Judgment at Nuremberg

Judgment 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) December 19, 1961 (1961-12-19)
Running time 179 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Judgment at Nuremberg is a 1961 American drama film dealing with the Holocaust and the Post-World War II Nuremberg Trials. It was written by Abby Mann, directed by Stanley Kramer, and starred Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Maximilian Schell, Werner Klemperer, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, William Shatner and Montgomery Clift. An earlier adaptation had been broadcast as a television episode of Playhouse 90.[1] Schell and Klemperer played the same roles in this version as well. It was among the first films to be made about the Holocaust.

The film depicts the trial of certain judges who served during the Nazi regime in Germany. The film was inspired by the Judges' Trial before the Nuremberg Military Tribunal in 1947, where four of the defendants were 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 an improper relationship with an "Aryan" woman, and put to death in 1942.



Judgment at Nuremberg centers on a military tribunal in which four judges are accused of crimes against humanity for their actions during the Nazi regime. Judge Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy), the chief justice in the case, attempts to understand how defendant Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster) could have passed sentences resulting in genocide, and by extension how the German people could have turned blind eyes and deaf ears to the Holocaust. Doing so, he befriends the widow (Marlene Dietrich) of a German general executed by the Allies. He talks with a number of Germans with 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 Wallner (Judy Garland), who is afraid to bring testimony that may turn the case against the judges in favor of the prosecution.

The film examines the questions of individual complicity in crimes committed by the state. For example, 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, the Hitler-Vatican Reichskonkordat in 1933, the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939 that allowed Hitler to start World War II and Winston Churchill's praising of Adolf Hitler. In the end, Janning makes a statement condemning himself and his fellow defendants for "going along" with the Third Reich and all four are found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

The film is notable for showing actual historical footage filmed by American 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's having to choose between patriotism and justice. He rejects the call to let the Nazi judges off lightly to gain Germany's support in the Cold War against the Soviet Union.[2]

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. Werner Klemperer was a real refugee from Nazi Germany who emigrated to the US permanently after Hitler's rise to power in 1934. A Jewish refugee, he served in the US Air Force during World War II and subsequently landed stage and TV roles, the most famous was of the goofy Col. Klink on the immensely popular sitcom Hogan's Heroes. The son of renowned composer-conductor Otto Klemperer, he was an accomplished violinist and later found fame as a narrator with many renowned orchestras. Howard 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.


The movie won the Academy Award for Best Actor (Maximilian Schell) and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, and was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Spencer Tracy), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Montgomery Clift), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Judy Garland), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White (Rudolph Sternad, George Milo), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Costume Design, Black-and-White, Best Director, Best Film Editing and Best Picture.[3] 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.[4]


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.[5]


See also


  1. ^ [1] ~ Mark Deming, Allmovie
  2. ^ Bradley, Sean. "Judgment at Nuremberg". University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/nuremberg/JudgmentAtNuremberg.html. Retrieved 2008-09-27. "He argues that the love of country led to an attitude of "my country right or wrong". Disobedience to the Fuehrer would have been a choice between patriotism or treason for the judges. [...] Why did the educated stand aside? Because they loved their country." 
  3. ^ "NY Times: Judgment at Nuremberg". NY Times. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/63796/Judgment-at-Nuremberg/awards. Retrieved 2008-12-24. 
  4. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10". American Film Institute. 2008-06-17. http://www.afi.com/10top10/crdrama.html. Retrieved 2008-06-18. 
  5. ^ [2] Theatre Review by Thomas Burke - March 27, 2001

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