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  • Writer's pictureRonny Duncan Studios

Judgement at Nuremberg (1961)


What is this movie is about?/Elevator Pitch: How much responsibility did the German people have in what became the Nazi Regime.


Plot Summary: In 1947, the War Crimes trials continue in Nuremberg, Germany. Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy) arrives to participate in the trials as the chief judge of a three-judge panel. He is to hear evidence and decide the fate of four German Judges, lead by Ernst Janning (Bert Lancaster), a distinguished Jurist and Legal Scholar. Prosecuted by US Army Colonel Tad Lawson (Richard Widmark) and defended by Hans Rolfe (Maximilian Schell), evidence is presented on the atrocities of which Janning is accused including the sentencing of innocent people to death under the Nuremberg Laws of the Third Reich. As the trial unfolds, Judge Haywood seeks answers as to how the crimes of Nazi could have occurred, whether the German people understood what was happening, and where the fault lies.


Cast:

  • Spencer Tracy as Chief Judge Dan Haywood

  • Burt Lancaster as defendant Dr. Ernst Janning

  • Richard Widmark as prosecutor Col. Tad Lawson

  • Maximilian Schell as defense counsel Hans Rolfe

  • Marlene Dietrich as Frau Bertholt

  • Montgomery Clift as Rudolph Peterson

  • Judy Garland as Irene Hoffmann

  • William Shatner as Captain Harrison Byers

  • Howard Caine as Hugo Wallner – Irene's husband

  • Werner Klemperer as defendant Emil Hahn

*Recognition:

  • Judgement at Nuremberg debuted on December 19, 1961 in the US.

  • The film grossed $6 million in the United States and $10 million in worldwide release.

  • Judgement at Nuremberg currently holds a 92% at RT and a 60% on Metacritic.

  • The film received twelve Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Actor (Tracy), Director (Kramer), Supporting Actor (Clift), Supporting Actress (Garland), Art Direction (Black and White), Cinematography (Black and White), Costume Design (Black and White), and Film Editing.

  • Judgement at Nuremberg also won Oscars for Best Actor (Schell), Adapted Screenplay (Abby Mann), and the Irving Thalberg Award for Stanley Kramer.

  • In June 2008, AFI, in its "Ten Top Ten", acknowledged Judgement at Nuremberg as the tenth best film in the courtroom drama genre. Additionally, the film had been nominated for AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies in 1998.

  • In 2013, Judgment at Nuremberg was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

Did You Know:

  • Many of the actors involved in the film did so for a fraction of their usual salary, because they felt the subject matter was so important.

  • Marlene Dietrich had a great deal of trouble performing in the scene between Mrs. Bertholt and Judge Haywood when she claims German civilians did not know of the atrocities the Nazi government committed during the war. Dietrich, who during the war had worked for the Allies against the Nazis, found the sentiment so repulsive that she could not keep her concentration. Only after counseling by Spencer Tracy was she able to complete the scene. According to an interview with her grandson Peter Riva on the "Icons Radio Hour," Dietrich would get physically ill (to the point of vomiting) in the evenings over this part. In a conversation with her daughter Maria Riva, Maria told her to "simply play her mother." The fictional Mrs. Bertholt is a representation of the mother of Marlene Dietrich.

  • Marlon Brando wanted to play the role of Hans Rolfe, the German lawyer who defends the German judges. Brando, in a rare attempt to garner the part, actually approached director Stanley Kramer about it. Although Kramer and screenwriter Abby Mann were very intrigued with the idea of having an actor of Brando's talent and stature in the role, both were so impressed with Maximilian Schell's portrayal of the same part in the original television broadcast Playhouse 90: Judgment at Nuremberg (1959) that they had decided to stick with the relatively unknown Schell, who later won the Oscar for Best Actor for that role.

  • Watching Maximilian Schell shoot a scene one day, Spencer Tracy said to Richard Widmark, "We've got to watch out for that young man. He's very good. He's going to walk away with the Oscar for this picture." This is exactly what happened.

  • Maximilian Schell's Oscar for Best Actor makes him the lowest-billed lead category winner in history. He is billed fifth, after Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, and Marlene Dietrich.

  • When Montgomery Clift showed up on set, his appearance was rather disturbing-- - hair badly cropped, nervous, uncomfortable, and apparently at the end of an alcoholic bender--, but Stanley Kramer thought that his condition made him look and speak exactly right for the role.

  • Montgomery Clift had a habit of cutting his hair very short when he was between films and would not work until it had grown back. In fact, his scene in this film was shot right after getting one of those haircuts. He also had so much trouble remembering his lines, the scene had to be re-shot many times. Director Stanley Kramer finally gave up and told Clift to ad lib his lines, saying that this would help to convey the confusion in his character's mind while he was being questioned on the witness stand. "Monty seemed to calm down after this," Kramer later recalled. "He wasn't always close to the script, but whatever he said fitted in perfectly, and he came through with as good a performance as I had hoped."

