185 Min. | Drama – History – War | December 1961
IMDB Rating: 8.3
Director: Stanley Kramer
Starring: Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark
Judgement at Nuremberg Review
Judgement at Nuremberg is a fine film by a fine director. Kramer’s achievement is that everything in Judgement at Nuremberg reminds us that the Nazi’s used every facet of civilization, no matter how minute, to foster their extermination of their enemies, to inculcate it as an ordinary part of life. That was why judges were chosen to portray the issue of “obeying orders” versus “human decency.” Herr Rolf is “forced” to defend the worst criminals imaginable, and yet his very defense and the principles behind it are abused in the process, used as a weapon against the very law they represent. Thus did the Nazis prevail with the willing acquiescence of the German people, and the abominable disregard of the rest of the world.
The other horror revealed in Judgement at Nuremberg is the incessant excusing of it. Beyond the obvious pleas of the guilty (“We didn’t know”, or as one judge says to another, “Was it possible to kill like that?”) are the multiplicity of subtle excuses, the reminder of centuries’ old German culture, Rolf’s plaintive cry of “unfairness” at the showing of the death camp films because of their inflammatory nature, the invocation of “Lili Marlene” throughout the film, to name just a few. While the song evokes sadness, a guilty German society meant for it to invoke sadness. Long before Germany had its country destroyed by bombs, it had its soul destroyed by Hitler.
Because Judgement at Nuremberg is a courtroom drama, respecting the sacred role of the Rule of Law in safeguarding humanity, almost every scene, every line is a statement that Nazi Germany perverted the Rule of Law, as did the very defense of the war criminals. But what is principle on a small scale of a single man being judged by society becomes outrage when used to defend the indefensible on an impossibly massive scale. Rolf’s speech about the guilty responsibility of the rest of the world was valid-but he was indicting the world to save one man. Where have we heard that in our own time? This quality about “Judgment at Nuremburg” makes its message forever fresh-and its warnings.
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