The team on “The Great Escape” included veterans from multiple countries and both sides of the war, which probably made for some pretty interesting on-set conversations. British actor Pleasance served in the Royal Air Force and had his plane shot down over occupied France, where he was taken into custody and placed in Stalag Luft 1, a German POW camp. On the other end, Messemer, who played the anti-Nazi German officer Colonel Von Luger, was a former German soldier who had been taken captive in Russia and was a POW in a Russian camp before escaping and walking hundreds of miles across frozen tundra to get back to his home nation.
The movie was shot in Germany, and Messemer was not the only former German soldier on set. Some had served as camp guards in German POW camps, while others were imprisoned in American POW camps overseas, but if there was any serious animosity between people who had been former enemies, there isn’t a record of it. While having people who may have formerly faced one another on the battlefield work together on the same movie might seem like a bad move, “The Great Escape” is much more nuanced than many other war films of its time and is a story about human ingenuity and resilience that doesn’t paint its characters as outright heroes or villains. It’s smart filmmaking, and the input of people from opposing backgrounds likely added to its sharp commentary on not only World War II but all wars.