  • Montgomery Clift was so eager to be in the film that he offered to do it for expenses only and no salary. His deal didn't turn out to be such a reasonable break for the production budget since his expenses included an open tab for him and his friends at the Bel-Air Hotel, chauffeured transportation, and all the liquor he wanted.

  • On Judy Garland's first day on the set, cast and crew greeted her with warm and lasting applause. It was a welcome return to films for her, and her mood was further elevated by the lower pressure of acting in a cameo, rather than carrying a picture as she had done in almost every film she made since childhood. Still her joyful attitude made it difficult for her to perform her dark emotional scenes. "Damn it, Stanley, I can't do it. I've dried up. I'm too happy to cry," she said. He gave her a ten-minute break before continuing to great effect. "There's nobody in the entertainment world today, actor or singer, who can run the complete range of emotions, from utter pathos to power...the way she can," Kramer said.

  • Judy Garland persuaded Maximilian Schell to be more hostile towards her during the cross-examination scene. Afterward, she sent him flowers and a little note that said "Thank you for being so mean to me."

  • Spencer Tracy's eleven-minute closing speech was filmed in one take using multiple cameras shooting simultaneously.

  • In 1961, when this movie was released, 29 U.S. states had eugenics boards that performed forced sterilizations, until they were struck down in 1979. Many states also had anti-miscegenation laws until the Supreme Court struck them down in 1967. So, when the Nuremberg trials of the Nazi judges were going on in Germany (1947), the U.S. had many of the same laws.

  • The television network premiere of the film was shown on ABC on March 7, 1965; it was interrupted to show news footage of the violence on "Bloody Sunday" during the Selma to Montgomery marches. The juxtaposition of the film about Nazi atrocities and the news footage of violence against African-American people resulted in sympathy and greater support for the civil-rights cause.

  • Spencer Tracy had a bit of fun with Abby Mann. One day when Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas showed up on the set, Mann brought him over to meet Tracy. To his embarrassment, Tracy told Mann in front of Douglas, "Take your Communist friends and go to hell." It was only later at lunch that Mann realized Tracy and Douglas had known each other well for years.

Best Performance: Stanley Kramer (Director) / Maximillian Schell (Rolfe) / Ernest Laszlo (Cinematographer)

Best Secondary Performance: Maximilian Schell (Rolfe) / Spencer Tracy (Judge Haywood)

Most Charismatic Award: Marlene Dietrich (Bertholt) / Burt Lancaster (Janning)

Best Scene:

  • Opening Statements

  • Peterson on the Stand

  • Rolfe's Defense of Eugenics

  • Lawson Shows the Holocaust Footage

  • Is it Possible?

  • Schell Rips Into Hoffman

  • Janning's Statement

  • Verdict

  • Haywood's Goodbyes

Favorite Scene: Rolfe's Defense of Eugenics / Haywood's Goodbyes

Most Indelible Moment: Peterson on the Stand / Janning's Statement


In Memorium:

  • Mike Hagerty, 67, American Actor (Seinfeld; ER; Friends; Somebody, Somewhere; and Brooklyn Nine-Nine) [Obituary]

  • Mickey Gilley, 86, American Country Singer ("Room Full of Roses", "Don't the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time", "Stand by Me") [Obituary]

  • Ric Parnell, 70, English Drummer (Atomic Rooster, Spinal Tap) and Actor (This Is Spinal Tap) [Obituary]

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

*Hans Rolfe: Should Ernst Janning have carried out the laws of his country? Or should he have refused to carry them out and become a traitor? This is the crux of the issue at the bottom of this trial. The defense is as dedicated to finding responsibility as is the prosecution. For it is not only Ernst Janning who is on trial here, it is the German people.


*Madame Bertholt: I wish you understood German. The words are very beautiful. Very sad. Much sadder than the English words.


*Col. Tad Lawson: One thing about Americans: we're not cut out to be occupiers. We're new at it and not very good at it.


Emil Hahn: [During dinner in the prison mess hall] How dare they show us those films, how dare they? We are not executioners, we are judges!

Werner Lampe: You do not think it was like that, do you? There were executions, yes, but nothing like that, nothing at all!

[Turning to a man at the table behind him]

Werner Lampe: Pohl! Pohl, you were at those concentration camps, you and Eichmann. They say we killed millions of people. *Millions* of people! How could it be possible? Tell them, how could it be possible?

Pohl: [In a matter of fact tone] It's possible.

Werner Lampe: How?

