Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
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The best quality about the film HAS to be the acting. Judy Garland, I think should of won a Supporting Actress. This is her finest performance ever, and I'm sad she didn't win one. Maximilian Schell gives the performance of a lifetime in his role as the defense attorney for the judges. He truly deserved his Oscar because he was very powerful. Spencer Tracy also gave a quite exceptional performance as he always had. (He isn't a Two-Time Oscar Winner for nothing. As for Montgomery Clift he deserved his Oscar Nomination. I am kind of ticked off that Marlene didn't get an Oscar Nomination for Best Supporting Actress. I always feel she is underrated.
As for Stanley Kramer (The Director) he had real talent and this film shows it. The 9-Time Oscar nominated Director should've of won an Oscar for Best Director for Judgement at Nuremberg. I hope his talent though will be remembered for many years to come.
My Overall Consensus is that the movie definitely succeeds due to the Extraordinary Performances and the Quite Exceptional Writing.
You Should see this Film. 10/10
The acting was collectively amazing. One of the best casts ever assembled which included Spencer Tracy, Montgomery Clift, Judy Garland, Richard Widmark, Burt Lancaster as well as international stars Maximilian Schell and Marlene Dietrich. It is not just the fact that this is a star studded cast that made it so great, it was the way everyone appeared to blend in together. Maximilian Schell gave the performance of his life in this film playing the defense lawyer for Burt Lancaster who give two superb narratives that will certainly stay in your mind forever. Schell's character use of logic is that of something which will mesmerize use you whether or not you agree or disagree with what he says. Richard Widmark playing the prosecutor gave the type of supporting performance that was necessary for Schell to shine. The way both actors fed off each other was a joy to watch. Then of course the tiny appearances of Garland and Clift were excellent and worth every second they spent on camera. I usually find myself frustrated with cameos and actors receiving recognition for them but this film used cameos the best way I have ever seen. Then of course Spencer Tracy and Marlene Dietrich provided such great presence were perfect for the lead.
The direction of Stanley Kramer was spectacular as the film intensified more and more as it wore on. It was always engrossing and never let up. The writing of Abby Mann was great, filled up with great material and narratives allowing every actor in the cast to give a superb performance. There were many memorable quotes as well. The writing carried the film forward and allowed all the potential and talent to push this film to another level.
Judgement at Nuremburg is not just another movie. It is a very thought provoking movie. More than that though it is haunting. Just thinking about the course of the events being talked about in the movie became subtly haunting in a way I really didn't expect. What was the most compelling though was the way we need to separate what we feel with what has to be truly done, with what is truly right.
Tracy. He was given the most powerful of dialogues, he presents it to us in a way that does not shout at you, yet holds you in a vice like grip every time he comes on screen. With his characteristic method of looking down whilst talking, hands in pocket, that small sly look up that he does, vintage Spencer, just how you would imagine a judge to be, or should be.
The supporting cast, again, never lets the film down. Some have the opportunity to step up a notch, Snell, Widmark, and others play their roles in a more subtle manner, Garland and Dietrich. And others just wipe away the floor with their presence, Clift and Lancaster for example.
And the story by Abby Mann - incredible.
Shot in black and white, it makes you think, it makes you smile, it will make you sad, and in the end you will be all the better for having seen one of the greatest films ever made, you will be richer for the experience, and you will be wiser.
You will also be able to say that you saw what Hollywood can do, you saw what great actors can do when put amongst their peers and are not 'stars' of a movie but are part of a larger ensemble.
And you will also see why this particular group were, genuinely, the very best Hollywood had to offer, period.
