Take a Drink: whenever Burt Lancaster delivers a bone-chilling stare
Take a Drink: whenever you hear “guilty” or “not guilty”
Take a Drink: for impassioned speeches
Take a Drink: for mentions of sterilization
Do a Shot: for Oliver Wendell Holmes
Do a Shot: wait… William Shatner?
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
I’ve been meaning to get to Judgment at Nuremberg forever, but surprisingly enough I’ve not often been in the mood for two and a half hour classic Nazi courtroom dramas. Well, my loss.
Strangely, I found time for plenty of Tosh.0 in the meantime.
Judgment at Nuremberg is about the post-WWII trials of Nazi war criminals in Nuremberg. Instead of the splashy SS and concentration camp trials, though, the movie follows one older judge (Spencer Tracy) a few years later when they were getting around to the less cut and dried, sensational businessmen and judges who aided the Nazi machine. It focuses on four judges, including highly esteemed legal mind Dr. Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster). Are they guilty for enforcing the laws of their nation if the laws themselves were unjust? What is guilt and innocence in an inherently evil regime?
This film tackles those questions and their many implications head-on in a cerebral fashion that would never get a studio greenlight today (to be fair, it was financially unsuccessful on its 1961 release, too). The principals behind it wholeheartedly believed in its thorny moral inquiry, which still resonates strongly. The all-star cast took pay cuts and Director Stanley Kramer dialed back the style to focus on the raw intensity of the material (including one of the first uses of concentration camp footage in a film).
No jokes here, so enjoy this baby seal.
While Kramer does manage some inspired, roving camerawork, what makes this film so great is the work of its cast. Each is damaged in some way by the war, some more obviously than others. Tracy and Lancaster are both excellent, never more so than in their final scene together. Both display different kinds of determination, steely and full of moral rectitude, and when one finally breaks, it’s an incredible scene.
The second pairing is Montgomery Clift and Judy Garland, both in small roles as German witnesses for the prosecution, both deeply damaged but perserverent int eh face of injustices their society subjected them to, and both drawing supporting acting Oscar nominations. The MVPs for me, though, are the two attorneys, Richard Widmark as the prosecutor and Maximilian Schell in defense. Widmark is full of righteous fury after witnessing concentration camp atrocities, and in many ways serves as the conscience of the film. Also his intensity and face both remind me of Peter Weller.
RoboTorney don’t suffer this shit.
The only member of this stacked cast to walk away with a statue, though, was Schell, and it was entirely deserved. He’s just as driven and fiery as his opponent, and probably more intelligent. He’s the devil’s advocate, the mirror held up to the U.S.’s past stances on eugenics and sterilization and the cognitive dissonance on both sides of the issue, and later, deviously, at the moral compromises in America’s maneuvering against Communism. His presence is what makes a film a dialogue and not a diatribe, and why the thoughts it provokes will never cease to be valuable to our society.
The score is generally terrible, especially the overture (which, to be fair, might suffer from the Nazi marching songs it incorporates). Also, the Marlene Dietrich subplot feels like padding and as good as she is, doesn’t really add any perspective not communicated elsewhere.
Judgment at Nuremberg is a masterpiece of social commentary and moral complexity, and a lesson the world would do well never to forget.