Monday, July 13, 2015

Movie #317: Judgement at Nuremberg

Judgement at Nuremberg is a 1961 drama starring (deep breath) Burt Lancaster, Spencer Tracy, Judy Garland, Maximilian Schell, Marlene Dietrich, Richard Widmark, and Montgomery Clift. Oh, and a very young William Shatner. It was nominated for a whole slew of Oscars, won one for Schell, and lost Best Picture to West Side Story (what the shit).

The movie depicts the trial of four German judges for their part in the Holocaust, the most important of which is Erst Janning (Lancaster), who was Minister of Justice and an influential jurist the world over. Dan Haywood (Tracy) is brought in from Maine to act as judge on the tribunal, and spends eight months in Nuremberg listening to Col. Lawson (Widmark) and Herr Rofle (Schell) present for the prosecution and the defense, respectively. During that time, he becomes friends with the wife of a (now executed) German general (Dietrich; the wife, obviously, not the general) and learns the context and the history for what these trials really mean. In the end, the tribunal find the judges guilty and sentence them to life in prison. They're out in less than a decade, as Rolfe predicts.

That little summary does not in any way do the movie justice, but that's the guts of the plot. Really, though, free up an afternoon and watch this movie. Every single character has a motivation and a position that, if it isn't quite defensible, makes perfect sense. Watching Haywood come to grips with the reality of Holocaust, but also the reality that the atrocity wasn't something that happened all at once, and that happened in the context of Germany being wasted and Hitler coming to power the way he's really amazing. Do note, though, that the movie shows footage from the liberation of a couple of the concentration camps (Buchenwald and Dachau), and that footage is really hard to watch.

We watched this movie with Michelle's sons, and I hope they got something out of it. World War II is a long time gone, and Nazis in general are mostly "villains in movies and video games" now. But I went to a Holocaust museum when I was in 8th grade, and it's never left me. Watching this movie brought a lot of that back, and you can learn all the stats and facts you want about the event, but nothing compares (for me) to see that pile of eyeglasses, and knowing what that meant.

Anyway. The performances in this movie are fantastic, and the transition in the beginning to "German people speaking English but in the fiction they're all speaking German" is really well done.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Low. It's heavy and long.

Next up: Jumanji