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Judgement at Nuremberg

Judgment at Nuremberg
film poster
Directed by Stanley Kramer
Produced by Stanley Kramer
Written by Abby Mann
Starring Spencer Tracy
Burt Lancaster
Richard Widmark
Marlene Dietrich
Judy Garland
Maximilian Schell
Werner Klemperer
Montgomery Clift
Music by Ernest Gold
Cinematography Ernest Laszlo
Editing by Frederic Knudtson
Studio Roxlom Films
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s)Template:Plainlist
Running time 179 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3 million[1]
Box office $10,000,000[2]

Judgment at Nuremberg is a 1961 American drama film dealing with the Holocaust, with non-combatant war crimes against a civilian population (i.e., crimes committed in violation of the Law of Nations or the Laws of War), and with the post-World War II geo-political complexity of the Nuremberg Trials. The picture was written by Abby Mann and directed by Stanley Kramer, and stars Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Maximilian Schell, Werner Klemperer, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, William Shatner, and Montgomery Clift. An earlier version of the story was broadcast as a television episode of Playhouse 90.[3] Schell and Klemperer played the same roles in this version as well.

While the persecution of the Jews is shown (in newsreel footage) and discussed, the incidents and events of the film's plot largely relate to the domestic situation in Germany between the two World Wars, especially before Hitler's rise to power in 1933.

The trial depicted in the film was part of the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials (formally the Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals), a series of twelve U.S. military tribunals, held after World War II from 1946 to 1949 in the Palace of Justice, Nuremberg, that tried surviving members of the military, political, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany for war crimes following the Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal (IMT).

The film focuses on the trial of certain judges who served before and during the Nazi regime in Germany, and who either passively, actively, or in a combination of both, embraced and enforced laws that led to judicial acts of sexual sterilization and to the imprisonment or execution of people for their religions, racial or ethnic identities, political beliefs, or even their physical handicaps or disabilities.

The film was inspired by the Judges' Trial before the Nuremberg Military Tribunal in 1947, which resulted in four of the defendants being 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 having a relationship with an "Aryan" (German) woman that had become legally defined as a "crime" under the Nuremberg Laws, and he was put to death in 1935. Using this and other examples, the movie explores individual conscience, responsibility in the face of unjust laws, and behavior during a time of widespread societal immorality.


Judgment at Nuremberg centers on a military tribunal held in Nuremberg, Germany, in which four judges are accused of crimes against humanity for their actions during the Nazi regime. Judge Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy) is the Chief Trial Judge of a three-judge panel that will hear and decide the case against the defendants. Haywood begins his examination by asking questions aimed at trying to understand how the defendant Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster) could have passed death sentences on people resulting in genocide. Janning, it is revealed, is a well educated and internationally respected jurist and legal scholar. Haywood is deeply curious to understand how the German people could have turned blind eyes and deaf ears to the Holocaust. In doing so, he befriends the widow (Marlene Dietrich) of a German general who had been executed by the Allies. He talks with a number of Germans who have different perspectives on the war. Other characters the judge meets are U.S. Army Captain Byers (William Shatner), who is assigned to the American party hearing the cases, and Irene Hoffman (Judy Garland), who is afraid to bring testimony that may bolster the prosecution's case against the judges.

The film examines the questions of individual complicity in crimes committed by their governments. For example, German defense attorney Hans Rolfe (Maximilian Schell) raises such issues as the support of U.S. Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. for eugenics practices (see Buck v. Bell ), the Hitler-Vatican Reichskonkordat in 1933 that gave Hiter a siginificant amount of respectability outside Germany, Stalin's part in the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939 that allowed Hitler to start World War II and the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the war in 1945.[4] At the end, Janning makes a statement condemning himself and his fellow defendants for "going along" with the Third Reich; all four are found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

The film is notable for its use of courtroom drama to directly confront individual perfidy, social upheaval and amorality; in addition, it is one of the first few films that does not shy from showing actual footage filmed by American and British soldiers after the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. Shown in court by prosecuting attorney Colonel Tad Lawson (Richard Widmark), the footage of huge piles of naked corpses laid 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, and he rejects the call to let the Nazi judges off lightly to gain Germany's support in the Cold War against the Soviet Union.[5] At the end of the film, Janning concedes to Judge Haywood that his ruling was the right and just decision, but also appeals to the judge that he, and all of the other judges, did not know their actions would come to such a horrifying conclusion. Judge Haywood refutes him, saying "Herr Janning, it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent".

Film debuts

Judgment at Nuremberg provided key early roles for two actors who would later become prominent in TV and film during the 1960s: Werner Klemperer as Emil Hahn, one of the judges on trial, and William Shatner as Captain Byers. There is also a brief but significant role for Howard Caine as Irene Wallner's husband. Klemperer was a real refugee from Nazi Germany who emigrated to the US permanently after Hitler's rise to power in 1933. A Jewish refugee, he served in the US Air Force during World War II and subsequently obtained stage and TV roles, the most famous was of the goofy Col. Klink on the sitcom Hogan's Heroes. He allegedly refused to portray a Nazi unless he was assured the character would be a buffoon or a complete scoundrel. The son of renowned composer-conductor Otto Klemperer, he was an accomplished violinist and later found fame as a narrator with many renowned orchestras. Caine also went on to find fame by his appearances as the villainous Maj. Hochstetter in Hogan's Heroes, as well as on the stage on Broadway and elsewhere. Shatner went on to appear in other films, and on TV series such as The Twilight Zone before achieving fame as Captain Kirk on the original Star Trek series.


The movie was nominated for eleven Academy Awards. Maximilian Schell won the award for Best Actor, and Abby Mann won in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. The remaining nominations were for Best Picture, Stanley Kramer for Best Director, Spencer Tracy for Best Actor, Montgomery Clift for Best Supporting Actor, Judy Garland for Best Supporting Actress, Best Art Direction, Black-and-White, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Costume Design, Black-and-White, and Best Film Editing.[6] Stanley Kramer was given the prestigious Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. This is one of the few times that a film had multiple entries in the same category (Tracy and Schell for Best Actor) and Schell was the first Best Actor winner to be billed fifth. Many of the big name actors who appeared in the film did so for a fraction of their usual salaries because they believed in the social importance of the project.

In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its "Ten Top Ten" after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Judgment at Nuremberg was acknowledged as the tenth best film in the courtroom drama genre.[7] Additionally, the film had been nominated for AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies.[8]


In 2001, a stage adaptation of the film was produced for Broadway, starring Schell (this time in the role of Ernst Janning) and George Grizzard, with John Tillinger as director.[9]



The film grossed $6 million and recorded a loss of $1.5 million.[1] Kramer's second trial film received positive reviews and was liked as a straight reconstruction of the famous trials of Nazi War Criminals. The cast was especially praised, including Tracy, Garland, Lancaster, and Schell. The film's release was perfectly timed as its subject coincided with the then trial and conviction in Israel of Nazi official Adolf Eichmann.

See also


External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • Template:Allmovie title
  • TCM Movie Database
  • 3 Speeches from the Movie with Text, Audio and Video from
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