom went uncredited due to his contract with Warner Bros.
Burt Lancaster was not the first choice to play Anderson, but Warner Bros. refused to lend Wayne Morris for the film. Other actors considered for the role included Van Heflin, Jon Hall, Sonny Tufts and Edmond O'Brien, who was eventually instead cast as the insurance investigator.
The writer of Se7en (1995), Andrew Kevin Walker, wrote a screenplay for a new adaptation of this film, but it has not yet been developed further.
Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
The film is used as an example of film noir cinematography in the documentary Visions of Light (1992).
"Screen Directors' Playhouse" did a radio adaptation of the story in 1949 with Burt Lancaster reprising his role as Swede. It was introduced by director Robert Siodmak and featured Shelley Winters as Kitty.
Although the name of the character played by Burt Lancaster is pronounced "Anderson", it is properly spelled (as in Ernest Hemingway's original story) as "Andreson".
This film is included on "The Killers - 3 Adaptions", which is part of the Criterion Collection, spine #176.
At the pivotal point in the movie, the 1940 robbery of the Prentiss Hat Company's semi-monthly payroll yielded $254,912 for Big Jim Colfax and his gang. In 2019, that is equivalent, due to inflation, to: $4,655,000.
Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
Starring as an insurance investigator who solves mysteries and faces danger, Edmond O'Brien went on to play the same type of protagonist on the radio series "Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar."
Included among the American Film Institute's 2001 list of 400 movies nominated for the top 100 Most Heart-Pounding American Movies.