Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

I have decided a couple of things tonight. First, I’m going to review every film I see in 2012. I’ve been bad about blogging in general, and abysmal at being a good media consumption blogger. Any book I read will appear on Goodreads. Any film, I’ll write about in here. Oh, I watch certain movies over and over. I shall only review them once.

The second decision is that Spencer Tracy is one of my favorite actors. Tonight, I’m having a Spencer Tracy courtroom double-feature. He was the anti-method actor. His theory: “Show up on time, know your lines, and don’t bump into the other actors.” Also, I love this Tracy quote: Why do actors think they’re so God damn important? They’re not. Acting is not an important job in the scheme of things. Plumbing is.”

Third, I still think “judgment” looks stupid. The Universe either needs to make it “judgement,” or we need to have trials presided over by a judg. Sic.

While I was reading material about “Judgment at Nuremburg,” I read that Burt Lancaster’s courtroom outburst took place around two hours, fifteen minutes into the film. When it happened, I was shocked, because I couldn’t believe that much time had passed.

“Judgment at Nuremburg” is a long film–approximately 3:06–and it is nearly all talk. Nonetheless, the amazing cast and taut dialogue keep it from dragging.

Spencer Tracy plays Judg (sic) Dan Haywood, a Maine Republican, and chief of the three judg (sic) panel hearing cases against four former Nazi judges. The prosecution is led by Army Colonel Tad Lawson, wonderfuly played by Richard Widmark.

Burt Lancaster plays Ernst Janning, once one of the great minds in German jurisprudence. Also on trial, Judge Emil Hahn, played by Werner Klemperer.

Yes, the same Werner Klemperer who was Colonel Klink. Klemperer himself was a German Jew, who escaped to America with his parents. He refused to play Nazis unless A) they were complete buffoons, or B) they were vile and obviously evil. Klink was the former, Judge Hahn most definitely the latter.

Hans Rolfe is the defense attorney. Maximilian Schell’s intensity in the role won him the Best Actor Oscar, beating Tracy, and becoming the lowest-billed actor ever to win in a leading category (he was billed fifth).

There are no bad performances in “Judgment at Nuremburg.” William Shatner is good as Tracy’s aide, and Montgomery Clift is brilliant as a German sterilized by judicial order. Judy Garland plays a German girl caught up in a famous Nazi race-pollution trial.

Also, Marlene Dietrich stars as widow of a German soldier. Her character and Tracy’s become friendly during the trial.

Madeline Kahn’s Lili von Schtupp in “Blazing Saddles” was a spot-on parody of Ms Dietrich, and I kept praying for her to say, “It’s twue, it’s twue!”

She didn’t.

“Judgment at Nuremburg” is not always easy to watch. I imagine it was even harder to watch when WW2 was a fresh memory. There are some actual film clips from Dachau, and they are a bit discomfiting. I say “a bit” advisedly: by now, 50 years later, we’ve all seen those clips and worse. They’re still vile, but the shock value isn’t as strong.

The action? It’s a courtroom drama, plain and simple.

What sets it apart is the cast. I hope that if, when I die, there is actual judging to be done, that God is a lot like Spencer Tracy, and remembers I’ve never been a Nazi, and I’ve always been kind to plumbers.

Grade: A


9 Responses to “Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)”

  1. I’m guessing your other Spencer Tracy courtroom drama is Inherit the Wind? I love that one. I’ve never seen this one, but I should.

    • It is indeed. For some reason, I bought “Nuremburg,” “Inherit,” and “The Caine Mutiny” with my Amazon Gift Card. However, I switched to “Batman Begins.” Liam Neeson is an awesome actor as well.

  2. Oh I am so glad you are doing this. I am awful at watching movies, so reading about them is the next best thing! Lol at judgment and judgs. (sic)

  3. A brilliant plan to keep the fingers flowing at the fountain of … dammit. I ran out of f-words.

    I can’t recall ever watching this film but I like everyone in it, including Madeline Kahn’s impersonator. Werner Klemperer has always been an amazement to me.

    Amazement is better than judgment because it has an e.

  4. I always type judgment incorrectly and then have to go back and fix it. Look, I did it again.

    Great flick. Very tense without what we’d consider “action” today.

  5. They literally don’t make ’em like that any more. Can you believe this used to be shown on TV? I remember seeing it as a kid.

    Spence’s advice (boiled down to the shorter form “Learn your lines and don’t bump into the furniture”) was much emphasized in my high school acting days, which in retrospect I think was a brilliant tack to take with teenagers. I had problems with the latter half, being hopelessly near-sighted.

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