Pohl: You mean technically? It all depends on your facilities. Say you have two chambers that accommodate two thousand people apiece. Figure it out. It's possible to get rid of ten thousand in a half hour. You don't even need knives to do it. You can tell them that they are going to take a shower, and then instead of the water, you turn on the gas. It's not the killing that is the problem, it's disposing of the bodies. That's the problem.


Judge Dan Haywood: Herr Janning, you may proceed.

Ernst Janning: I wish to testify about the Feldenstein case because it was the most significant trial of the period. It is important not only for the tribunal to understand it, but for the whole German people. But in order to understand it, one must understand the period in which it happened. There was a fever over the land, a fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. Above all there was fear, fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves. Only when you understand that can you understand what Hitler meant to us, because he said to us: "Lift your heads. Be proud to be German. There are devils among us, communists, liberals, Jews, gypsies. Once these devils will be destroyed your misery will be destroyed." It was the old, old story of the sacrificial lamb. What about those of us who knew better, we who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country. What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later. Hitler himself will be discarded - sooner or later. The country is in danger. We will march out of the shadows! We will go forward. FORWARD is the great password. And history tells how well we succeeded, Your Honor. We succeeded beyond out wildest dreams. The very elements of hate and power about Hitler that mesmerized Germany, mesmerized the world. We found ourselves with sudden powerful allies. Things that had been denied to us as a democracy were open to us now. The world said, "Go ahead. Take it. Take it! Take Sudetenland! Take the Rhineland! Re-militarize it! Take all of Austria! Take it!" And then, one day we looked around and found that we were in an even more terrible danger. The ritual begun in this courtroom swept over the land like a raging, roaring disease. What was going to be a "passing phase" had become the way of life. Your Honor, I was content to sit silent during this trial. I was content to tend my roses. I was even content to let counsel try to save my name, until I realized that in order to save it, he would have to raise the specter again. You have seen him do it. He has done it, here, in this courtroom. He has suggested that the Third Reich worked for the benefit of people. He has suggested that we sterilized men for the welfare of the country. He has suggested that perhaps the old Jew did sleep with the 16 year old girl after all. Once more, it is being done - for love of country. It is not easy to tell the truth. But if there is to be any salvation for Germany, we who know our guilt must admit it - whatever the pain and humiliation. I had reached my verdict on the Feldenstein case before I ever came into the courtroom. I would have found him guilty, whatever the evidence. It was not a trial at all. It was a sacrificial ritual in which Feldenstein, the Jew, was the helpless victim.

Hans Rolfe: Your Honor, I must interrupt. The defendant is not aware of what he's saying. He's not aware of the implications!

Ernst Janning: I am aware. I am aware! My counsel would have you believe we were not aware of the concentration camps. Not aware. Where were we? Where were we when Hitler began shrieking his hate in Reichstag? Where were we when our neighbors were being dragged out in the middle of the night to Dachau? Where were we when every village in Germany has a railroad terminal where cattle cars were filled with children being carried out to their extermination! Where were we when they cried out in the night to us. Deaf, dumb, blind!

Hans Rolfe: Your Honor, I must protest!

Ernst Janning: My counsel says we were not aware of the extermination of the millions. He would give you the excuse: We were only aware of the extermination of the hundreds. Does that make us any the less guilty? Maybe we didn't know the details. But if we didn't know, it was because we didn't want to know.

Emil Hahn: Traitor! Traitor!

Judge Dan Haywood: Order! Order! Order! Put that man back in his seat and keep him there.

Ernst Janning: I am going to tell them the truth. I am going to tell them the truth if the whole world conspires against it. I am going to tell them the truth about their Ministry of Justice. Werner Lammpe, an old man who cries into his Bible now, an old man who profited by the property expropriation of every man he sent to a concentration camp. Friedrich Hofstetter, the "good German" who knew how to take orders, who sent men before him to be sterilized like so many digits. Emil Hahn, the decayed, corrupt bigot, obsessed by the evil within himself. And Ernst Janning, worse than any of them because he knew what they were, and he went along with them. Ernst Janning: Who made his life excrement, because he walked with them.


