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USA 1961
Directed by
Stanley Kramer
186 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Judgement At Nuremberg

Although somewhat dated by the benign values of the period, embodied in the avuncular persona of Spencer Tracy, which underpin a rather unpromising introductory section, Judgement At Nuremberg develops into an engrossing courtroom drama distinguished by fine performances from a top drawer cast.

Tracy plays Judge Dan Haywood, a small-time district court judge from Maine who has volunteered to chair an unappealing 1948 war crime trial in Nuremberg. Unappealing because the major figures of the Nazi regime were either dead or in jail by this time and this trial was of four judges accused of crimes against humanity as a result of following orders during the National Socialist years.

The film, which bears comparison with Sidney Lumet’s Twelve Angry Men is relatively dry material and the fact that Kramer and writer Abby Mann make it interesting, especially given the lengthy running time is a testament to the script which lays out the moral, legal and emotional issues with thoroughness and the powerful performances by Richard Widmark, Maximilian Schell, Burt Lancaster, Judy Garland and Montgomery Clift. The latter is particularly effective in a small role as a victim of Nazi sterilization programs (he was nominated for an Oscar which went to George Chakiris for his role in West Side Story!) whilst Maximilian Schell in a rather over-the-top performance won the Oscar for Best Actor (Tracy was also nominated) and Abby Mann, Best Adapted Screenplay (taken from his own book). 

Kramer handles the dual languages issue especially well for the time although it seems very unlikely that the books of one of the accused, leading jurist Ernst Janning (Lancaster), would have been in English and thus Haywood would not have been able to read them as the film purports. 

FYI: Kramer, one of Hollywood’s leading liberal directors of the 1950s and 60s, directed Tracy the previous year in Inherit the Wind which was based on a real-life 1925 case against a science teacher accused of the crime of teaching evolution.




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