What I liked most about this movie was that it didn't pull any punches, in the manner of other "controversial" films of its time. The defense attorney, superbly played by Maximilian Schell, weaves a simple, but undeniable web of logic:
- Sterilization of "undesirables," one of the charges against the Nazi war criminals, was at one time condoned by the U.S. courts, and encouraged by none other than Oliver Wendell Holmes. - Numerous leading industrialists in the U.S. contributed to the development of the Nazi war machine. - Encouragement was given to Hitler's expansionism by both Russia and England. - Churchill is quoted as having admired Hitler. - The Vatican actively collaborated with the Nazis.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but it must have taken major cojones to present that kind of message to American filmgoers in 1961. Would a film of that candor have a chance of being made today?
I tend to doubt it.
One further note. The film describes how the Nazis went about stripping the German judiciary of judges who were known for their objectivity, and replacing them with judges who were appointed based solely on their party loyalties.
The mind boggles at the implications and yes, the prescience of this well-written, well-played masterpiece.
I've entitled my review "Revelation of Horror", but the horror revealed was not the Holocaust. That had already been revealed, although Kramer's film certainly lent its emotional impact. The revelation was a deep, true insight into how it happened, and the horror is that it happened in a civilized country. Few on this earth can imagine the true horror of Nazi Germany--I've read criticism of Widmark's Colonel Lawson as too preachy, but the character and the acting conveyed the mission of one who actually saw the horrors, beyond any scope we can identify with.
Kramer's achievement is that everything in this movie reminds us that the Nazi's used every facet of civilization, no matter how minute, to foster their extermination of their enemies, to inculcate it as an ordinary part of life. That was why judges were chosen to portray the issue of "obeying orders" versus "human decency." Herr Rolf is "forced" to defend the worst criminals imaginable, and yet his very defense and the principles behind it are abused in the process, used as a weapon against the very law they represent. Thus did the Nazis prevail with the willing acquiescence of the German people, and the abominable disregard of the rest of the world.
The other horror revealed in this film is the incessant excusing of it. Beyond the obvious pleas of the guilty ("We didn't know", or as one judge says to another, "Was it possible to kill like that?") are the multiplicity of subtle excuses: the reminder of centuries' old German culture, Rolf's plaintive cry of "unfairness" at the showing of the death camp films because of their inflammatory nature, the invocation of "Lili Marlene" throughout the film, to name just a few. While the song evokes sadness, a guilty German society meant for it to invoke sadness. Long before Germany had its country destroyed by bombs, it had its soul destroyed by Hitler.
Because this is a courtroom drama, respecting the sacred role of the Rule of Law in safeguarding humanity, almost every scene, every line is a statement that Nazi Germany perverted the Rule of Law, as did the very defense of the war criminals. But what is principle on a small scale of a single man being judged by society becomes outrage when used to defend the indefensible on an impossibly massive scale. Tracy's character at the film's end has a realization that this is so, as well as an awareness that what happened in Germany during the Third Reich was an Aristotelian tragedy for anyone touched by it, even remotely, so that any personal considerations (such as Mrs. Berthold) are made utterly impossible.
Rolf's speech about the guilty responsibility of the rest of the world was valid--but he was indicting the world to save one man. Where have we heard that in our own time? This quality about "Judgment at Nuremburg" makes its message forever fresh--and its warnings.
"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.
This graphic account of the Nuremberg trials were immediately brought to book and subsequently adapted by Stanley Kramer in ¨Playhouse ¨ style. Judge Haywood is perfectly played by Spencer Tracy, he gives us the uneasy feeling that the German people never really came to terms with their innocence or guilty. This film takes the point of view that Germany, at the time of the picture was realized, was moving beyond the war a little too fast, and was doing so with the help of the US and other allies because of the Cold War. For his passionated acting of the defending advocate Maximilian Schell won an Oscar as the years's best player and special mention Montgomery Clif, also uncredited as screenwriter. Rating : Excellent, better than average.
As a first generation American of parents who were both concentration camp survivors, the message had particular meaning for me. It's a message especially poignant as Americans today better understand the pitfalls of confusing constructive political criticism/dissent with not being Patriotic -and putting political party before country.
