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A working title for this film was The Gamblers. Although not noted in the onscreen credits, this film is based on the novella The Gambler by Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky is referred to indirectly in the film's prologue, which states that "the story is inspired by the work of a great writer, a gambler himself, who played for his life and won immortality." Noting the absence of a credit for Dostoevsky, the Hollywood Reporter reveiewer wrote that "somewhere down the line Dostoevsky...seems to have been given the brushoff by the producers." Although the film lists "Fedja" as the name of the character played by Gregory Peck, M-G-M studio publicity material and the CBCS refer to the character as "Fodor Dostoievsky."
Modern sources draw many parallels between the fictional character of "Fedja" and the life of Dostoevsky. A May 1940 Hollywood Reporter news item indicates that Warner Bros. planned to film a version of The Gambler starring Albert Basserman and directed by William Dietrle, but that film was never made. A May 1948 Los Angeles Examiner news item noted that Lana Turner was originally set to star opposite Gregory Peck. According to Melvyn Douglas' autobiography, he initially rejected his assignment to this film as his last under his M-G-M contract, and only agreed to do it as a personal favor for M-G-M production head Dore Schary. The Great Sinner received mostly unfavorable reviews when it was released, and a biography of Ava Gardner notes that Robert Siodmak was so disappointed with the film that he later refused to admit that he had directed it. Dostoevsky's novella was the basis or inspiration for many foreign-made films, as well as Paramount's 1974 film The Gambler, directed by Karel Reisz and starring James Caan, Paul Sorvino and Lauren Hutton.