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Judgment at Nuremberg
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A responsible, quietly superlative film

Author: David Conrad from Austin, Texas
19 June 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Judgment at Nuremberg" belongs at or near the top of two prestigious lists: that of the greatest World War II movies and that of the greatest courtroom dramas. High praise, but well-deserved on the basis of its emotional and intellectual strengths. Few film depictions of the home front can even boast an awareness, much less so sensitive and character-driven a presentation, of the class dynamics that along with racial prejudices shaped Nazi Germany's rise and fall. Few depictions of the war depict the atrocities of the Nazi regime so unflinchingly: several minutes of real-life concentration camp footage, appropriately contextualized, do more to move the audience than all the red-dress girls and misfiring guns that a Spielberg can invent for the purpose of manipulation. Few court procedurals so effectively consider the culpability of the "good guys" and humanize the "bad guys" without ducking the responsibility to take a side.

The central issue is whether Nazi judges were responsible for Nazi war crimes. The movie answers the question, as must the war crimes tribunal headed by Spencer Tracy's character, but it does so in a way that gives a full and fair hearing to opposing viewpoints and to the seemingly endless complexities inherent in the case. Two reasonable viewers can watch the film and come to different conclusions. Even one viewer can fail to arrive at a completely comfortable answer, as I have discovered.

The runaway star of the movie is Maximilian Schell as the German defense attorney. He commands the courtroom physically and verbally, punctuating his monologues with perfectly-placed pauses and stresses. His ability to generate and sustain dramatic momentum is no small achievement in light of the movie's approach to translation. Instead of subtitling the Germans or pretending that only English was spoken in the Nuremberg court, the actors all speak in English but act as if they are speaking in their characters' native languages and hearing translations through their headsets. It sounds potentially silly, but in practice it works magnificently. In addition to Schell's Oscar-winning turn, Judy Garland gives what may be her best performance, emotionally and even vocally, as a thickly-accented witness to Germany's anti-miscegenation laws. Marlene Dietrich is perfect in a role that only she could have played: an aristocratic widow reduced to drinking ersatz coffee with pointed stoicism. Her relationship with Tracy's judge is a vehicle for the film to explore the physical wreckage of the defeated nation as well as its upended social structure. Her speeches are gripping, as nearly all of them are and must be for a talk-heavy movie to be successful.

What can be criticized in "Judgment" it the rather gauche performance of Richard Widmark as the lead prosecutor, a few jarring musical cues, and one too many dramatic close-ups. The latter presentational decisions may be vestiges of the made-for-TV version that preceded the film. In any case, these are quibbles when weighed against the film's overall quality and sophistication.

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An unbiased and thought provoking look at whether German citizens must be made accountable for large scale crimes committed by there fellow countrymen.

Author: Huzefa Lokhandwala from India
1 April 2013

I was completely engrossed in this movie from the very first scene. What surprised me the most was that a movie that was made so soon after the war and the trials could give an unbiased and thought provoking perspective about German's and their middle tier of leadership. There is struggle shown about how one should stand up against their leaders and still remain patriotic. How can one report or stop mass murder, wide scale racism and human rights violations when it is being committed by the authorities. Should all citizens be blamed for the crimes of their fellow countrymen?

The acting is very strong by all but I must make a special mention of Montgomery Clift. In the short cameo that he makes, he expresses anger, shame and despair in way that is very believable and heart wrenching.

This should be must watch for everyone because it asks difficult questions about the relationship between nationalism, patriotism and humanity.

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Expectted excellence

Author: dutch7219 from United States
28 January 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Having a predominately German side of the family and a best friend with fathers that fought on both sides we come across films like this and choose to watch them together. Judgement Day (the film) is a fictional account of some actual events. His mother and grandmother told tales of the horrors, and the blessings until the party rule. During my time in Derfatherland, I can say I was only happy to see cousins and relatives still living in the ancestral villages. Found my great great Grandfathers grave at the Luthern church. It is special and the people are by in large special. The film captures much of the spirit of the people. We may be defeated but we are not lost. Many of the convicted had sentences revoked, or repealed. Some are apologetic about what when on. Some have no true understanding. The issues at hand in this film is the judiciary liable for carrying out the sentences as described in the laws of the land. From watching it, I can see both points, Maximillion Schell did an outstanding job. I think it pretty easy to see how many rights you'll let slide comfortably before you realize that reform is the only way change will occur. Once there is a nation a sheep there are no wolves for the Sheppard to watch out for.