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing", is a quote attributed to Edmund Burke- and is entirely what "Judgement at Nuremberg" is all about. What happened in Nazi Germany is not confined to the German people, it could happen in almost any country of the world, given the right circumstances. The defense "I was just following orders" is without merit.... -that is, if we are serious about wanting to live in a society we can be proud of.
Spencer Tracy is so good in this movie it's difficult to put into words. His role is a very delicate one and he pulls it off like few actors in history could ever hope to. Tracy's role is all the more impressive in the company of scores of Hollywood stars that grace this film.
There are weaknesses in the movie. I was surprised that, even given the subject matter, I found "Judgement at Nuremberg" too often melodramatic- the pacing and dialog often so slow that it bordered on comical. In this regard Director Stanley Kramer overdoes it IMHO.
Spoiler: The full weight of the story is brought to bear at the end when the guilty verdicts are given. Spencer Tracy, as the lead judge, pronounces the sentences on the Nazi government officials. Many of the accused officials are unrepentant and antagonistic to the idea of being judged by the American court, but Burt Lancaster plays the role of a German official who takes shame in his actions during the war.
Lancaster was a Nazi court Judge who allowed himself to take orders from party officials. His testimony shows that he did things against his better judgment and we see him as a relatively good man who got caught up in the political momentum and Nazi system.
When Tracy pronounces life sentences to the hard core Nazi's, he does so in a voice that betrays little emotion or anger. When he gets to Lancaster's character you're expecting Tracy to be more lenient on him, but instead he raises his voice in great anger and emotion as he also sentences him to life imprisonment. Tracy was angrier with him because he expected more from Lancaster -because he knew better yet didn't act.
In the last scene Lancaster is a broken man seeking some form of forgiveness from the man who sentenced him, and asks to see Tracy in his cell-room. Tracy obliges and takes his time to listen. Lancaster expresses his sorrow and pleads for the judge to understand that no one could have predicted the incredible evil that resulted from the Nazi regime... as the times were so chaotic it was impossible to not get caught up in it all. "I couldn't know".
As Lancaster is broken and repentant, one is tempted to forgive him for his actions. The camera goes to Spencer Tracy- he pauses and, with a soft voice, respectfully states... "you should have known as soon as you sentenced men to die who you knew were innocent". Understanding the point is inescapably true- Lancaster's face falls, Tracy leaves and the movie ends.
It's powerful stuff and a poignant lesson for all of us who like to think of ourselves as "good people".
The human race who had already faced up to and who had become hardened to nearly six years of murder and violence, found this level of barbarity and cruelty unlike anything the world had witnessed before or since.
For four years after the war, the heads of the former Nazi state were gathered and put on trial for their crimes. This film tells the story of these trials at Nuremberg.
Richard Widmark, plays an American army officer, one of the unfortunate few who marched in to liberate a concentration camp and was sickened by what he saw, a man who is now hell bent on prosecuting the culprits and bringing them to justice.
Spencer Tracy, without doubt one of the greatest screen actors of all time plays Judge Haywood, the man who is to sit in judgement over the proceedings,a man trying to remain impartial, despite his own personal views of disgust and hatred.
Burt Lancaster, in probably his finest performance, plays Dr. Ernst Janning, a former German lawyer, a man who had worked for the Nazis and had been responsible for sending many innocent men to their deaths in the interests of Hitler's Reich. A man now eaten away by his inner torment and feelings of guilt. A man who is now on trial for his own life just as his victims had once been on trial for theirs.
Maximillian Schell, deservedly won an Oscar for his portrayal of Hans Rolfe, the German defence lawyer, trying to defend these men he knows are guilty, while at the same time trying to salvage some threads of dignity for the people of his defeated and war battered nation.
Other notable performances come from Judy Garland, who showed us what a fine dramatic actress she could be when give the opportunity, and Marlene Deitrich as the widow of an already executed German officer...both performances, especially that of Garland were in my opinion Oscar winning level.
It is however Lancaster's performance which gripped me most. He takes the stand against Rolfe's advice and speaks to the court of his crimes, his guilt and his repentance.
