Joan Crawford was originally meant to play her role in From Here to Eternity, but when she insisted on shooting the film with her own cameraman, the studio balked. They decided to take a chance and cast Deborah Kerr, who then was struggling with her ladylike stereotype, to play the adulterous military wife who has an affair with Burt Lancaster. The casting worked and Ms. Kerr's career thereafter enjoyed a new, sexier versatility.
Harry Cohn resisted the idea of casting Montgomery Clift as Prewitt as "he was no soldier, no boxer and probably a homosexual". Fred Zinnemann refused to make the film without him.
Harry Cohn was so convinced that Deborah Kerr could not be "sexy" enough to play the lead in this film that he almost did not cast her.
Burt Lancaster was nervous when he started the film. Most of his previous pictures had been fairly lightweight productions, and this was his first "serious" role. He was especially intimidated by Montgomery Clift's skill and intensity.
Frank Sinatra had to campaign especially hard to get this part as his career had hit a low point by this time.
Montgomery Clift didn't manage to move like a boxer despite extensive boxing lessons, so he had to be doubled by a real boxer for the long shots in the boxing match. The fight had to be carefully edited so the close-ups and other shots matched satisfactorily. Nonetheless, the use of the double is obvious if you pay attention to the details.
Montgomery Clift threw himself into the character of Prewitt, learning to play the bugle (even though he knew he'd be dubbed) and taking boxing lessons. Fred Zinnemann said, "Clift forced the other actors to be much better than they really were. That's the only way I can put it. He got performances from the other actors, he got reactions from the other actors that were totally genuine."
Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra and author James Jones were very close during the filming, frequently embarking on monumental drinking binges. Clift coached Sinatra on how to play Maggio during their more sober moments, for which Sinatra was eternally grateful.
Eli Wallach accepted the role of Angelo Maggio, but then turned it down because he had agreed to appear in Elia Kazan's Broadway production of "Camino Real" and had a scheduling problem.
Deborah Kerr's characterization and performance in this movie is considered to be a cast against type as Kerr had previously been typecast in lady like roles and this part was considered a breakthrough for her into more sexy characters.
Fred Zinnemann insisted on filming in black and white, as he felt that "color would have made it look trivial". He also eschewed the use of any of the popular new widescreen ratios.
Fred Zinnemann was chosen to direct the project largely at the suggestion of screenwriter Daniel Taradash, who had been impressed with Zinnemann's handling of the previous war-themed movies The Search, The Men and Teresa.
Fred Zinnemann was initially reluctant to make the film, as he had an inherent distrust of Columbia head Harry Cohn. He also felt that in the then climate of McCarthyism, to voice anything that cast any doubt over such institutions as the Army, the Navy or the FBI was just asking for trouble.
Joan Fontaine was offered the role of Karen Holmes but had to decline due to family problems. She now regrets it and blames the failure of her late career to turning down the offer.
Shelley Winters turned down the role of Alma, as she had just given birth to her daughter Vittoria Gassman.
James Jones himself was one of the numerous writers who had attempted to adapt the book for the screen.