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Well-Crafted Courtroom Drama

Author: gavin6942 from United States
20 August 2012

In 1948, an American court in occupied Germany tries four Nazi judges for war crimes.

Never mind the all-star cast of Judy Garland, Burt Lancaster, Spencer Tracy and a surprisingly adequate William Shatner. While all of these folks did a fine job, they were overshadowed by the power of the script itself.

The Nuremberg trials were an important historical event, and a fascinating event in the history of law. This film does a fine job pointing out both sides of the argument. On one side, you have people who may be guilty of atrocities because of what they did not do but could have. And on the other side, you have the argument that it is not a crime to follow orders.

Indeed, the real question is why were the Germans on trial with the answer being they lost the war. One defendant says that next the Soviets will judge America. Of course, this did not happen, but could have. Was the atomic bomb justified? Was it legal? Is it legal to have a trial where the laws are written after the crimes are committed? These are big, important questions and the film tackles them excellently.

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Always Grey, but What's Right is Right because it is Right

Author: dallasryan from United States
29 July 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This film shows all the grey in life, and how it truly is almost never black and white. This movie shows the sickening display of people that we are suppose to respect, trust and show a high regard towards, but it also proves that it's a mean and deceptive world, but what can make it right is you, the individual, you have the control to do what's right because it is right.

A fantastically acted movie, so many things going on here, but I'll just point out one, the true irony of the fact that the American Judges are judging the German Judges on Trial. Now, there's so much grey going on with the judging of the German Judges and whether the German judges cause was just or not. But Spencer Tracy's character brings up a great and universal point about Criminal Law, and what that definition means universally, whether you're going off of orders or not. And I think we can all agree with what Tracy's character says there about Criminal Law.

But the fact that the U.S. Higher Ups start to give the American Judges and the American Lawyers a tough time about finding the German Judges guilty or not, because the U.S. now needs the Germans as America's allies against the Russians, is the true irony.

The American judges almost become exactly like the German Judges, just in different circumstances. But Tracy's character stood up for the injustice, and he stood up for the true morals and values of not just the United States, but for mankind and for what he, the individual, believed was right. Tracy's character was the best of them all because he had true moral fiber, and remembered what 'life, liberty and justice for all' really meant. That's why Lancaster's character had such deep respect for Tracy's character at the end of the film.

A great movie to see, but not a good movie for viewers who only look and see things as black and white because there will be very many good points on both sides during the duration of this film. So it's good to have an open mind when viewing this one. I'll end this review with a quote from Tracy's character in the movie(a quote of a few great quotes from Tracy's character in the film).

"...It's what it stands for, when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world - let it now be noted in our decision here that this is what we stand for: justice, truth... and the value of a single human being!"

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Author: firozhossainchaudhuri from India
13 June 2012

One of the greatest films ever made. A superlative piece of work. To think, that an American director made this atrociously spellbinding film in those times is remarkable in itself. Pointing fingers in the right direction can not be done in a manner better than this. This was a film that just had to be made. It asks the kind of questions which to my knowledge are not even considered in most circles, the topic itself being taboo. Since the World Wars American hegemony has only grown worse and it is no surprise that such a masterpiece is hardly if ever, talked about. I am familiar with the Director's oeuvre having seen 'Inherit The wind' most notably, but this work is much more than just a film. It is a monumental achievement. This film is profoundly accurate, be it in terms of history or in acting. Each of the actors is brilliant, there being not a single letup anywhere in terms of intensity or mood or anything of the sort. The film is much more than just a courtroom drama, it is a trial for justice with the defendants being, the World at large. Highly recommended.

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A star-studded cast with several stellar performances

Author: Koundinya from India
31 May 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

One of the few courtroom dramas that has a major portion of runtime in the courtroom.

