Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
Posted 16 May 2007 - 01:22 AM
I got this DVD out of the library for the most trivial of reasons: I saw an interview with the producer of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, who said that he persuaded William Shatner to "play his age" by persuading him that he was the kind of actor who could successfully incorporate his aging into his on-screen persona, just like Spencer Tracy -- and apparently Shatner was very impressed by that argument, because one of his earliest film roles had been as Tracy's assistant in Judgment at Nuremberg. So, I figured why not get this film from the library and watch it.
And, like I say, wow. Magnificent performances. (My main exposure to Maximillian Schell before this was, I'm sorry to say, Disney's The Black Hole. I had no idea he could be This Good.) Solid principles. A penetrating even-handedness that exposes some of the frightening similarities between Nazi Germany and, yes, the Americans (e.g. Oliver Wendell Holmes's endorsement of compulsory sterilization), as well as some of the ways in which Americans and others facilitated Hitler's rise to power and even profitted by it. And, thus, a sobering reminder that our own culture could easily fall into the same sorts of errors that Germany did -- a point made all the more pertinent by the subplot involving the rise of the Cold War. (This is a 1961 film, remember.) "There, but for the grace of God..."
And the concentration-camp footage is pretty brutal -- especially for a movie produced by the Hollywood system several years before the ratings system was instituted. It's all justified by the historical, even educational, value of the film -- but I wonder what kind of debates there were within the industry before this film came out and made use of that footage. (I seem to recall hearing that the horrors of the Holocaust really only began to seep into the public consciousness about 10-15 years AFTER the war, which would be around the time that this film and The Diary of Anne Frank, etc., came out; people might have been AWARE of the horrors on some level, but it took a while before these things began to be processed in the popular culture like this. Please correct me if I'm wrong about that, though.)
There's a lot more worth chewing on here. But first I think I'll check out the special features.
Link to the thread on DanBuck's stage version.
Posted 16 May 2007 - 07:45 AM
Posted 16 May 2007 - 09:04 AM
Thank you for saying so -- and for doing the film better, ah, justice in your lengthy meditation than I could do in my all-too-brief review.
Posted 17 May 2007 - 01:58 PM
Right now, I just want to toss out a question that might be worth some discussion. After watching the bonus features, with their references to McCarthyism etc., I am reminded that, for all this film's moral convictions -- which I do deeply admire -- it also fits quite well with that typical Hollywood-liberal mentality that holds up Naziism as the worst evil we've ever seen yet goes somewhat easy on Communism. The film says it is absolutely wrong to sentence an innocent man for reasons of political expedience; and it also suggests that it would be absolutely wrong to be merciful to a guilty man for reasons of political expedience (i.e., it would be wrong to go easy on German leaders even though it might encourage the German people to be our allies in the coming Cold War against the Soviets). But are all forms of political expedience equal? Is being merciful to a guilty man really as bad as being cruel to an innocent man?
On a completely unrelated note, I wonder what the Christian discussion around this film would have been (if there had been Christian film critics back then), given that only one year before, director Stanley Kramer and actor Spencer Tracy had worked on Inherit the Wind, and co-star Burt Lancaster had starred in Elmer Gantry.