Movie Review: Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

The 1960’s were loaded with films in which the director gathered every big-name star he could afford and then throw them into the movie. Unfortunately, hardly any of those films worked; all except one, and that is Stanley Kramer’s Judgment at Nuremberg.

From beginning to end, this film enthralls the audience with a fictional take on the Nuremberg Trials in Germany, following the fall of Hitler and the Third Reich. This trial is a secondary one, which focuses on trying four judges, indicted of war crimes, although they themselves were not in high positions of power. Tension shifts between wanting to let the men get off easy because they were not directly involved, to wanting to give them harsh sentences because they did nothing to stop it.

This three-hour epic is loaded with endless dialogue, which touch on the prosecution, defense, and all legal proceedings in the between, so if you are not a fan of courtroom dramas, stand clear of this.

However, even with all the dialogue, I found this to be a very engrossing movie, and it immediately became a personal favorite.

In the 1961 Academy Awards, the film would be nominated for eleven Oscars, including both Maximilian Schell  and Spencer Tracy for best actor, Montgomery Clift for best supporting actor, Judy Garland for best supporting actress, Stanley Kramer for best director and best picture, as well as nominations for best adapted screenplay, best art direction, best cinematography, and best costume design. Schell would win for best actor, and Abby Mann for best screenplay.

The film also stars other marquee actors Richard Widmark, Burt Lancaster, Marlene Dietrich, and a very young (and lean) William Shatner is a small, supporting role.

Schell gives the performance of a lifetime as the passionate defense attorney Hans Rolfe, who has the almost impossible task of defending the four judges on trial for war crimes.

Clift also is fantastic in his role as a mentally challenged man who testifies against the four due to a forced sterilization he underwent during the reign of the Nazi’s. To me, he was robbed of an Oscar.

Spencer Tracy is great as his normal, professional self as the laid back, presiding judge from the backwoods of Maine who does not consider himself important. Lancaster is also great as one of the defendants, and the makeup job done on him to make him seem twenty years older was great as well.

For the ladies, Marlene Dietrich does well in her part as the wife of an executed SS officer who makes it clear to Tracy that she and her husband hated Hitler and the Nazi’s. I felt she was more deserving of an Oscar nomination than Garland, who was not that good in her small role, which got her nominated.

Overall, my least favorite of the main actors was Richard Widmark. I found him to be too gruff, and too dramatic in his role. I don’t think he was bad, I just did not particularly care for him here, although I do like him in other movies.

This film, although historical fiction, should be shown in more schools across the country to make people more aware of what these trials were like. Stanley Kramer was very attentive when it came to detail, going as far as to make sure all characters were wearing headphones during their prosecution, because in real life, the people were all not speaking the same language.

I rate very few movies with a 10, but this movie made me think hard about it. Because some parts are drawn out, I will give my final rating of this film a 9 out of 10. Not any movies I see instantly grow on me to the point where I could watch it again right away, but this one did, and I must make note of that.

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