While Montgomery Clift and Burt Lancaster are deemed to be Method actors and have given one of the most powerful and emotional performances in their respective careers, Maximilian Schell steals the limelight with an other-worldly performance as a loud-speaking, neutral lawyer trying to prove the judges not guilty of the conviction on approving the process of sterilization and establishment of concentration camps in their stint as judges during the heyday of the Third Reich. While most of the convicted are partisans, Ernst Janning is a highly-educated and revered man who had no choice but to approve the bills as stated by the law and pleads 'Guilty' while the other men plead clemency. His case draws the attention of the tribunal and Judge Haywood, played by Spencer Tracy in particular.

A movie packed with catharsis of people of Germany. Stanley Kramer's best.

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Author: price-jean23 from Canada
13 March 2012

They say that time heals all heartache. In the case of the Third Reich, I'm not sure that the old saying is true. Out of respect for the Holocaust victims, and as an important history lesson, there's something to be said for not forgetting the evils of Hitler. Fortunately, we have this great film to help us not forget.

"Judgment At Nuremberg" is a dramatization of one of the many real life post WWII Nuremberg trials of high ranking Nazis. Most of the film focuses on the 1948 courtroom trial of four judges who helped to carry out Hitler's decrees. As part of the prosecution's case against the judges, real life, graphic film footage showing the horrors of the death camps engenders a gut level impression that is both powerful and persuasive. The film thus educates viewers in ways that a dry textbook of facts and figures never could.

But there's more to the film than the trial. In other parts of Nuremberg we see ordinary Germans trying to get on with their lives as best they can, three years after the war's end, in a bombed out and bleak city. One of these persons is Madame Bertholt (Marlene Dietrich), the wife of a dead German soldier. In contrast to the harsh and contentious trial, Madame Bertholt's kindness toward the tribunal's lead judge, Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy), provides an example of the innocence and decency of ordinary Germans, and thus adds a softer, more contemplative perspective to the ordeal. In these non-courtroom scenes, the melancholy background music and the soft production lighting create a mood of depression and sadness.

I find very little to criticize in this three hour film. Perhaps the plot could have been clearer in identifying the legal counsel of three of the four defendants. And maybe in those scenes wherein the four defendants conversed among themselves, the dialogue should have been in German, not English. But these are trivial points. Overall, this is a film that is well written and directed, a film with credible actors giving stellar performances, and most of all, a film that assures preservation of that era's historic significance, with a political and social message that has enduring value.

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A Landmark Achievement On Holocaust Films

Author: Desertman84 from United States
29 February 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Judgment at Nuremberg is a drama film dealing with the Holocaust and the Post-World War II Nuremberg Trials. It was written by Abby Mann, directed by Stanley Kramer, and starred Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Maximilian Schell, Werner Klemperer, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, William Shatner and Montgomery Clift. It was among the first films to be made about the Holocaust.

After the end of World War II, the world gradually became aware of the full extent of the war crimes perpetrated by the Third Reich. In 1948, a series of trials were held in Nuremberg, Germany, by an international tribunal, headed by American legal and military officials, with the intent of bringing to justice those guilty of crimes against humanity. However, by that time most of the major figures of the Nazi regime were either dead or long missing, and in the resulting legal proceedings American judges often found themselves confronting the question of how much responsibility someone held who had "just followed orders." Judgment at Nuremberg is a dramatized version of the proceedings at one of these trials, in which Judge Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy) is overseeing the trials of four German judges -- most notably Dr. Ernst Janning and Emil Hahn -- accused of knowingly sentencing innocent men to death in collusion with the Nazis. Representing the defense is attorney Hans Rolfe (Maximilian Schell), while prosecuting the accused is U.S. Col. Tad Lawson. As the trial goes on, both the visiting Americans and their reluctant German hosts often find themselves facing the legacy of the war, and how both of their nations have been irrevocably changed by it.

