πŸŽ₯ Judgment at Nuremberg – 1961

The Story …

Judgment at Nuremberg centres on a military tribunal convened in Nuremberg, Germany, in which four German judges and prosecutors stand accused of crimes against humanity for their involvement in atrocities committed under the Nazi regime.

Judge Dan Haywood is the chief judge of a three-judge panel of Allied jurists who will hear and decide the case against the defendants.

Haywood is particularly interested in learning how the defendant Ernst Janning, a respected jurist and legal scholar, could have committed the atrocities he is accused of, including sentencing innocent people to death …

Haywood seeks to understand how the German people could have been deaf and blind to the Nazi regime’s crimes. In doing so, he befriends the widow of a German general who had been executed by the Allies. He talks with other Germans who have varying perspectives on the war.

Other characters the judge meets are US Army Captain Harrison Byers, who is assigned to assist the American judges hearing the case, and Irene Hoffmann, who is afraid to provide testimony that may bolster the prosecution’s case against the judges.

(Hoffman’s character bears a resemblance to Irene Seiler, a key figure in the notorious Nazi kangaroo court case, the Katzenberger Trial.)

German defense attorney Hans Rolfe argues that the defendants were not the only ones to aid or ignore the Nazi regime.

He claims the United States has committed acts just as bad or worse than the Nazis, such as US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s support for the first eugenics practices; the German-Vatican Reichskonkordat of 1933, which the Nazi-dominated German government exploited as an implicit early foreign recognition of Nazi leadership; Joseph Stalin’s part in the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939, which removed the last major obstacle to Germany’s invasion and occupation of western Poland, initiating World War II; and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the final stage of the war in August 1945.

Meanwhile, as a strict constructionist jurist, Janning refuses to testify or participate in a legal proceeding that he profoundly feels is no better than a post-WWII Western kangaroo court of its own.

As the proceeding becomes more and more intolerable to him, he dramatically breaks his silence. He chooses to testify before the Tribunal as a witness for the prosecution, admitting he is guilty of condemning to death a Jewish man of “blood defilement” charges – namely, that the man had sex with a 16-year-old Gentile girl – when he knew there was no evidence to support such a verdict.

Janning explains that well-meaning people such as he helped Adolf Hitler’s antisemitic, racist policies out of patriotism despite knowing it was wrong, and that all of Germany bears some measure of responsibility for the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime.

Haywood must weigh considerations of geopolitical expediency against his own ideals of justice.

The trial is set against the background of the Berlin Blockade, and there is pressure to let the German defendants off lightly to gain German support in the growing Cold War against the Soviet Union.

While the four defendants maintain their pleas of “not guilty” in their closing statements, Janning and fellow defendant, Werner Lampe, show clear remorse for their actions, while a third, Friedrich Hofstetter, claims they had no choice but to execute the laws handed down by Hitler’s government.

Only the fourth defendant, Emil Hahn, remains unrepentant, telling the Americans that they will live to regret not allying with the Nazis against the Soviet Union.

Ultimately, all four defendants are found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

Haywood visits Janning in his cell. Janning affirms to Haywood that his verdict was a just one, but asks him to believe that, regarding the mass murder of innocents, he never knew that it would come to that.

Judge Haywood replies it came to that the first time Janning condemned a man he knew to be innocent.

Haywood departs; a title card informs the audience that, of 99 defendants sentenced to prison terms in Nuremberg trials that took place in the American Zone, none was still serving a sentence when the film was released in 1961.

Credits :

  • Directed by Stanley Kramer
  • Screenplay by Abby Mann
  • Based on Judgment at Nuremberg 1959 Playhouse 90 by Abby Mann
  • Produced by Stanley Kramer
  • Cinematography : Ernest Laszlo
  • Edited by Frederic Knudtson
  • Music by Ernest Gold
  • Production Companies : Roxlom Films and Amber Entertainment
  • Distributed by United Artists
  • Release Date : December 14, 1961

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
  • John Wengraf as His Honour Herr Justizrat Dr Karl Wieck – former Minister of Justice in Weimar Germany
  • Karl Swenson as Dr Heinrich Geuter, Feldenstein’s lawyer
  • Ben Wright as Herr Halbestadt, Haywood’s butler
  • Virginia Christine as Mrs Halbestadt, Haywood’s housekeeper
  • Edward Binns as Senator Burkette
  • Torben Meyer as defendant Werner Lampe
  • Martin Brandt as defendant Friedrich Hofstetter
  • Kenneth MacKenna as Judge Kenneth Norris
  • Ray Teal as Judge Curtiss Ives
  • Alan Baxter as Brig. Gen. Matt Merrin
  • Joseph Bernard as Major Abe Radnitz, Lawson’s assistant
  • Olga Fabian as Mrs Elsa Lindnow, witness in Feldenstein case
  • Otto Waldis as Pohl
    Paul Busch as Schmidt
  • Bernard Kates as Max Perkins

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