Nunnally Johnson's screenplay focuses on a showgirl who confesses to a Chicago murder in the hope the publicity will propel her faltering show business career. The film was a remake of the 1927 silent movie Chicago, which had been based on a play by Maurine Dallas Watkins, a journalist who had found her inspiration in two real-life Chicago trials she had covered for the press. It was originally supposed to star Alice Faye but pregnancy prevented her from taking on the role.
In the original, Roxie Hart was guilty but acquitted of her crime. In order to conform to the Production Code, which regulated moral guidelines for Hollywood films at the time, this version portrayed Roxie as innocent but misguided in her attempt to achieve fame. The same subject is treated in the 1975 musical Chicago.