A typical Stanley Kramer's film: Serious (even pompous) and humanist, but essentially middlebrow, courtroom drama that while well-acted is too verbose and fearful of taking sides in the controversy over who's to blame for the Nazi atrocities.Aside from that,it could also be considered a rare cinematic exploration of the messy, difficult aftermath of evaluating culpability, not only for the Nazi masterminds, but also for innumerable officials and functionaries.It is definitely absorbing from beginning to end with great acting from Tracy,who delivers a performance of great intelligence and intuition.Although there are there are no surprises in the direction, and Abby Mann's screenplay plays the expected tunes, there's enough conviction on display to reward a patient spectator.A must-see for people who love great films.

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An historical film of significance with strong performances, especially by Spencer Tracy

Author: vincentlynch-moonoi from United States
3 February 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This film suffers from not being "exciting". That is not to say it is boring. It answers -- or perhaps raises -- questions about international law and morality that go far beyond the typical bounds of motion pictures. One of its particular strengths is that it includes powerful performances by a number of outstanding actors.

Spencer Tracy is old and somewhat frail in this film. Yet, his acting is as strong as ever. Although the story line is much different, comparisons to his performance in "Inherit The Wind" are inevitable. It is Tracy, who received top billing, who holds the core of the movie together. His performance while he presents the findings of the tribunal is brilliant.

I very much admire the very controlled performance here by Burt Lancaster. Lancaster has never been one of my personal favorites, although I do recognize him as a great actor. Perhaps it was that I didn't care for the films or roles he appeared in. But here, he is perfect in an understated performance that some say was influenced by the understated acting of Spencer Tracy. As strong as his soliloquy in the courtroom is, it is at the end of the film when the Judge (Tracy) visits him in prison that is the strongest, and brought me to tears. The look on Lancaster's face as Tracy dismisses his excuse is remarkable acting.

Richard Widmark has one of the best performances of his career in this film. Regrettably, Widmark was sort of type-cast in many films because he was so good at playing the villain, or at least dark characters. Interestingly, two of my favorite performances by Widmark are in films where he played against type -- "The Tunnel Of Love" (a romantic comedy with Doris Day) and here, where he plays the prosecutor of the German judges. Widmark's role is so strong that there are times you can see the spittle fly from his mouth as he accuses the German judges of crimes against humanity.

Other than this film, when I have seen Marlene Dietrich in other movies, I always thought, "I just don't get it." I never could see the attraction. Here, however, I enjoy her performance and the way in which she interacts with Spencer Tracy.

I am not quite sure what to make about the performance of Maximilian Schell. He won the Best Actor Academy Award for this performance, but I'm not sure I agree with that decision. Usually I'd be routing for Spencer Tracy, but I think the strongest performance in this film was that of Burt Lancaster. Schell was, in my view, sometimes over the top in this role...or is that what director Stanley Kramer wanted? As I sat watching one of his main soliloquies late in the movie, I thought how easily he could have played Hitler with his rants. If Tracy and Lancaster presented understated performances, Schell did quite the opposite.

There is a particularly strong performance in one scene by actor John Wengraf, playing an ex-judge, and being questioned by the prosecutor. Interestingly, Wengraf fled to the West in 1933 -- an important year in this film -- just as the Nazis began their rise to power.

Ray Teal is one of the judges, and he gives a very solid performance here that is usually overlooked. Perhaps he suffers from his association with television. It was about this time that he played the sheriff on "Bonanza" for many seasons. But in terms of cinema, this is one of his strongest performances.

I am not particularly impressed by the performance here by Montgomery Clift. I'm not saying it's a bad performance, but I just don't see it as outstanding, as most critics do. I feel there was (and is) a lot of sympathy for Clift by this time in his life, and that that accounts for the reviews he gets in this film. Make no mistake, I think Clift was an excellent actor, and in the later moments of his brief work here he is quite good, but the early parts of his performance here seem rather static to me. I am also not impressed by Judy Garland's performance here. She looked right for the part at this point in her life -- a little fat and dumpy -- but I don't think she added much to the cast, other than name recognition. This was filmed around the time she was suffering greatly from hepatitis.

The film is long -- over 3 hours, and because of its length and seriousness, I find it best viewed over a couple of nights. But this is a great film, and one of the few I award a "9" to. For serious moviegoers, well worth a place on your DVD shelf.

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