He says that for the German people to rebuild their self respect, then they need to face up to the terrible things they have done. He lays mention to the fact that most Germans are saying that they didn't know of the death camps, and his speech is both heartfelt and moving.
'When train loads of women and children past through our towns, crammed in like cattle on the way to their extermination.....were we blind? When we heard those children crying out to us in the night and did nothing to help them....were we deaf? We didn't know because we didn't WANT to know.' He mentions how he thought Nazism was a good thing in the beginning, but how he had become too heavily involved and was too scared to back out once he realised the levels to which it had risen.
A poignant speech and one that still leaves a lump in my throat.
Spencer Tracy has the most accurate and thought provoking line in the whole movie.
Jannings tells Haywood, that he was shocked and appalled at the figure of six million victims....he explains how he never knew it would go that far.
Spence looks down at his shoes and says with neither hatred or kindness, 'It went that far the first time you ever sentenced someone to death whom you knew was innocent.' A truer word could not have been spoken.
It is my belief that every person in the entire world should be made to watch two movies as part of their education of life. Schindlers List and Judgement at Nuremberg. In no other film has the horrific and sickening crimes of the Nazis, been described or portrayed more vividly or graphically as in these two productions.
It is only by keeping this fresh in the mind of future generations can we ensure it can never happen again.
The subject trial takes place in 1948 long after the trials of the major German military generals when most people had lost interest in such proceedings. Writer Mann chose to write about the trial of German judges, the people who above all, should have seen the evil of Hitler and his followers coming.
Assigned to the trial as Chief Judge is Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy) a low profile justice who by his own admission was not the original or subsequent choice. The prosecutor is Col. Tad Lansing (Richard Widmark) an "army man" who vows to convict the four ex-German Judges. Defending the accused is Hans Rolfe (Maximillian Schell) who must convince the court that the defendants were acting only for the love of their country.
Among the defendants are respected Judge Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster) who has written several books on law accepted the world over. Lawson accuses the defendants of signing orders for the sterilization of innocent men and the execution of those who opposed to the Reich and the extermination of the jews. He puts Rudolph Peterson (Montgomery Clift) on the stand as a victim of sterilization. Rolfe manages to expose the pitiful Peterson as mentally challenged. Later Irene Hoffman (Judy Garland) is put on the stand to explain her alleged affair at the age of 16 with an elderly jew. As his coup de grace, Lawson shows a film depicting the horrors of German concentration camps.
In between the sessions, Judge Haywood strikes up a friendship with Madame Bertholt (Marlene Dietrich) the widow of a former German general, in whose former home the judge is staying. In spite of their differences they begin to grow fond of each other.
The army pressures Lawson to ease up and suggests that acquittal or light sentences would best serve American interests since this was the time that the blockade of Berlin was beginning. Judge Haywood is also pressured to go easy on the sentencing.
Maximillian Schell deservedly won an Oscar for his outstanding performance as Rolfe. Any one of the other principals could have easily won as well. Clift and Garland are simply outstanding as are Widmark and Lancaster. And Tracy, did he ever give a bad performance? The still beautiful Dietrich was also excellent.
Others in the cast are a very young William Shatner as Capt. Byers, a court officer, Werner Kemperer as Emil Hahn the most militant of the defendants and Ray Teal as Judge Ives. Teal had long been a fixture in westerns and is probably best remembered for playing Sheriff Coffey on TV's Bonanza.
The DVD release contains an excellent conversation between Abby Mann and Maximillian Schell plus an interview with Kramer's widow, the still beautiful former actress Karen Sharpe.
A true cinematic masterpiece.
