Sunday, February 27, 2011

Judgement at Nuremberg. B+

"The case is unusual because the defendants are charged with crimes committed under the law." So we are told at the beginning of the Nuremberg trials, based off the real case proceedings in which four German judges were accused of crimes against humanity. And so we are reminded of the utter morally unsettling ironies of various actions committed under Hitler's Third Reich. This is a good movie. It's long, over three hours, but very well made and informative. It's a strange movie because Spencer Tracy (he plays the American judge) is advertised as the movie's star, but he's in it really only for narrative purposes. The audience never strikes an emotional chord with him, and in the end we're far more interested in the German defendants, as well as their defense attorney, played with heated energy by Maximilian Schell (who won an Oscar for the role). The movie came out in 1961, when radical changes in tone, style, and content were just beginning to show at the movies. Still, the actual footage of concentration camps shown in the film is so brutal that I'm surprised it received a pass by Hollywood. Judgement at Nuremberg, like most courtroom dramas, is far from perfect. It exists with clarity and emotion during the trial, but the scenes outside the courtroom failed to grab me. Tracy befriends a German woman (Marlene Dietrich), yet their relationship felt odd, like it was included to satisfy people not interested in the trial. Actually, nearly all the scenes outside the courtroom seemed a little useless, especially considering how much is at stake concerning the trial. I guess that's the problem with these historical dramas. The central issue is so important that we really just want to focus on it and get out. And in this case so disturbing that we want the info to have it but not to really dwell on it further.

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