review for Judgment at Nuremberg on AllMovie

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
by Dan Jardine review

Judgment at Nuremberg, which reenacts the third of 13 infamous 1948 war-crime trials, is most powerful for its subtle and shaded characterizations of both victim and victimizer. There are no easily identifiable evil enemies: the bad guys seem an awful lot like you or me, which is one of the film's central points about the rise of the Nazis. Riveting performances distinguish the movie, especially Montgomery Clift, Judy Garland, and Burt Lancaster in the showiest parts (which they make the most of). Spencer Tracy anchors the proceedings with a reliably level-headed performance. The script, which presents complex moral and philosophical issues quite well, is not quite as cutting, bitter, or angst-ridden as the subject demands. The subject matter guarantees some intensely emotional moments; however, the script occasionally fails to use them to challenge viewers to look more closely at their own self-satisfaction. Instead, we get some rather windy speechifying. Visually, the film is somewhat static (as courtroom dramas often are), though the dramatic power of the historical subject often makes it easy to overlook this flaw. Nominated for 11 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director for Stanley Kramer, and acting nominations for Tracy, Garland, and Montgomery Clift, the film won for Abby Mann, who adapted the screenplay from the stage play, and Maximilian Schell, who plays the Nazi criminals' defense lawyer.