As for the trial itself, the defense argument was along these lines: they were judges (and therefore interpreters), not makers of law. They didn't know about the atrocities in the concentration camps. At least one of them saved or helped many by staying in their roles and doing the best they could under the heavy hand of the Third Reich. They were patriots, saw improvement in the country when Hitler took power, but did not know how far he would go. If you were going to convict these judges, you would have to convict many more Germans (and where would it stop?). The Americans themselves practiced Eugenics and killed thousands and thousands of innocents at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The one small weakness I found was that the defense never makes the simple argument that these judges were forced to do what they did, just as countless others in Germany were, and would have been imprisoned or killed themselves had they not complied. Anyone who's lived under a totalitarian regime may understand, or at least empathize.
I'm not saying I bought into these arguments or that one should be an apologist to Nazis, but the fact that the film presented such a strong defense was thought provoking. How fantastic is it that Spencer Tracy plays his character the way he does – simply pursuing the facts, and in a quiet, thoughtful way. It's the best of humanity. How heartbreaking is Burt Lancaster's character, admitting they knew, admitting their guilt, knowing that what happened was horrible and that they were wrong, and yet seeking Tracy's understanding in that scene in the jail cell at the end – intellectual to intellectual - and being rebuked. Even a single life taken unjustly was wrong. Had the Axis won the war, I don't know which Americans would have been on trial for war crimes for the fire bombings of Dresden and Tokyo, or for dropping the atomic bombs, but the film makes one think, even for a war when things were seemingly as black and white as they could ever be. The particulars of this trial were fictionalized, but it's representative of what really occurred, and it transports you into events 70 years ago which seem so unreal today – and yet are so vitally important to understand, and remember.
There are some superficial aspects of *Judgement at Nuremberg* that are dated: some of Stanley Kramer's camera-work is unnecessarily showy or gimmicky. Some of the sets are noticeably fake, and some of the dialog is stilted, especially in early scenes outside the courtroom. The music goes momentarily over the top in the climactic confrontation between the key defendant, played by Burt Lancaster, and the chief judge (Spencer Tracy) after the trial.
Much more striking, however, are the film's strengths, and how unusually well it holds up. I usually think of Kramer as an overstated liberal autodidact, but here the acting is, for the most part, admirably restrained and authentic. Even *William Shatner*--no kidding--is subtle here. After an unpromisingly sensational opening salvo by Richard Widmark as the chief prosecutor, this movie settles into a gravity, balance and rigorous honesty (both intellectual and emotional) that are utterly necessary for a serious treatment of a subject as overwhelmingly important as the origin and expression of Nazi evil.
Balance is a key to this film's greatness. It is not insignificant that it was Maximillian Schell, who played the Nazi judges' defense attorney not as a slimy shyster but as a powerfully rigorous advocate determined to hold the *world's* feet to the fire rather than let his clients become patsies for a vast breakdown of moral responsibility with astonishingly widespread implications. By looking courageously into the teeth of the reality of German society and politics leading up to and during the Second World War and the reality of American, European and Communist moral failings, Abby Mann's great screenplay creates an extraordinarily persuasive context for the extraordinarily powerful thematic statements against Nazi atrocities with which it concludes.
Two scenes near the movie's conclusion struck me most powerfully. First, I have never been more sickened, enraged and humbled by visual evidence of the Holocaust than I was when it was presented in the context of the trial at this film's center. Second, I was chilled--frightened in a very contemporary and immediate way--by the great speech of judgment given at the trial's end by Spencer Tracy's Chief Judge Dan Hayward. I urge anyone that is concerned about the erosion of civil liberties in America today to watch this film to better understand how insidiously evil may overtake a modern nation in crisis. More important, I urge anyone that believes that America is today in a crisis that requires extraordinary measures to watch this movie, listen with an open mind to this speech, and consider its implications for the direction of our own country today.
Stepping down now from my soap box, let me say more clearly: Do yourself a favor and watch this movie. Never mind how old it is or how long it is or how dreary the subject may seem. If you care about the fate of humanity, you too will be grateful.
