Judgment at Nuremberg
Independent Films, Film Profiles
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) is a fictionalized film account of the post-World War II Nuremberg Trials, written by Abby Mann and directed by Stanley Kramer, starring Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Maximilian Schell, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift, Werner Klemperer, and William Shatner. Originally written for television, the film depicts the trial of certain judges who executed Nazi law. Such a trial did occur: the film was inspired by the Judges' Trial before the U.S. Nuremberg Military Tribunal in 1947. By the time the film was made, all of the convicts had already been released, including four of them who were sentenced to life in prison. A key thread in the film's plot involves a "race defilement" trial known as the "Feldenstein case". In this fictionalized case, based on the real life Katzenberger Trial, an elderly Jewish man was tried for an improper relationship with an "Aryan" woman, and put to death in 1942.Judgment at Nuremberg centers around a military tribunal in which four judges are accused of crimes against humanity for enacting Nazi law. Judge Haywood (Tracy), the chief justice in the case, attempts to understand how defendant Ernst Janning (Lancaster) could have passed sentences resulting in genocide, and by extension how the German people could have turned a blind eye to the Holocaust. In so doing, he befriends the widow of a Nazi officer (Dietrich) and talks with a number of German people with different perspectives on the war.The film examines the questions of individual complicity in crimes committed by the state. For example, defense attorney Hans Rolfe (Schell) raises such issues as the support of a U.S. Supreme Court justice for the practice of eugenics, and Winston Churchill's words of praise for Adolf Hitler. In the end, Janning makes a statement condemning himself and his fellow defendants for "going along" with the Third Reich, and all four are found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.The film is notable for showing actual historical footage filmed by American soldiers after the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. Shown in court by prosecuting attorney Col. Tad Lawson (Richard Widmark), the footage of huge piles of naked corpses lain out in rows and bulldozed into large pits was exceptionally gruesome for a mainstream film of its day.The film ends with Haywood having to choose between patriotism and justice. He rejects the call to let the Nazi judges off lightly to gain Germany's support in the Cold War against the Soviet Union.
Year of Production: 1961
Length: 186 min.
Country: United States
- Stanley Kramer
- Stanley Kramer
- Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Maximilian Schell, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift, William Shatner