“Judgment at Nuremberg” airs tonight (Saturday, Feb. 20) at 9 p.m. CST as Turner Classic Movies’ “31 Days of Oscar” celebration continues.
The 1961 film, directed by Stanley Kramer, is a work that I consider the finest courtroom drama ever made.
It’s a fictional account, based on actual trials that took place at Nuremberg, of judges and prosecutors that helped enforce the laws of the Nazis in Germany during Adolph Hitler’s time in power.
The first Nuremberg trial was of Nazi leaders from 1945 to 1946 who made the decisions. A trial, such as the one shown in this film, dealt with the men that enforced those terrible edicts.
A major chunk of this film happens in a courtroom and could have been very dry and boring. But Kramer got the most out of an all-star cast and as a viewer you can sense the tension in the courtroom scenes. Richard Widmark, as the allied prosecutor, and Maximilian Schell, as a German defense attorney, are mesmerizing in their roles. Schell won an Oscar for best actor, one of the film’s 11 nominations. It also won for best adapted screenplay.
The rest of the cast includes Spencer Tracy, who plays a judge along with Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift and Judy Garland. A young William Shatner plays Tracy’s military assistant.
“Judgment at Nuremberg” doesn’t answer everything as to why one nation chose the path it did and why many of its citizens went along with it. But coming just 16 years after the war ended, it was a start.