The ideology of the current American leadership is strikingly similar to that of the Germans who claimed they knew nothing of the atrocities that were occurring. The idea that when threatened, a nation may do whatever is expedient or felt necessary to protect itself sounds a hollow echo of words I have heard from Cheney and Rumsfeld.
And the sad thing is that these men, like the Burt Lancaster character in the film, these men are intelligent, patriotic men who love their country. Yet like the four characters on trial in the film, how misguided they are.
There is also a scene that is of particular interest to me. The defense attorney (Maximilian Schell in an Academy Award-winning role) notes that it was not only Germany that was responsible for the Nazis' crimes against humanity. There was the Vatican's Reichskonkordat, the Soviet Union's treaty with Germany setting the stage for the latter's invasion of Poland, and there were a number of US corporations supporting Hitler. In other words, many different countries abetted the Nazis actions as much as the German citizens did.
This is probably one of the most important movies ever made. It reminds us that justice might not move quickly, but must eventually come. Aside from Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster and Richard Widmark in the top roles, we also have Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland and Montgomery Clift in supporting roles, as well as early appearances of William Shatner and Werner Klemperer.
Everyone should see it.
Where does punishment for the Holocaust end? And, if you do not stop, don't you become the enemy?
That wanders, of course, into subjective interpretation; and, there are certainly others. This only makes an already strong piece of work more relevant. Criticisms about it being fictionalized and too long are curiously incongruent. Fewer people would sit through the real trials. The actors seem to employ demons (two, nakedly) to give electrifying, all-time greatest performances. The film is repellent and manipulative, but necessarily so. It exposes guilt, innocence and timeless evil.
********** Judgment at Nuremberg (12/14/61) Stanley Kramer ~ Maximilian Schell, Spencer Tracy, Montgomery Clift, Judy Garland
On a more serious plane, it's uncanny how this movie, 45 years later, is still right on its mark about American occupation of foreign soil, as of today. Defense attorney Hans Rolfe's (Maximilian Schell) biggest challenge is not in convincing the tribunal that his client Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster) is innocent, but in convincing the client himself. The arguments he put before the court were the best he could marshal under the circumstances: (a) his client was obligated to carry out the law existing in his country at the time, no matter how evil these laws were; (b) if his client, and also the German people, were guilty of condoning Hitler's rise to power, the rest of the world must also be guilty; (c) his client was not aware of the atrocities going on under the Nazi regime, so chillingly depicted by prosecuting attorney Col. Tad Lawson (Richard Widmark). None of these was very compelling but he did the best he could, as even Judge Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy) admitted.
Rolfe's biggest challenge was to convince Janning that it's up to them both to be the last defense of the dignity of the German people. Without that dignity, Germany could never be rebuilt. But it was Janning, after all, who had better insight and foresight, to be able to see that to uphold the dignity of the German people, he must honestly admit his guilt rather than deny it. Janning was of course right. It's the German leaders who have the courage to admit the Nazi crimes (even when they were not part of it) that enable the country to be raise its head high again, cleansed of atrocities committed by a minority of extremists.
The 4 key roles were superbly acted. I realize that it's quite meaningless but if I have to rank them, I would have to put Tracy first, followed by Widmark, Schell (even when he won the Oscar) and Lancaster. Not to be forgotten are the 3 marvelous actors in the supporting roles, played with no less excellence than the key roles Marlene Dietrich, Montgomery Cliff and Judy Garland (not in any particular order).
Maximilian Schell, as the German advocate for Jannings, gets equal time with the impassioned, righteously angry prosecutor Richard Widmark. It would have been easy to let this character become a one dimensional villain, but Schell achieves the difficult task of showing Herr Rolfe not as a Nazi apologist, but a patriotic German trying to clear his country's name, and doing the best he can in a very difficult position.
All of the cast are excellent, with particularly fine performances from Montgomery Clift, Dietrich and Judy Garland. The writing is taut and disturbingly effective, in showing the ruins of a once civilized nation trying to rebuild itself ,while haunted by war guilt and the shame of defeat. The only weakness is an occasional tendency to get a little too preachy, or some scenes perhaps being a little too neatly dramatic, with the result that the movie is a little stagy at times. But its strengths far outweigh any minor faults.
