Nicholas Schenck, MGM’s president at the time, nearly did not allow the picture to be made because he felt the story was subversive. The film’s producer, Dore Schary, wanted Spencer Tracy for the leading role. Concerned that Tracy might not accept, Schary ordered the script changed so that Macreedy was a one-armed man. He concluded that no actor would turn down the chance to play a character with a handicap.
Just before shooting began, an indecisive Tracy tried to back out of the picture. Schary made clear that he was willing to sue the actor if he quit the film. According to Robert Osborne of the television network Turner Classic Movies in the introduction to the film’s airing on its weekly segment “The Essentials,” Tracy, weighed down by his growing alcoholism, refused to give MGM an answer. In order to close the deal, according to Osborne, an MGM executive contacted Tracy shortly before filming was to begin and said, “Don’t worry, Mr. Tracy, a copy of the script has been sent to Alan Ladd and he has agreed to do the picture.” The next day, Tracy committed to Bad Day at Black Rock. Ladd, however, apparently never even saw the script. It turned out to be Tracy’s last film for MGM, with the exception of How the West Was Won (1962), for which Tracy supplied the narration.