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Judgment at Nuremberg

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Title: Judgment at Nuremberg  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: 34th Academy Awards, 19th Golden Globe Awards, 1961 in film, Maximilian Schell, Burt Lancaster
Collection: 1960S Drama Films, 1961 Films, American Films, American Legal Drama Films, Black-and-White Films, Courtroom Films, English-Language Films, Film Scores by Ernest Gold, Films About Capital Punishment, Films About Nazi Germany, Films Based on Teleplays, Films Directed by Stanley Kramer, Films Featuring a Best Actor Academy Award Winning Performance, Films Featuring a Best Drama Actor Golden Globe Winning Performance, Films Set in Germany, Films Set in the 1940S, Films Whose Director Won the Best Director Golden Globe, Films Whose Writer Won the Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award, Holocaust Films, Silver Gavel Award Winners, United Artists Films, United States National Film Registry Films, United States Nuremberg Military Tribunals, World War II War Crimes Trials Films
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Judgment at Nuremberg

Judgment at Nuremberg
Film poster
Directed by Stanley Kramer
Produced by Stanley Kramer
Screenplay by Abby Mann
Based on Judgment at Nuremberg
1959 Playhouse 90 
by Abby Mann
Starring Spencer Tracy
Burt Lancaster
Richard Widmark
Marlene Dietrich
Judy Garland
Maximilian Schell
Montgomery Clift
Music by Ernest Gold
Cinematography Ernest Laszlo
Edited by Frederic Knudtson
Roxlom Films
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • December 19, 1961 (1961-12-19)
Running time
179 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3 million[1]
Box office $10,000,000[2]

Judgment at Nuremberg is a 1961 American drama film directed by Stanley Kramer, written by Abby Mann and starring Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Maximilian Schell, Werner Klemperer, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, William Shatner and Montgomery Clift. Set in Nuremberg in 1948, the film centers on a military tribunal led by Chief Trial Judge Dan Haywood (Tracy), before which four German judges and prosecutors stand accused of crimes against humanity for their involvement in atrocities committed under the Nazi regime. The film deals with non-combatant war crimes against a civilian population (i.e., crimes committed in violation of the Law of Nations or the Laws of War), the Holocaust, and with post-World War II geo-political complexity of the Nuremberg Trials. An earlier version of the story was broadcast as a television episode of Playhouse 90.[3] Schell and Klemperer played the same roles in both productions.

Although touching on (in newsreel footage) and discussing the war-time (1939-45) persecution and genocide of European Jews, the film's events relate principally to actions committed by the German state against its own racial, social, religious, and eugenic groupings within its borders “…in the name of the law…”, (to quote from the prosecution’s opening statement in the film) that began with Hitler's rise to power in 1933. The plot development and thematic treatment question the legitimacy of the social, political and alleged legal foundations of these actions.

There were a series of trials held in Nuremberg, starting with the Trial of the Major War Criminals, followed by the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials. The film depicts a fictionalized version of the Judges' Trial of 1947, one of the twelve U.S. military tribunals during the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials. The Judges' Trial focused on certain judges who served before and during the Nazi regime in Germany and who either passively, actively, or in a combination of both, embraced and enforced laws that led to judicial acts of sexual sterilization and to the imprisonment and execution of people for their religions, racial or ethnic identities, political beliefs and physical handicaps or disabilities.

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 non-"Aryan" Jewish man was tried for having a "relationship" (sexual acts) with an Aryan (German) 16-year-old woman, an act that had been legally defined as a "crime" under the Nuremberg Laws, which had been enacted by the German Reichstag. Under these laws the man was found guilty and was put to death in 1935. Using this and other examples, the movie explores individual conscience, collective guilt, and behavior during a time of widespread societal immorality.

The film is notable for its use of courtroom drama to illuminate individual perfidy and moral compromise in times of violent political upheaval; it was one of the first films not to shy from showing actual footage filmed by American and British soldiers after the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. Shown in court by prosecuting attorney Colonel Tad Lawson (Richard Widmark), the scenes of huge piles of naked corpses laid out in rows and bulldozed into large pits were considered exceptionally graphic for a mainstream film of its day.

