Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Review - Judgement at Nuremberg (1961 - Dir. Stanley Kramer)

Like Doccortex, I get all of my historical knowledge from films and books (see his review of Marie Antoinette for more details). School taught me virtually nothing about history apart from the three field crop rotation, canals and a pork butcher named Richard Arkwright - all thrilling stuff that I've since forgotten. And yet, when a historical story is told well, I'm hooked.

I was aware of the Nuremberg trials but that was it, an awareness. After World War II was over, and the military war criminals had been brought to justice, attention turned to the German judges who had allowed some of the atrocities. It's all pretty complicated, very political and best explained by the film. 

Spencer Tracy plays Chief Judge Dan Haywood, the judge in charge of the trials. As usual, he seems to be just playing himself. But it works and the judge comes across as a fair and sympathetic character. What impressed me most was Burt Lancaster's performance as Dr. Ernst Janning, one of the German judges on trial. For the majority of the film he is silent and still, even when seen in reflections. But despite this stillness, there is a great sense of emotion and thought buried just below the surface. When he finally talks, it is very hard not to listen to him. He has a long speech but it never fails to fully engage. Great stuff.

The film has its powerful moments, and probably the most affecting is when Judge Haywood is walking through the location where the Nuremberg rallies were held. No-one else is in sight but he hears Hitler speaking from the podium and the noise of the crowd in attendance. A really clever use of sound.

One of the odd things about Judgement at Nuremberg is the camera work. Things generally go quite smoothly. The camera tracks around the people who are speaking in the courtroom showing the reactions of the other participants. All very well and good. Then suddenly - wham! - crash zoom action. I'd expect a multitude of crash zooms in a Jess Franco sleaze fest but in a black and white historical drama, I just wasn't ready for it. (I think Jess Franco is on my mind due to the sad news of his death last week.)

This is a long film, clocking in at 186 minutes, double my preferred running time. But it is worth it. I didn't manage it in one sitting but I'll give it another go when I'm not quite as tired. Worthy of your attention, especially if you're as useless at History as me. (You may even notice in the screenshots the appearance of a certain Mr Shatner...)

If you like this you could also try:
Inherit the Wind, Anatomy of a Murder, 12 Angry Men.

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