Ernst Janning: There was a fever over the land. A fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. Above all, there was fear. Fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves. Only when you understand that - can you understand what Hitler meant to us. Because he said to us: 'Lift your heads! Be proud to be German! There are devils among us. Communists, Liberals, Jews, Gypsies! Once these devils will be destroyed, your misery will be destroyed.' It was the old, old story of the sacrificial lamb. What about those of us who knew better? We who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country! What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later. Hitler himself will be discarded... sooner or later. The country is in danger. We will march out of the shadows. We will go forward. Forward is the great password. And history tells how well we succeeded, your honor. We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The very elements of hate and power about Hitler that mesmerized Germany, mesmerized the world! We found ourselves with sudden powerful allies. Things that had been denied to us as a democracy were open to us now. The world said 'go ahead, take it, take it! Take Sudetenland, take the Rhineland - remilitarize it - take all of Austria, take it! And then one day we looked around and found that we were in an even more terrible danger. The ritual began in this courtroom swept over the land like a raging, roaring disease. What was going to be a passing phase had become the way of life. Your honor, I was content to sit silent during this trial. I was content to tend my roses. I was even content to let counsel try to save my name, until I realized that in order to save it, he would have to raise the specter again. You have seen him do it - he has done it here in this courtroom. He has suggested that the Third Reich worked for the benefit of people. He has suggested that we sterilized men for the welfare of the country. He has suggested that perhaps the old Jew did sleep with the sixteen year old girl, after all. Once more it is being done for love of country. It is not easy to tell the truth; but if there is to be any salvation for Germany, we who know our guilt must admit it... whatever the pain and humiliation.


Hans Rolfe: Your Honor, it is my duty to defend Ernst Janning, and yet Ernst Janning has said he is guilty. There's no doubt, he feels his guilt. He made a great error in going along with the Nazi movement, hoping it would be good for his country. But, if he is to be found guilty, there are others who also went along, who also must be found guilty. Ernst Janning said, "We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams." Why did we succeed, Your Honor? What about the rest of the world? Did it not know the intentions of the Third Reich? Did it not hear the words of Hitler's broadcast all over the world? Did it not read his intentions in Mein Kampf, published in every corner of the world? Where's the responsibility of the Soviet Union, who signed in 1939 the pact with Hitler, enabled him to make war? Are we not to find Russia guilty? Where's the responsibility of the Vatican, who signed in 1933 the Concordat with Hitler, giving him his first tremendous prestige? Are we not to find the Vatican guilty? Where's the responsibility of the world leader, Winston Churchill, who said in an open letter to the London Times in 1938 - 1938! Your Honor - "were England to suffer national disaster should pray to God to send a man of the strength of mind and will of an Adolf Hitler!" Are we not to find Winston Churchill guilty? Where is the responsibility of those American industrialists, who helped Hitler to rebuild his armaments and profited by that rebuilding? Are we not to find the American industrialists guilty? No, Your Honor. No! Germany alone is not guilty: The whole world is as responsible for Hitler's Germany. It is an easy thing to condemn one man in the dock. It is easy to condemn the German people to speak of the basic flaw in the German character that allowed Hitler to rise to power and at the same time positively ignore the basic flaw of character that made the Russians sign pacts with him, Winston Churchill praise him, American industrialists profit by him! Ernst Janning said he is guilty. If he is, Ernst Janning's guilt is the world's guilt - no more and no less.


*Judge Dan Haywood: All I've heard is a lot of legalistic double-talk and rationalization. You know, Curtiss, when I first became a judge, I knew there were certain people in town I wasn't supposed to touch. I knew that if I was to remain a judge, this was so. But how in God's name do you expect me to look the other way at the murder of six million people?


Judge Dan Haywood: Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he *loathed* the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and death of millions by the government of which he was a part. Janning's record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial. If he and the other defendants were all depraved perverts - if the leaders of the Third Reich were sadistic monsters and maniacs - these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake or other natural catastrophes. But this trial has shown that under the stress of a national crisis, men - even able and extraordinary men - can delude themselves into the commission of crimes and atrocities so vast and heinous as to stagger the imagination. No one who has sat through this trial can ever forget. The sterilization of men because of their political beliefs... The murder of children... How *easily* that can happen! There are those in our country today, too, who speak of the "protection" of the country. Of "survival". The answer to that is: *survival as what*? A country isn't a rock. And it isn't an extension of one's self. *It's what it stands for, when standing for something is the most difficult!* Before the people of the world - let it now be noted in our decision here that this is what *we* stand for: *justice, truth... and the value of a single human being!*


*Ernst Janning: Judge Haywood... the reason I asked you to come: Those people, those millions of people... I never knew it would come to that. You *must* believe it, *You must* believe it!

Judge Dan Haywood: Herr Janning, it "came to that" the *first time* you sentenced a man to death you *knew* to be innocent.


The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 5

Impact/Significance: 7.75

Novelty: 9.25

Classic-ness: 10

Rewatchability: 7

Audience Score: 9.2 (91% Google, 93% RT)

Total: 48.2


Remaining Questions:

  • Given Operation Paperclip, are we as Americans hypocritical when it suits our aims?

  • How is Marlene Dietrich's character, the wife of a since executed for war crimes German General, the one we're supposed to buy as the most sympathetic German. I think that has to be one of the most questionable choices in the writing.

  • Is West Side Story a better movie than this? (Asking because it won Best Picture over Judgement at Nuremberg)

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