Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG

Note that "Judgment" is misspelled!
JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG (1961). Producer/director: Stanley Kramer.

"There can never be any justification for these [acts] -- not in generations, not in centuries."

"It's not the killing that's the problem -- it's the disposal of the bodies."

"We beat the greatest war machine since Alexander the Great -- and now the boy scouts take over."

In 1948, after the "big guns" in the National Socialist Party have already been put on trail, some "smaller fry" -- judges who helped enact the illegal and immoral laws of Nazi Germany -- are also put on trial in Nuremberg. The presiding judge is Dan Heywood (Spencer Tracy), with Colonel Tad Lawson (Richard Widmark) as prosecutor and Hans Rolfe (Maximilian Schell) as the defense attorney. The most famous defendant is a well-respected jurist named Dr. Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster). Rolfe claims that the U.S. can hardly act morally superior when they dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, while Heywood discovers that virtually no one in Nuremberg will admit they knew what was going on in the concentration camps. Meanwhile Lawson is told that the U.S. will need Germany as an ally in the cold war and convicting some of its leading citizens may not be such a good idea. But Lawson was one of the men who liberated the camps, he has horrifying memories, and shows films [actual documentary footage] of Nazi atrocities -- the ovens, children sentenced to death, piles of rotting corpses, starved and frightened human beings, drawings made on human skin, severed heads [all of which is quite hard to watch but highly necessary for the movie's ultimate impact] -- and isn't about to let these guys walk if he can help it. Only two years after the end of the war, he fears that the world is already losing interest. Schell won an Oscar, and deserved it. Widmark gives one of his best performances, and Tracy is superb. Marlene Dietrich also turns in an excellent performance as the widow of a Nazi who has already been executed, and Judy Garland has a fine turn as a woman who was put in jail at sixteen for alleged perjury when a Jewish father figure was accused of intimate relations with her, an Aryan. Montgomery Clift is also superb as a Jewish witness who was forcibly sterilized years before and argues that one could not expect him to be entirely rational after such an experience. Lancaster is a comparative lightweight in this cast, and isn't well-cast as a German, but he does his best and has a few good moments. Some of the best scenes are between Tracy and Dietrich as they try to understand each other's viewpoints, particularly a scene in a lively beer hall after Heywood has seen the disturbing movies taken in the camps and Dietrich protests that few Germans really knew what was going on -- but he just can't quite buy it. There are many other good supporting performances in the film, especially Virginia Christine as a German housekeeper who argues that Hitler did some good things along with the bad. Judgment at Nuremberg covers all viewpoints and all the bases in highly dramatic fashion, and while over three hours long, is never boring. It ends in a most satisfying fashion, and Tracy's final lines -- written by screenwriter Abby Mann -- pretty much sum it up.

Verdict: A masterpiece about a shameful event in history that must never be forgotten. ****.

3 comments:

theduckthief said...

The film is a bit long but there are some great performances, especially Monty and Judy. I agree about Burt's casting though.

Lasso The Movies said...

I think this movie is way better than it gets credit for. I had always postponed seeing it because of the length, but last year I finally got around to it, and I was blown away by how good it was. Thanks for the post.

William said...

Thank you for your comment. [You, too duckthief; somehow your comment got by me.]

I also resisted the picture for years not just because of its length but I figured it would be extremely grim, but now I'm glad I finally watched it. Not boring; grim, yes, but powerful as well.

Thanks for the comments. William