Monday, May 19, 2014

Movie of the Week – Judgment at Nuremberg

This week’s movie: Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

The film is about the Nuremberg trials following the end of WWII, specifically the trial of four Nazi judges charged with war crimes.

Director Stanley Kramer followed up his great legal drama Inherit the Wind with another legal drama focusing on social and moral questions, making what are probably his best two films. He worked with composer Ernest Gold, cinematographer Ernest Laszlo, and production designer Rudolph Sternad.

The strongest aspect of the film, however, is its strong performances. Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Maximilian Schell (who won an Oscar for his work), Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift, and William Shatner highlight the great ensemble.

Judgment at Nuremberg was nominated for eleven Oscars including Best Picture, winning two. It is one of the great legal dramas in film history, relying on great performances (from its fantastic cast). The politics of the film are also interesting. When the Nuremberg Trials began there was a need for someone to blame (with most of the Nazi high command committing suicide or fleeing in the final days of the war), while most of the German population professed that they did not know to the horrifying extent what the Nazis were up to (specifically, they claim to have not known about the concentration camps and mass murder), something that has always felt more or less untrue. The German people were suddenly not Nazis, condemning the political party even more fervently than the allies; and thus, known and convenient members of the party would take the fall for an entire country. Yet, in the late 1940s, the Soviet Union was beginning to assert its power a bit more, bucking its partnership with the other allied countries. Fear of communism and what the future held began to greatly overtake the distain felt towards Germany as a whole. The allies needed Germany to be strong and partner with them against the Soviets more than they needed to punish a whole country and its people (the effects of the Treaty of Versailles on Germany and their direct correlation to the Nazi Party taking power also well in the minds of many). Thus, there was a change during the trials. Germany was forgiven and even accepted as a friend among the allies – all easily accepting the position of throwing blame on a few Nazis and believing that most Germans were not party members and did not know or play a role in the murder of millions (although, to that point, many international, US included, companies are probably just as complicit; for example, IBM designed and did in-person maintenance on machines used to count the prisoners collected at the concentration camps; and, Coca Cola creating a new product, Fanta, so that it could continue doing business in Germany after removing its main brand when war was declared). Forgiveness is the best step forward, but it is interesting to see a complete attitude change on the basis of fear, beginning the Cold War. Judgment of Nuremberg is worth checking out for fans of war dramas and legal dramas.

Trailer: Here
Available on: DVD

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