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An engrossing courtroom drama for the ages!
Stanley Kramer's historical courtroom drama Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) is a poignant masterpiece of creative direction, brave writing, and daring performances from an all star cast! Kramer's direction features long held wide shots of the entire courtroom bearing witness to the difficult subject matter, devastating close-up shots for stirring emotional testimony, quick zoom in shots for dramatic emphasis, and mature slowly turning panning shots around a speaker to help hold the viewer's attention. For a film that's over 3 and a half hours, Judgment at Nuremberg barely feels like 2 hours.
Ernest Gold's music is magical only playing at very specific emotional moments or revealing cues to depict a certain American or German sentiment. Gold's score is highly effective and deeply affecting. I love Frederic Knudtson's stellar editing of splicing together real documentary Holocaust footage, post-war Germany's ruins, and the dramatic recreated courtroom drama. Judgment at Nuremberg feels swift and concise thanks to his editing. Ernest Lazslo's cinematography is fascinating as the courtroom always feels alive due to his moving camera placements, interesting viewpoints, and impressive tracking shots. Robert J. Schiffer's make-up is brilliant as several characters look older or specifically designed with subtle details that convince the viewer a certain actor is older.
Abby Mann and Montgomery Clift's script is perhaps the greatest, most timeless, and utterly relevant screenplay ever written for film. Their words shake you to the core as you get every perspective with nuanced detail and honest viewpoints. The witnesses testify with shattering honesty and riveting emotion. The judges speak with clarity, earnestness, and dedication to justice like you desire judges to aspire to always maintain. The prosecutor delivers his evidence with swift justice and undeniable purpose. The defense holds steadfast to his principles and his client's innocence as far as they see it. All while Mann and Clift's writing demonstrates the genuine want of the German people to be perceived as innocent of knowledge or participation in The Holocaust. Judgment at Nuremberg asks the audience to imagine each perspective with an empathetic open mind and a realistic lens. Abby Mann and Montgomery Clift write Judgment at Nuremberg to convince every audience member that the Nazis were guilty of war crimes as well as crimes against humanity aided by a complicit, hateful public and an uncaring world.
I have to commend Stanley Kramer for assembling one of the most apt casts of legendary actors and actresses ever to grace cinemas. Spencer Tracy is so humble, thoughtful, gripping, and entertaining as American Judge Dan Haywood, who is designated to precede over The Nuremberg Trials with a fair hand and swift justice. Burt Lancaster starts out as the stoic sycophant named Ernst Janning, but breaks down in one of the poignant and breathtaking supporting performances you'll ever see. Judgment at Nuremberg is full of riveting side characters brought to life by great actors and actresses giving the film their full potential.
Furthermore, Montgomery Clift is heartbreaking and tear-jerking as the simple witness Rudolph Petersen, who pours his heart out over the course of his cross-examination. Likewise, Judy Garland's witness Irene Hoffman Wallner will bring the tears as she expels all her character's pain out during her testimony. The use of real Holocaust footage will surely move you if these two character actors do not.
By the same note, Maximilian Schell arguably steals the show as German defense attorney Hans Rolfe. He passionately orates his client's side with a shocking zeal and ungodly lack of concern for the witnesses' feelings as he brutally cross-examines them. He is engaging, entertaining, and inspired in Judgment at Nuremberg. Schell earned his Best Actor Oscar several times over as he recites massive volumes of dialogue with a nuanced realism befitting a more senior actor. Maximilian Schell establishes himself at a first rate actor of the highest caliber just within Judgment at Nuremberg. Similarly, Marlene Dietrich is alluring in her charming charisma playing Mrs. Bertholt, while also disgusting the viewer as a remorseless liar making excuses for the countless Germans that stood by allowing Hitler's Germany to attain power. Dietrich's casting is intriguing as she was the greatest German actress of her era, playing a notable socialite and patriotic symbol, much like her own life. She is simply marvelous and unforgettable.
