Ah, it's that wonderful and slightly annoying time of year for moviegoers: awards season! Thankfully there are some perks to this, and one can thank Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled, and Paula of Paula's Cinema Club. Why? Because they're the ones hosting the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon!
Anyway, I of course decided to chip for the fourth installment of this yearly event. I decided to write about a film that got a lot of awards recognition way back in the day. Which one, you ask?
|(1961, dir. Stanley Kramer)|
Judgment at Nuremberg is one of those films that got a slew of Oscar nominations (eleven to be precise) yet nowadays not many people talk about it let alone have seen it. (The film that beat it for Best Picture and other categories, West Side Story, had the opposite reaction.) Why that is, it's hard to say. An all-star cast for the ages, fantastic performances from all of them (which is to be expected from a Kramer production)...you'd think more people would have seen it. After all, the 1960s had some of the best films released then. (Oh, and for the record, the following passages will most be discussing the performances in this ensemble cast.)
Spencer Tracy plays Dan Haywood, one of the three presiding judges of the titular trial. Haywood's a man who by this point in his life has seen everything and as seen in several other Tracy performances of the time, he just wants to see the right thing done. (Apparently a common theme throughout Tracy's filmography, yes?)
Maximillian Schell was a relative unknown to American moviegoers when Judgment at Nuremberg was released. His Hans Rolfe has an intensity that would be regularly seen in various leading man performances throughout the decade. With a malicious smirk, a stony glare, and a sharp tongue, it doesn't take much to see how Schell won the Oscar over co-star Tracy.
The same year the film was released, Burt Lancaster had won an Oscar for his work in Elmer Gantry. Here, his Ernst Janning does not have him as loud and in charge as many of his previous parts. (He does get to deliver a passionate confession at one point.) Yet at the same time, the sadness and exhaustion in his eyes speaks volumes.
The bulk of Richard Widmark's early career featured the likes of various film noirs, frequently with him cast as either the villain or the anti-hero. Fortunately his career showed more variety as the years wore on. Here, his Col. Lawson is a strong foil to Rolfe: the sensitive against the cruel, the reserved against the vicious.
Marlene Dietrich's Frau Bertholt is one of the few bystanders of the film, the widow of a German officer. Like many of the other characters of the film, she’s exhausted from the war that had only recently been resolved. She simply yearns for the world she knew to come back.
Montgomery Clift has only the one scene but my God, he steals the whole show. The fear and pain in his features says everything about his Rudolph Peterson, a mentally disabled man scarred physically and emotionally by his country's atrocities. (By this point in Clift's life, he was a haggard shell of his former self from ten years prior.) It's not simply the best performance of the film nor Clift's career; it's one of the best performances in film history. How he never won an Academy Award at any point in his career (especially for this role) is beyond comprehension.
Similar to Clift, Judy Garland's performance is a brief one (albeit a touch longer than his) and her Irene Hoffman Wallner plays into the actress' then-frame of mind. (Also like Clift, Garland wouldn't live to see the end of the decade.) Her first role since A Star Is Born, Garland's Irene is a woman who doesn't want to be reminded of what happened to her during the Nazi regime. And again, how she went through her career without winning an Oscar is hard to believe.
By the time Judgment at Nuremberg was released, the world knew of the horrors the once-powerful Nazi Party had committed. (The end of the film has a footnote on what happened to the defendants in the various trials.) That by no means lessens the film's impact in any way. Even after fifty-five years and many imitators, it's a film that packs one hell of a punch.