Crimes Against Humanity

Judgment at Nuremberg is a riveting courtroom drama. Even at 3 hours long, I was invested in every word of the historic trial. The film centers around the 1948 Military Tribunal for German judges affiliated with Nazi crimes against humanity. Stanley Kramer is the right director for the job. Judgment at Nuremberg was nominated for Best Picture and Director, but it was Abby Mann who won for Best Adapted Screenplay. Similar to Marty, Judgment at Nuremberg is an extended adaptation of a Playhouse 90 episode. Some actors reprise their roles, but the movie also gained an all-star cast. Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Marlene Dietrich, Montgomery Clift, Judy Garland, and a pre-Star Trek William Shatner all have a role.

Shatner plays a different kind of captain with a small role in the trial. An older Tracy leads the court as Chief Judge Dan Haywood. In between court sessions, Haywood explores Nuremberg trying to understand how the war affected its citizens. He develops a short-lived romance with the German Frau Bertholt played by Dietrich. Richard Widmark strongly opposes the ex-Nazi defendants as an American prosecutor, but it’s Maximilian Schell who stands out as German defense counsel Hans Rolfe. His conflicted attitude towards his country and the crimes committed won him the Oscar for Best Actor. Lancaster is just as passionate as the mostly silent defendant Ernst Janning who finally speaks up near the end.

Garland gives what may be her final great performance as German woman Irene Hoffmann who breaks down at the witness stand. Clift similarly breaks down playing another German victim named Rudolph Peterson. Judgment at Nuremberg touches on several heavy themes. We hear about sexual sterilization, the fallout of a Jewish-Gentile relationship, Nazi torture methods, and of course Concentration Camps. Although released in 1961, the movie doesn’t shy away from actual Holocaust footage. While not an easy watch both for its subject matter and the fact that it’s almost impossible to find, Judgment at Nuremberg benefits from showing both sides of a difficult discussion.

Judgment at Nuremberg

Hans Rolfe pleads his case

4 thoughts on “Crimes Against Humanity

  1. This one does hit you like a ton of bricks, just so powerful and effective. Strangely, you do feel a kind of sympathy for Burt Lancaster’s character, and of the two older men because you get the sense they heavily regretted everything they did, but that sympathy only goes so far because of their cowardice to not have done anything when they knew it was wrong. Werner Klemperer is an effective scumbag as the only defendant who has no remorse or regrets for what he did, and probably wouldn’t hesitant to make the same choices again. I finally understood why Klemperer wanted to play Col. Klink as a total clownish oaf on Hogan’s Heroes, playing that character was really tough for him. This is one of those rare Post War films that has you hearing both sides, and at times understanding some of what “the enemy” was dealing with.

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