On the other hand, Richard Widmark goes full on prosecutor emboldened by the righteousness of his cause in sending Nazis to jail. His passionate opening speech and intense presentation of his evidence is all consuming as you can only look at him while he speaks. Would you believe Judgment at Nuremberg even boasts an early appearance from a young William Shatner with rare coherent delivery and striking charisma? Well it does as Stanley Kramer compiled many of the finest artists of his era for Judgment at Nuremberg.
In all, this film should be seen by all for its important messages and fine craftsmanship.
Stanley Kramer's ‘message movies' tend to grate me with their puffed up self-importance, thinly drawn characters and belief that they are saying something novel but of the films he has made this is probably the most successful. This is largely due to the impressive ensemble cast he works with who make their characters appear vivid and full of life even when working with a subpar screenplay. Kramer's direction often gets in the way of the film as his showy camerawork and refusal to cut down certain scenes distract from the fascinating discussion of guilt in relation to war crimes and responsibility to the law. The film does earn it's Best Picture nomination as for a ‘prestige' picture it achieves what it sets out to do.
American judge Dan Haywood, Spencer Tracy, is assigned to prosecute Nazi judges who committed war crimes during World War II. The main defendant in the case is respected German judge Ernst Janning, Burt Lancaster, who is represented by Hans Rolfe, Maximilian Schell, who wants to defend the actions of everyday Germans through his defense of Rolfe. Controversial issues are discussed as sterilization and sex between a Jewish man and a gentile woman are brought to light through the characters of Rudolph Peterson, Montgomery Clift, and Irene Hoffmann-Wallner, Judy Garland. Haywood is forced to examine his own morality as he becomes close to wealthy German widow Frau Bertholt, Marlene Dietrich, who claims that the majority of Germans were not aware of the atrocities that occurred under the Nazi regime. When Janning rebels against his lawyer and claims that he is guilty Haywood is pushed to have him imprisoned despite an impassioned plea from Rolfe.
There are several points in this film when it feels like a television production for the HISTORY channel and most of these come when Tracy steps away from the courtroom to purchase a hotdog or converse with the charming Ms. Dietrich. I understand that the film, which is based on a play, was trying to expand it's scope and go beyond feeling like a filmed play but these scenes seem utterly superfluous and add to the film's already bloated running time. This is not to say that Dietrich and Tracy are not wonderful together but they feel like they are part of an entirely different film, one that could be quite entertaining on it's own, that is not given enough time to develop on it's own merits. Kramer would have done better to eliminate this plotline entirely and focus on the courtroom drama where the heart of the story lies.
Schell won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the morally conflicted Rolfe and he does give an impressive performance, managing to hold his own against legends such as Tracy, Lancaster and Clift. He is full of anger and bluster as many acclaimed performances were at the time but when negotiating with Lancaster he displays a softer side and his final plea to Tracy, asking him to visit Lancaster, is a touching moment. Lancaster brings a unique stoicism to his role as his famously ‘cold' eyes reflect his character's tragic nature but when he does finally deliver one of many dramatic monologues in the film it feels like a cop out. One must accept that there will be big, dramatic, improbable speeches but it did get rather tiring after a couple hours seeing several thespians "Capital A" act their way through ten minutes worth of dialogue.
Tracy brings his usual gravitas to the role as we believe in him as an everyman with real concerns over whether he is doing the right thing. Widmark, in the least showy role, is surprisingly effective as his bland good looks and rigidity present him as a good foil for the more bombastic Schell. Clift chews the scenery in his one big scene and Garland fails to convince as Hoffmann, her tics and over the top style overwhelm the scenes. Clift and Garland's characters also seemed rather unnecessary as I would have preferred to have seen only one of them or had both of them cut out. Lancaster and Schell are the most interesting characters in the film and if all of the unnecessary star cameos were removed the film would be a great deal shorter and more impactful.
It's a bit long, but its performances, script, direction, and engrossing narrative make it worth it in this powerful courtroom war drama.
i don't make wagers..
