Three years after WWII, an American court put four Nazi judges on trial for their war crimes under the Third Reich. Through eight months in a small courtroom, the decision became more than a judgment on right and wrong, but a moral authority for the entire world.
The bulk of the film is set within the famous Nuremberg courtroom. It’s all very serious, dramatic and real. There is never any background music while in the courtroom, just the voices of men. I don’t like to admit it, but at times it can be very boring, but don’t fall asleep yet.
While a man is testifying on the stand, the camera will move slowly around him, displaying the entire courtroom and everyone looking at him. It’s a brilliant camera trick, considering the alternative of just staring at the moving lips of whoever is speaking. The moving camera keeps the viewers attention well during long dry speeches.
Most of the speeches are very dry, frank or solemn. The most drama comes from Hans Rolfe (Maximilian Schell), the German defense attorney. He’s the most animated within the courtroom and usually just as cool and controlled as the next man, but during his most heated debates he can bark so fiercely it’s impossible not to associate him with a Hitler speech. When he’s grilling Irene (Judy Garland) on the stand it’s scary and almost painful to watch Schell turn so quickly. His Oscar is well deserved.
When not in the courtroom, the film accurately displays post war Germany. There are piles of rubble along the streets and condemned buildings, yet just down the road men are singing in bars and clanging their beer steins. This also brings up how the Americans view the German people. They claim that they were ignorant to the terrible events that happened under the Third Reich, but as they say, even if they did know, what could they do? It seems that the Americans see all Germans as monsters and part of Hitler’s plan. But how can people who sing in bars and show them such hospitality be so horrible? This idea is never truly spoken, but plagues Judge Haywood’s (Spencer Tracy) mind throughout the film.
In one courtroom scene, the American prosecutor shows a film from Concentration Camps. The footage is real. And yes, we live in an age where we’ve all read Ann Frank and seen this horrible footage before, but in this case and in 1961 it must’ve been much more shocking. Kramer must’ve had some guts to put that in his film.
Watch Judgment at Nuremberg if you’re interested in German history or enjoy courtroom dramas. Skip it if you’re looking for action or comedy.
“The whole world is responsible for Hitler’s Germany.”