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Judgment at Nuremberg

Tuesday September, 9 2014 at 02:00 AM

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Dan Haywood is a New England judge who is sent to Nuremberg, Germany in 1948 to preside over a war crimes trial against a group of German judges, including the German Minister of Justice Ernst Janning, charged with using the court system to further the cause of the Nazi regime. A pair of witnesses testifies against Janning: a victim of medical sterilization and the German friend of a Jew who was wrongly executed for having intimate relations with her, thereby "polluting the Aryan race." Janning is zealously and unapologetically defended by brilliant young lawyer Hans Rolfe (Maximilian Schell). Due to the Soviet blockade of Berlin, Haywood is placed under additional pressure not to alienate the Germans with a harsh sentence on the respected judge. Ultimately, Judge Haywood finds himself confronting the difficult issue of collective, as well as individual guilt.

Abby Mann's Academy Award-winning script for Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), a fictional account set during the 1948-49 Nuremberg trials, had previously been made into a 1959 teleplay for Playhouse 90, directed by George Roy Hill and featuring Claude Rains as Haywood and Paul Lukas in a standout performance as Ernst Janning. It was notable as one of the first attempts by Hollywood to address the crimes of the Third Reich, going so far as to incorporate actual concentration camp footage. The courtroom set was a detailed reconstruction of the actual Nuremberg court, set on rollers to facilitate the long takes and 360-degree pans which help distinguish the visual style of the film from the usual static courtroom drama format.

For Montgomery Clift, his role as the mentally and physically ravaged Rudolph Peterson was something of a personal triumph. His career had hit a low point due to his increasingly erratic behavior both on and off the set. This was no doubt compounded by the car accident in 1957, which resulted in facial scarring that damaged his legendary good looks. After meeting with Stanley Kramer, he offered to accept the part for only a token fee, mainly reimbursement of personal expenses. He explained in a New York Times interview: "Since it's only a single scene and can be filmed in one day, I strongly disapproved of taking an astronomical salary. But in the business I felt it was more practical to do it for nothing rather than reduce my price or refuse to do a role I wanted to play." During the shoot he drank almost constantly, trembled visibly and had difficulty remembering his lines. Thanks to the consideration and support of co-star Spencer Tracy, Clift's still considerable talent shines through in the brief role and ultimately earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Judy Garland, who struggled to overcome not dissimilar personal problems, was likewise nominated for Best Supporting Actress. However, they both lost out to George Chakiris and Rita Moreno in West Side Story (1961). Spencer Tracy and Maximilian Schell received Academy Award nominations for Best Actor; Schell won for his powerful performance as the defense counsel, a role which he had repeated from the original teleplay.

Kongress Halle in Berlin provided the setting for the premiere of Judgment at Nuremberg, and included a lavish press junket which flew in over a hundred journalists at the cost of approximately $150,000. Neither Burt Lancaster nor Marlene Dietrich attended the event, the latter most likely because of her history of tense relations with Germany ever since her departure to the US in the 1930s and her denunciation of the Third Reich. The film's reception was controversial, winning acclaim by the foreign press and loud complaints by the German press for its unwelcome scrutiny of the past. The Mayor of West Berlin, Willy Brandt, said at the premiere: "The film Judgment at Nuremberg, which will raise a great many questions, is ensuring by its world premiere in Berlin that its own importance as well as that of Berlin as a center of spiritual conflict are heavily underlined... I hope that world-wide discussion will be aroused by both this film and this city, and that this will contribute to the strengthening of right and justice." In spite of the film's length and grim subject matter it was a solid box-office success, earning $5,500,000 in rentals.

Producer/Director: Stanley Kramer
Screenplay: Abby Mann
Cinematography: Ernest Laszlo
Editing: Frederic Knudtson
Music: Ernest Gold
Art Direction: Rudolph Sternad and George Milo
Costume Design: Jean Louis
Principal Cast: Spencer Tracy (Judge Dan Haywood); Burt Lancaster (Ernst Janning); Richard Widmark (Col. Tad Lawson), Marlene Dietrich (Mme. Bertholt), Maximilian Schell (Hans Rolfe), Judy Garland (Irene Hoffman), Montgomery Clift (Rudolph Petersen), William Shatner (Capt. Harrison Byers), Werner Klemperer (Emil Hahn).
BW-187m. Letterboxed.

by James Steffen

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