Judgement At Nuremberg
Despite of its overlong runtime, there is a lot of material in it to feed off the audience for more than 3 hours. Abby Mann's adaptation might be the only strongest link in this feature excluding Stanley Kramer; it is a bit loose on depicting the intensity and the emotions behind all the drama and the editing too seems liberal (they could have narrowed it down to around 2 hours). On performance level, it holds up the expectation and delivers without flinching by great actors like Spencer Tracy, Maximilian Schell and Montgomery Clift. Judgement At Nuremberg remains true to its nature and loyal to the tone of the feature till the last frame which possibly is the only reason to encounter this experience for it lacks gripping screenplay, better editing and execution of a scene.
Though long, Judgment At Nuremberg is yet an afflicting drama on politics and the view of the war by Germans in ethics or emotions. Followed by a significant cast even including an unknown breakthrough star Maximillian Schell
Judgment at Nuremberg is a masterclass in acting. There are so many strong performances here that singling out individuals could take paragraphs. I felt for each character and saw their point of view because they were all portrayed as realistic people with genuine motivations. While many of the German characters were played by American actors, I liked how they made the transition to English and just asked you to accept it without a lot of explanation. We get to experience the entire trial through the eyes of Spencer Tracy who is the chief judge presiding over the case. He takes in all the testimony as well as a lot of additional information he gathers from the people around him during the days of the trial. This allows us to walk through these events along with him.
The brilliance of the way Judgment at Nuremberg is structured is the fact that it lays out the case so you can see some validity to the argument of the defense. Its not easy when hes defending Nazis, but Maximilian Schell makes an impassioned plea that can almost sway the audience to mercy at least. They also use this film to show the political state of the world at that time, and the fact that there were legitimate reasons many people wanted these men to be found not guilty. Its a well-crafted film because it does all of this but it also forces the audience to view the horrible realities of the Holocaust. These scenes are awful, and made more uncomfortable because they used real footage of what actually happened in the concentration camps.
I think what surprised me the most about Judgment at Nuremberg was that I never felt the length of the film. Ordinarily movies that are this long start to drag for me, but not this one. It flowed nicely and I never once lost interest. In fact, it strangely felt like they could have done more. This is so fascinating, and the moral questions it raises are so thought-provoking, I just want it investigated further. There was something about the end that felt abrupt and unsatisfying, almost as if the film ran out of gas. Perhaps it was the fact that I knew what the verdict would be since way back when I was in a history class. I anticipated the end, but I still think there could have been a more unique way to wrap things up. That being said, Judgment at Nuremberg is a strong film and it told a story that needed to be told, at just the right time for people to learn from it.
Outstanding film. Star-studded with several fantastic performances. Highly emotional given the subject matter, but presented in a very intelligent, balanced way. I was struck at once by that, and by how well director Stanley Kramer gives us both sides of the argument - and avoids simply paying lip service to the defense of the German judges on trial. Maximilian Schell is brilliant as the defense attorney, well worthy of his Oscar, and is forceful and compelling in his arguments. There are also so many brilliant scenes. Spencer Tracy walking in the empty arena where the Nazi rallies were held, with Kramer focusing on the dais from which Hitler spoke. The testimony of Montgomery Clift and Judy Garland, both of whom are outstanding and should have gotten Oscars. Burt Lancaster in the role of one of the German judges, the one tortured by his complicity, knowing he and others are guilty. The devastating real film clips from the concentration camps, which are still spine tingling despite all we 'know' or have been exposed to. Marlene Dietrich as the German general's wife, haunted but expressing the German viewpoint, one time while people are singing over drinks. Her night stroll with Tracy, as she explains the words to one song, is touching. It just seemed like there was just one powerhouse scene after another, and the film did not seem long at all at three hours. Heck, you've even got Werner Klemperer and William Shatner before they would become Colonel Klink and Captain Kirk! In this film, the acting, the script, and the direction are all brilliant, and in harmony with one another.
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.
One of the great courtroom dramas.
A movie that has a lot on its mind, and left me with a lot on my mind.
Kramer's films can be a bit overlong and a bit too obsessed with their own importance. While "Judgment at Nuremberg" suffers from both, neither issue eclipses the film's stronger elements (namely most of the performances, and the writing).