When Dussander is arrested in the hospital, the movie displays a newspaper article which reveals that Dussander was independently wealthy, and lived off of a "small personal fortune", seemingly to explain how Dussander was able to live by himself with no outward source of income. In Stephen King's original story, Dussander's wealth is explained one step further: mainly that in the 1950s, he had bribed a banker in Maine to purchase several stocks and bonds under an assumed name. Dussander would later tell Tod Bowden that the banker's name was Andy, and was later sent to prison for killing his wife. The banker was in fact Andy Dufresne, the main character of "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption", which Stephen King also wrote.
The movie is based on a novella by Stephen King from a book of short stories called "Different Seasons", which also includes "The Body", which became Stand by Me (1986), and "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption", which became The Shawshank Redemption (1994).
In an interview around the time that this movie was released, Sir Ian McKellen said "I didn't like my character. He didn't seem very deep. He just seemed to be a representative of evil."
Sir Ian McKellen admitted he was surprised to be asked to play seventy-five-year-old Kurt Dussander, since he was only fifty-seven at the time of filming.
There had been talk of a movie version in 1984. James Mason agreed to play Kurt, but died from a heart attack before filming could begin. Richard Burton was considered as his replacement, but he died from a cerebral hemorrhage before he could accept the part. The first attempt to film this story in 1987 ran over budget and was stopped after six weeks of shooting, while only ten days of filming remained. According to Stephen King, who saw a rough cut of three-quarters of the movie, "it was really good". It starred Ricky Schroder as Todd Bowden and Nicol Williamson as Kurt Dussander, and was directed by Alan Bridges.
One of the pictures of Dussander, during World War II, was actually Heinrich Himmler, but was digitally replaced with Sir Ian McKellen's face.
Sir Ian McKellen later claimed that Dussander's accent was very difficult to master, since Dussander was supposed to have been living in California for decades speaking English, and trying to suppress his German accent.
Sir Ian McKellen said that one of the things that convinced Bryan Singer to cast him as Dussander, despite him being English, and considerably younger than the character, was when Singer raved to McKellen about a performance by an actor he had recently seen in Cold Comfort Farm (1995), and McKellen informed him that he was the same actor Singer was talking about.
Kevin Pollak was originally attached to play Edward French, but was replaced by David Schwimmer. Bryan Singer was impressed with Schwimmer's performance in a play in Los Angeles, and cast him in the part instead.
Director Bryan Singer and cast members Sir Ian McKellen and Bruce Davison subsequently worked together on X-Men (2000). Author Stephen King contributed to an X-Men series called "Heroes for Hope" in 1985.
Editor and Composer John Ottman did two cameos in this movie, but both were cut. The first was reading the lines of the off-screen teacher, but his voicing of lines was substituted at the last minute by Christopher McQuarrie. He also had a cameo as the music teacher, conducting the high-school band in the graduation scene, but this was eliminated from the final cut.
The main death camp in which Dussander is quoted as serving is stated to be "Patin", which was not an actual extermination camp used by the Nazis. Based on Dussander's descriptions, the camp most closing matching his narrative is "Maly Trostenets", located near Minsk, and mainly used to kill Russian Jews, as well as Jews deported from Germany.
Todd's high school mascot (the Pirates) and school color (green and gold) are the same as Bryan Singer's old high school. Also, the number on Todd's varsity jacket (85) is the year Bryan graduated.
Ironically, Sir Ian McKellen would go on to play Erik Lehnsherr, a.k.a. Magneto, in Bryan Singer's next movie X-Men (2000), a Jewish character who was persecuted during the Holocaust.
At the start of the movie, the voice of the off-screen teacher is Writer Christopher McQuarrie, a childhood friend of Bryan Singer and Writer Brandon Boyce.
Bruce Davison and Sir Ian McKellen appeared in Bryan Singer's next movie, X-Men (2000).
This movie uses names of teachers from Bryan Singer's alma mater, West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South in Princeton Junction, New Jersey, including Mrs. Fiscarelli and Mr. Weiskopf.