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Judgment at Nuremberg February 26, 2007

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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I have already praised the previous two Stanley Kramer movies that I’ve seen to the skies, so the praise for this one should not come as a big surprise. After this one, Kramer (Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, Inherit The Wind, Its a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, The Defiant Ones, On The Beach) definitely ranks high on my list of favorite filmmakers. Kramer’s penchant for making films with a conscience results in another gem.

This film deals is based on the Nuremberg Trials which prosecuted members of the Nazi Government. It does not deal with the main trials that prosecuted the leadership of the Nazi party but instead deals with the trial against the Judges who helped execute the Law of The Third Reich. Though it might seem at the outset that these people should obviously be punished, they do have their side of the story and it needs to be heard before a judgment is passed.

Abby Mann’s brilliant screenplay was based on his work for an episode of the TV series Playhouse 90. Kramer apparently picked this up to try and help educate general public about the atrocities of the Nazis because some of them didn’t even believe that these events actually took place.

Almost every performance, however small the role may be, is worth applauding. Kramer has apparently directed 14 different actors in Oscar nominated performances and this film garnered acting nominations for 4 actors (source: IMDB). With towering performances from so many actors, the Oscar for Best Actor was stolen by the relatively unknown Maximilian Schell (billed fifth), who plays Hans Rolfe, the lead defense attorney. Once you see the film you will accept that his performance was the best (obviously not by a large margin though) because he gets some of the best scenes to perform in and the best lines to say. He was the only lead actor from the original TV episode to work for the film and he reprised his role from that one. The brilliant Spencer Tracy comes in a close second for the lead role as Chief Judge Haywood. The film is presented with him as the central character, who does his best to understand the situation and pass the right judgment. Richard Widmark plays Colonel Lawson, the prosecuting attorney and does really well. For a large part of the film, you do not really like his character but by the end of the film you realise the underlying reasons for his unwavering stand. Burt Lancaster plays Ernst Janning, who is one of the defendants in the case. He doesn’t get to do much in terms of acting for most part of the film but he suits the role fine. This is the character that you sympathize with the most and you are caught in a dilemma wondering whether he should be punished or not.

Judy Garland (playing Irene Hoffman Wallner) and Montgomery Clift (playing Rudolph Peterson) were both nominated for Supporting Actress/Actor Oscars respectively. They perform splendidly in very short but impactful roles, especially Clift. Marlene Dietrich is good in the role of Mrs. Bertholt. Her role may seem unnecessary to some but it is weaved nicely into the screenplay and helps provide another perspective, increasing the impact of the final judgment. William Shatner is also seen in a small part as Haywood’s aide.

This is a superbly acted, thoughtfully written and effectively directed film that makes you think and awakens your conscience. This is a must watch. The length is quite large at 186 minutes but it is totally worth it. Watch this compelling drama when you are in the mood to watch a thought-provoking film.

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