In 2013, Judgment at Nuremberg was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[4]


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Accolades 3
  • Soundtracks 4
  • Adaptations 5
  • Reception 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Judgment at Nuremberg centers on a military tribunal convened in Nuremberg, Germany, in which four German judges and prosecutors stand accused of crimes against humanity for their involvement in atrocities committed under the Nazi regime. Judge Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy) is the Chief Trial Judge of a three-judge panel that will hear and decide the case against the defendants. Haywood begins his examination by trying to learn how the defendant Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster) could have sentenced so many people to death. Janning, it is revealed, is a well-educated and internationally respected jurist and legal scholar. Haywood seeks to understand how the German people could have turned blind eyes and deaf ears to the crimes of the Nazi regime. In doing so, he befriends the widow (Marlene Dietrich) of a German general who had been executed by the Allies. He talks with a number of Germans who have different perspectives on the war. Other characters the judge meets are U.S. Army Captain Byers (William Shatner), who is assigned to the American party hearing the cases, and Irene Hoffman (Judy Garland), who is afraid to bring testimony that may bolster the prosecution's case against the judges.

German defense attorney Hans Rolfe (Maximilian Schell) argues that the defendants were not the only ones to aid, or at least turn a blind eye to, the Nazi regime. He also suggests that the U.S. has committed acts just as bad or worse as those the Nazis perpetrated. He raises several points in these arguments, such as: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.'s support for the first eugenics practices (see Buck v. Bell ); the German-Vatican Reichskonkordat of 1933, which the Nazi-dominated German government exploited as an implicit foreign recognition of Nazi leadership; Stalin's part in the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939, which removed the last major obstacle standing in the way of Germany's invasion and occupation of western Poland, initiating World War II; and the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the final stage of the war in August 1945.[5]

Janning, meanwhile, decides to take the stand for the prosecution, stating that he is guilty of the crime he is accused of: condemning to death a Jewish man of "blood defilement" charges—namely, that the man slept with a 16-year-old Gentile girl—when he knew there was no evidence to support such a verdict. During his testimony, he explains that well-meaning people like himself went along with Hitler's anti-Semitic policies out of a sense of patriotism, even though they knew it was wrong.

Haywood must weigh considerations of geopolitical expediency and ideals of justice. He rejects a call to let the German judges off lightly so as to gain German support in the Cold War against the Soviet Union.[6] All four defendants are found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

Haywood visits Janning in his cell. Janning affirms that Haywood's decision was just, but asks him to believe that he and the other defendant judges never desired the mass murder of innocents. Judge Haywood replies, "Herr Janning, it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent." Haywood departs; a title card informs the audience that, of 99 Nuremberg defendants sentenced to prison terms, none were still serving their sentences as of the film's 1961 release.[7]



The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards. Maximilian Schell won the award for Best Actor, and Abby Mann won in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. The remaining nominations were for Best Picture, Stanley Kramer for Best Director, Spencer Tracy for Best Actor, Montgomery Clift for Best Supporting Actor, Judy Garland for Best Supporting Actress, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Costume Design, Black-and-White, and Best Film Editing.[8] Stanley Kramer was given the prestigious Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. This is one of the few times that a film had multiple entries in the same category (Tracy and Schell for Best Actor). 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" 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.[9] Additionally, the film had been nominated for AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies.[10]

In 2013 the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[4]


  • Wenn wir marschieren
    • German folk song (ca. 1910)
  • Care for Me
    • By Ernest Gold
  • Notre amour ne peur
    • By Ernest Gold


In 2001, a stage adaptation of the film was produced for John Tillinger as director.[11]


The film grossed USD$6 million and recorded a loss of $1.5 million.[1] Kramer's film received positive reviews and was liked as a straight reconstruction of the famous trials of Nazi war criminals. The cast was especially praised, including Tracy, Lancaster, Schell, and Garland. The film's release was perfectly timed as its subject coincided with the then trial and conviction in Israel of Nazi official Adolf Eichmann.

See also


  1. ^ a b Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p. 145
  2. ^ Judgment at Nuremberg.Box Office Information for The Numbers. Retrieved April 14, 2012.
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b "Library of Congress announces 2013 National Film Registry selections" (Press release). Washington Post. December 18, 2013. Retrieved December 18, 2013. 
  5. ^ ." 2012.Judgment at NurembergNixon, Rob. "Pop Culture 101: Accessed 2012-11-02; Mann, Abby. Judgement at Nuremberg. London: Cassell, 1961, p. 93.
  6. ^ Bradley, Sean. "Judgment at Nuremberg". University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. Retrieved 2008-09-27. He argues that the love of country led to an attitude of "my country right or wrong." Obedience or disobedience to the Fuehrer would have been a choice between  
  7. ^ In that year, Albert Speer and Rudolf Hess were still imprisoned. Speer was released in 1966 and Hess committed suicide in prison in 1987.
  8. ^ "NY Times: Judgment at Nuremberg". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-24. 
  9. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10".  
  10. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees
  11. ^ [2] Theatre Review by Thomas Burke - March 27, 2001

External links

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