One of over 700 Paramount Productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since. See more »
"We were all soldiers following orders! ... They were weren't they?"
Somehow this film has become forgotten in studies of World War II and post-War movies about the effects of the war. Generally most people will think of JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBURG, with it's all star cast, as the best film about German guilt and the trials of the guilty. And it is, but that should not have prevented SEALED VERDICT from getting pushed into the shadows.
The story is very simple - Major Lawson (Ray Milland) is attached to the American Army's tribunal trying Nazi War Criminals. They have just had a trial of General Otto Stiegman (John Hoyt), who has been convicted of mass murders and war crimes. But the evidence against Stiegman, though bad, is not really as strong as the verdict suggests. There is evidence that if anything happened, Stiegman passed down orders for the atrocities, but nothing shows he planned them. So Stiegman contacts Lawson (who helped in the prosecution) and insists he's innocent of the crimes that have resulted in a death sentence for him. He begs Lawson to re-investigate, even giving some names of additional parties who might clear his name. Lawson is dubious, but Stiegman is so convincing he decides to look closer again.
The film is a very disheartening look at the ruins of a defeated nation. Billy Wilder did the same thing (with some humor) in A FOREIGN AFFAIR, but here we just see the cynical covering of hatred or the sense of loss. There is no time here for Frederick Hollander's tunes (although "Among The Ruins of Berlin" would not be totally amiss here). Lawson digs, and digs, and digs, but in the end he finds the results not conclusive one way or another. Too frequently a witness will show a sense of opportunism and lasting hatred and bigotry that undercuts the actual evidence that could help Stiegman. So Lawson reports at the end to Stiegman that he can't find the proof.
And here is the spoiler for this movie review (which unfortunately is the sole one for this good, little film as of 06/23/2006). Stiegman takes the news as well as he can. But something he says suggests that something is up that Lawson has missed. Stiegman is caught trying to pull a "Herman Goering" act with some poison. He is stopped in time, and goes to the gallows exulting in how he had served the fatherland and the Fuhrer. Personally, I think that was an error (but an understandable one, given the angry feelings of the time towards Germany's wartime leadership). The film should have ended with a degree of ambiguity as to Stiegman's actual guilt or not. It is the one flaw of the film.
Milland does well with the perplexed Lawson, but it's Hoyt, used sparingly but tellingly here, who dominates the film to the end. This, with his evil billionaire in WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE are his two best film performances. Hopefully you will be able to catch it again on Turner Network or some other cable station.
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