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Judgement At Nuremberg (1961)

Reviewed on 2007 February 22

Stanley Kramer directed this sober account of the Nuremberg trials. It’s remarkable that the same man that later gave us screwball gems like It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World and The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T could shift gears like this.

Chief Judge Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy) is sent to Nuremberg in 1948 to head a war crimes tribunal for four Nazi judges. The men are to be tried for their roles, active or passive, in forced sterilization of “undesirables” and other atrocities. Haywood isn’t happy to be doing this, but this is his job and he resolves to be as fair as possible. He believes all men to be equally guilty, but you see his face change when he looks at Dr. Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster), who has shame for what he did. The other three seem oblivious or unrepentant, especially Emil Hahn (Werner Klemperer), who barks out “not guilty!” as his first words. The Werner Lampe character reminds me of the kid who’s just sorry he got caught and Friedrich Hofstetter (Martin Brandt) looks embarrassed and kind of baffled by all the fuss. Hans Rolfe (Maximilian Schell) is the determined lead defense attorney.

The entire cast gives some of the best acting on celluloid. Schell won an Oscar for his work and Judy Garland is remarkable in her brief role. Abby Mann’s script is remarkable too, because of how effectively it delivers its message. Montgomery Clift’s performance as a man punished by the Nazis is chilling, and a later scene where Hahn asks how the Holocaust could have happened, the casual answer he gets is plain horrifying. Burt Lancaster is outstanding as the remorse-torn Janning, but it’s never forgotten that he should have listened to his conscience when it would have actually done people some good.

Four chocolate morsels.


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