I watch a lot of movies and as a consequence I am always on the lookout for new ones to sate my crazy appetite. Recently I acquired Judgment at Nuremberg, and while I was left slightly disappointed by the overall film, I was left deeply impressed by the acting on show.
Judgment at Nuremberg was released in 1961 and was directed by Stanley Kramer. The film’s cast was a veritable who’s who of top actors at the time. It included Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Montgomery Clift, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland and Maximilian Schell. The plot follows the sentencing of key Nazi perpetrators from World War Two, which took place in the city of Nuremberg. The majority of the film is based in a courtroom, with other scenes used to pad the storyline.
The performances of Lancaster, Clift and Schell all stood out for me. Each performance was completely different, but they all gelled perfectly into the movie.
Lancaster plays Ernst Janning, a respected judge who sentenced Jews to death and other heinous fates. Most of Lancaster’s acting is done without talking, which makes his performance doubly impressive. The movie is three hours long and he barely speaks until almost two hours in. He had just won Best Actor at the Oscars for his role in Elmer Gantry, so he was on top form. He really conveys a fabulous sense of desperation, despair and defeat. He is a beaten man and he knows it.
Montgomery Clift plays a key witness for the prosecution who was castrated by the Nazis because of his low IQ. Fearing he would spread his inferior genes, they felt it was prudent to take these measures. Coming into the film Clift was a mess, drinking heavily and forgetting his lines. This necessitated his ad-libbing of his scene in the film. He doesn’t appear for very long but the mark he left will stand the test of time. He was nominated for a supporting Oscar, which goes to show that talent prevails above all.
Finally we have Maximilian Schell. Despite having one of the film’s meatier roles, he was way down on the credits, which was rather understandable considering he was young and it was his first big movie. Despite this, he gave a blistering performance which claimed him his only Best Actor Oscar. Playing the Nazi’s lawyer, he is fighting what one would have to assume was a losing battle from the very beginning. However, through his talents as an orator and his use of logic, he manages to instil doubt in the judge’s minds.
These three performances are the greatest I have seen in a long, long time. Judgment at Nuremberg only won two Oscars, Schell’s for best actor and best screenplay based on previous material, but it leaves a lasting legacy. It does have its faults though, at three hours long it drags, particularly whenever Judy Garland is onscreen. Her scenes killed the film’s momentum for me. Despite these faults it is still a very worthwhile picture. Cast your own judgement on this one now!