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Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) is a fictionalized film account of the post-World War II Nuremberg Trialsmarker, written by Abby Mann and directed by Stanley Kramer, starring Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Maximilian Schell, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift, Werner Klemperer, and William Shatner. An earlier adaptation had been broadcast as a television movie. The film depicts the trial of certain judges who executed Nazi law. Such a trial did occur: the film was inspired by the Judges' Trialmarker before the U.S.marker Nuremberg Military Tribunal in 1947. By the time the film was made, all of the convicts had already been released, including four of them who were sentenced to life in prison. A key thread in the film's plot involves a "race defilement" trial known as the "Feldenstein case". In this fictionalized case, based on the real life Katzenberger Trial, an elderly Jewish man was tried for an improper relationship with an "Aryan" woman, and put to death in 1935.


Judgment at Nuremberg centers around a military tribunal in which four judges are accused of crimes against humanity for enacting Nazi law. Judge Haywood (Tracy), the chief justice in the case, attempts to understand how defendant Ernst Janning (Lancaster) could have passed sentences resulting in genocide, and by extension how the German people could have turned blind eyes to the Holocaust. In so doing, he befriends the widow of a Nazi officer (Dietrich) and talks with a number of German people with different perspectives on the war.

The film examines the questions of individual complicity in crimes committed by the state. For example, defense attorney Hans Rolfe (Schell) raises such issues as the support of U.S.marker Supreme Courtmarker justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., for the practice of eugenics, and Winston Churchill's words of praise for Adolf Hitler. In the end, Janning makes a statement condemning himself and his fellow defendants for "going along" with the Third Reich, and all four are found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

The film is notable for showing actual historical footage filmed by American soldiers after the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. Shown in court by prosecuting attorney Col. Tad Lawson (Richard Widmark), the footage of huge piles of naked corpses laid out in rows and bulldozed into large pits was exceptionally gruesome for a mainstream film of its day.

The film ends with Haywood's having to choose between patriotism and justice. He rejects the call to let the Nazi judges off lightly to gain Germany's support in the Cold War against the Soviet Unionmarker.


The movie won the Academy Award for Best Actor (Maximilian Schell) and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, and was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Spencer Tracy), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Montgomery Clift), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Judy Garland), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White (Rudolph Sternad, George Milo), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Costume Design, Black-and-White, Best Director, Best Film Editing and Best Picture. This is one of the few times that a film had multiple entries in the same category (Tracy and Schell for Best Actor), and Schell was the first Best Actor winner to be billed fifth. Many of the big name actors who appeared in the film did so for a fraction of their usual salaries because they believed in the social importance of the project.

In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its "Ten top Ten" — the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres — after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Judgment at Nuremberg was acknowledged as the tenth best film in the courtroom drama genre.


In 2001, a stage adaptation of the film was produced for Broadwaymarker, starring Schell (this time in the role played in the film by Burt Lancaster) and George Grizzard, with John Tillinger as director.


Actor Role
Spencer Tracy Chief Judge Dan Haywood
Burt Lancaster Dr. Ernst Janning
Richard Widmark Col. Tad Lawson
Marlene Dietrich Mrs. Bertholt
Maximilian Schell Hans Rolfe
Judy Garland Irene Hoffman
Montgomery Clift Rudolph Peterson
Ed Binns Sen. Burkette
Werner Klemperer Emil Hahn
Torben Meyer Werner Lampe
Martin Brandt Friedrich Hofstetter
William Shatner Capt. Harrison Byers

See also


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