After the end of World War II, the world gradually became aware of the full extent of the war crimes perpetrated by the Third Reich. In 1948, a series of trials were held in Nuremberg, Germany, by an international tribunal, headed by American legal and military officials, with the intent of bringing to justice those guilty of crimes against humanity. However, by that time most of the major figures of the Nazi regime were either dead or long missing, and in the resulting legal proceedings American judges often found themselves confronting the question of how much responsibility someone held who had "just followed orders." Judgment at Nuremberg is a dramatized version of the proceedings at one of these trials, in which Judge Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy) is overseeing the trials of four German judges -- most notably Dr. Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster) and Emil Hahn (Werner Klemperer) -- accused of knowingly sentencing innocent men to death in collusion with the Nazis. Representing the defense is attorney Hans Rolfe (Maximilian Schell), while prosecuting the accused is U.S. Col. Tad Lawson (Richard Widmark). As the trial goes on, both the visiting Americans and their reluctant German hosts often find themselves facing the legacy of the war, and how both of their nations have been irrevocably changed by it. Judgment at Nuremberg also features notable supporting performances by Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, and Montgomery Clift. Originally written and produced as a play for television, the screen version of Judgment at Nuremberg was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, with Maximilian Schell and Abby Mann taking home Oscars for (respectively) Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay.
by Mark Deming synopsis