Judgment at Nuremberg: The Epic Courtroom Drama

Spencer Tracy in Judgment in Nuremberg.

Judgment at Nuremberg is an epic courtroom drama revisiting the post-World War 2 tribunals in which Germans were brought to justice for crimes against humanity.

There are more films nowadays as more survivors open up to tell their stories.  Back in the day, these films were few and far between.  Where Schindler’s List is perhaps the best film of life during the Shoah, Judgment at Nuremberg may very well be the best of the post-war films.  Similarly, last summer’s Operation Finale compliments this film quite well.  All in all, Stanley Kramer has given us quite the epic with the light shining on every performer.

American judge Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy) presides over a three-judge tribunal as four German judges and prosecutors face trial for their crimes against humanity.  Among these judges under trial is Dr. Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster).  One of Haywood’s questions is why Janning handed out so many death sentences.  If Janning is as educated as he claims to be, why is he following mere orders from the Third Reich rather than question those in charge?

To get to the bottom of this quest in learning why Germans just went along with the Nazis, Haywood encounters German widow Frau Bertholt (Marlene Dietrich) and Irene Hoffman-Wallner (Judy Garland).  Arguing the defense for the four judges was Hans Rolfe (Maximilian Schell).  Rolfe does his best to argue that they weren’t the only ones.  That there were other people aiding the Nazis.  Moreover, he brings up other scenarios especially those featuring the United States.  When Janning does take the stand, he firmly admits his guilt.  Janning knew full well that Feldenstein, a Jewish man, was innocent.  Yet he goes along with the Nazi polices solely because of German patriotism?!?

“Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being,” Haywood says while delivering the decision.

All four judges have their reasoning but their acts are going to be on their conscience for the rest of their lives.  Oh yeah, their lives aren’t likely to last much longer.  The Nuremberg Trials took place during 1946-49 but when the film was locked for release in 1961, none of the 99 were still serving their sentences in the American Zone.  This doesn’t take into account the trial of the leadership.

The two stand-outs by far are Spencer Tracy and Maximilian Schell.  As Haywood, Tracy delivers one hell of a closing monologue.  Even though Schell won an Oscar, I still wanted to give his character the side eye.  Yes, I know he was just doing his job but facts are facts!

Nearly 60 years after its theatrical release, Judgment at Nuremberg remains an epic film.

DIRECTOR:  Stanley Kramer
SCREENWRITER:  Abby Mann
CAST:  Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Maximilian Schell, and Montgomery Clift

MGM opened Judgment at Nuremberg in theaters on December 19, 1961. The film is available on Blu-ray and DVD. Grade: 5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.