Perhaps one sequence might best sum up the historical reality, in a small but brilliant scene. Judge Haywood is shown attempting to maintain order, apply justice fairly, and combat his own prejudices, as well as those of many other Americans. He has befriended the widow of a German general, and they are having a quiet drink in a tavern, when the crowd of revelers breaks into a cheerful old folk song, sung with great gusto by all present. Haywood looks around the room at the merry making Germans and his face tightens into an appraising frown.He clearly is thinking that the people are a little too eager to put the war and its memories behind them. It is an extremely powerful moment in a very dramatic film.
Highly recommended as both history and a compelling courtroom drama, with some unforgettable performances by a great cast.
It is essentially a courtroom drama, exposing the true horrors of the Nazi regime. While many of the leading Nazis were indeed tried at Nuremberg for war crimes in the late 1940s, the co-accused in this case are fictional characters, which allows the actors and writer the luxury of concentrating on emotions and themes rather than impersonations.
Spencer Tracy excels as the world-weary American Judge brought in to preside over the case. He is a man on a journey, trying desperately to discover a rational basis for what has happened to a once great people. His quiet style contrasts with the fiery passion displayed by both the Defence Counsel Maximilian Schell, a proud, intelligent young German determined to establish that not all his countrymen are to blame for the brutality of the Nazi regime, and lead Prosecutor Richard Widmark, a bitter military man who is set only on vengeance and retribution.
Schell's character deserves some explanation. This is no Nazi. His love for his country is based not on the Germany of Hitler but of Bismarck and before. Impressive and eloquent, he battles doggedly against the odds because he genuinely believes that the interests of Germany and the wider world will be better served by forgiveness and absolution, rather than Widmark's brutal, indiscriminate revenge. Schnell rightly won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for conveying all this. The only wonder, for me, is that none of the other players joined him on the Academy's lists.
The most impressive of the four defendants is the noble law professor played by Burt Lancaster. But for me, one of the best performances in this film of great acting all round is that by Werner Klemperer, as the only truly unrepentant Nazi, exuding menace and resentment from every pore. The female interest is provided by Marlene Dietrich, the aristocratic widow of a leading Nazi official, whose house has been confiscated and given to Tracy's character for the duration of the trial. The two strike up an unlikely friendship, the tenderness of which contrasts starkly with the harsh reality exposed in the courtroom. One of the best scenes in the film is Dietrich's sad translation of the words of 'Lili Marlene' as it is sung by sombre passers-by as she is walked home by Tracy. It turns out to be an even more tragic song than we had imagined, and as such stands as a poignant symbol of the case as a whole.
I like courtroom dramas. They provide claustrophobic settings which seem to breed great performances and tense, dramatic conflicts. There is no love lost between the two young lawyers in this film, and their exchanges are explosive. Nor is there any camaraderie between the four defendants, lurking in the dock in their varying degrees of denial and repentance. An array of tragic witnesses proceeds through the trial - the most notable being played by a troubled Judy Garland - and Tracey's quest for understanding puts him at odds with his fellow Judges on the case. It is a film therefore of individuals. Apart from the faltering liaison between Tracy and Dietrich, few partnerships are formed. Its bleak structure in this sense mirrors the tightly drawn courtroom setting and the ruined, desolate streets created by Kramer to evoke the post-war reality of German misery and shame.
We share the shock and horror of the court as the full extent of the atrocities are revealed for the first time. And just as we think the film can't get any better, Tracy makes his final summing up speech: an 11-minute masterpiece, eloquently written and perfectly presented (allegedly in a single take). It stands up even today as a flawless exposition of uncompromising humanity. It is not the final scene of the film however. That comes a little later, between Tracy and Lancaster, and the closing line is - quite simply - devastating.
You must see this film. It is the kind of cinematic experience that truly changes lives.
I watch this once in a while if it happens to be on TV because the performances are as good as they are. Tracy is the epitome of rock-ribbed Republican rectitude. Widmark is good. Maximilian Schell is nothing less than great. He deserved his awards. Burt Lancaster should avoid any part that calls for an accent unless the movie is a comedy. But Garland and Monty Clift are truly pathetic, for more reasons than the script gives them.
But that's the problem with the movie -- the script. The trial is a court set up in such a way that we must fight the values behind World-War-Two Germany all over again. Except for Lancaster's character the defendants are inhuman caricatures. Werner Klemperer is compelled to be a malignant version of Colonel Klink. The others are plain nasty. And Schell must try to get them off by defending their actions, which is impossible. The best he can do for Lancaster is to argue that Lancaster knew the justice system was rotten but was determined to minimize the harm it did by working against it from the inside, occasionally letting rotten things happen because the rottenness was prescribed by the law. If you think about it, that's kind of what a judge is supposed to do, isn't it? See that the law is carried out? Here's how two analysts posed the dilemma: "The criminal law usually punishes people that break laws, not carry them out. The responsibility imposed by such a standard requires a judge to choose between resigning immediately or becoming an international criminal if he enforces an unjust law or becoming a German criminal if he refuses to enforce it. This is a lot to ask of anyone." (Bergman and Isamov, "Reel Justice," 1996.)
But it's best not to think too hard about this movie. Some idea of its self-congratulatory and self-righteous nature is given by Abby Mann's speech when he won the academy award, accepting it not only for himself but "for all intellectuals everywhere." Really.
He's very mistaken if he actually believes that this movie is in any way "intellectual." It doesn't invite analysis. It invites judgment based on hatred of the Nazis. Or, let's be honest about it, hatred of Germans. There isn't a good German in it. Tracy's butler and his wife seem compliant and obedient but "we knew nothing of what was going on." Then there is Marlene Dietrich, cultivated and intelligent and helpful and friendly towards Tracy. When the guilty verdict comes in, her true nature reveals itself and she refuses to answer his phone call, sitting alone in the dark, filled with the kind of anger that brought Hitler to power. (The Germans will never change, not even the best of them.)
Tracy has a last jailhouse conversation with Lancaster, at Lancaster's request. Burt has been mute throughout most of the trial, refusing to speak in his own defense, but here he tries to tell Tracy, as one morally upright man to another, that he, Lancaster, didn't know Germany was going to turn into what it did. Tracy sneers at him and says, "You knew what was going to happen the first time you sent an innocent man to jail." That's judgment at Nurenberg for you.
The movie never asks what a moral person might do in Lancaster's circumstances. Mann and Kramer don't bother to ask because they already know the answer. The rest of us may not be quite so sure what we might do because we are aware of our moral flaws, our weaknesses, our desire to get along trying to do well without stepping on too many toes or striking useless heroic poses. But the writer and director haven't really thought about it.
The worst scene in the movie, perhaps, among so many, has Schell grilling Judy Garland (Judy Garland!), who as a young girl had some innocent dalliance with an elderly Jew who was then convicted of consorting with Aryans and was disappeared. The most damning evidence was that she'd been seen sitting on the man's lap. She stutters neurotically while Schell bears down on her and he finally shouts at her -- "DID YOU -- SIT -- ON -- HIS -- LAP???" Enough is enough, finally.
I really dislike this movie for its fake humanitarianism. The victims were innocent, but does that make all of their countrymen evil? That's the kind of stereotypica, digital, black-and-white thinking that will lead to the next war, the next genocide. If the Nazis hadn't existed we would be almost forced to invent them because as a society we need bad examples. Without evil, how can we possibly convince ourselves that we are good? So we can all leave the theater or switch off the TV, eyes brimming with tears at the tragedy that has been brought to our attention again, cheapened though it is by this film, and go to bed glowing with self satisfaction.