Judgment at Nuremberg

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Judgment at Nuremberg
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961 film poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byStanley Kramer
Screenplay byAbby Mann
Based onJudgment at Nuremberg
1959 Playhouse 90
by Abby Mann
Produced byStanley Kramer
CinematographyErnest Laszlo
Edited byFrederic Knudtson
Music byErnest Gold
Roxlom Films
Amber Entertainment
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release dates
Running time
179 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$3 million[2]
Box office$16 million[3]

Judgment at Nuremberg is a 1961 American epic courtroom drama film directed and produced 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.[4] Set in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1948, the film depicts a fictionalized version of the Judges' Trial of 1947, one of the 12 U.S. Nuremberg Military Tribunals conducted before the U.S. military.

The film centers on a military tribunal led by Chief Trial Judge Dan Haywood (Tracy), before which four German judges and prosecutors (as compared to 16 defendants in the actual Judges' Trial) stand accused of crimes against humanity for their involvement in atrocities committed under the Nazi regime. The film deals with the Holocaust and non-combatant war crimes against a civilian population, the post-World War II situation and the geopolitical complexity of the actual Nuremberg Trials.

An earlier version of the story was broadcast as an episode of the same name of the television series Playhouse 90 in 1959.[5] Schell and Klemperer played the same roles in both productions.

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".[6][7]


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 judge of a three-judge panel of Allied jurists who will hear and decide the case against the defendants. Haywood is particularly interested in trying to learn how the defendant Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster) could have committed the atrocities of which he is accused, including the sentencing of innocent people to death. Ernst Janning's character is based loosely on the life of Franz Schlegelberger.[8] 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 US Army Captain Harrison Byers (William Shatner), who is assigned to assist the American judges hearing the case, and Irene Hoffmann (Judy Garland), who is afraid to provide 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 blind eyes to, the Nazi regime. He also suggests that the United States has committed acts just as bad or worse than those the Nazis perpetrated. He raises several points in these arguments, such as US 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 early foreign recognition of Nazi leadership; Joseph Stalin's part in the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939, which removed the last major obstacle to Germany's invasion and occupation of western Poland, initiating World War II; and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the final stage of the war in August 1945.[9]

Janning, meanwhile, decides to testify 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 had intimate relations 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 Adolf Hitler's anti-Semitic, racist policies out of a sense of patriotism, even though they knew it was wrong, because of the effects of the post-World War I Treaty of Versailles.

Haywood must weigh considerations of geopolitical expediency and ideals of justice. The trial takes place against the background of the Berlin Blockade, and there is pressure to let the German defendants off lightly so as to gain German support in the growing Cold War against the Soviet Union.[10] In the course of the movie, it becomes apparent why the three other defendants supported the Nazi regime: one was afraid, one was following orders, and one actually believed in Nazism. All four defendants are found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

Haywood visits Janning in his cell. Janning affirms to Haywood that, "By all that is right in this world, your verdict was a just one," but asks him to believe that, regarding the mass murder of innocents, "I never knew that it would come to that." 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 defendants sentenced to prison terms in Nuremberg trials that took place in the American Zone, none were still serving a sentence when the film was released in 1961.[11][a]




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" (from the prosecution's opening statement in the film), from the time of 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.

The real Judges' Trial focused on 16 judges and prosecutors who served before and during the Nazi regime in Germany, and who embraced and enforced laws—passively, actively, or both—that led to judicial acts of compulsory 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 Jewish man had been tried for having a "relationship" (sexual acts) with an Aryan (German) 16-year-old girl, 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 1942. 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 the first mainstream drama film to not shy from showing actual footage filmed by American and British soldiers after the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps.[citation needed] 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 the time.

According to numerous sources, Tracy's climactic monologue was filmed in one take using multiple cameras. Clift had problems remembering his lines, so Kramer told him to do the best he could, correctly figuring that Clift's nervousness would be central to his character's mental state. (Clift was so eager to do the film that he worked just for expenses.) Lancaster speaks only three lines (none in the courtroom) until his lengthy outburst roughly 135 minutes into the film. Meanwhile, Garland was so happy to be working in a motion picture again after seven years away that it took her a while to get into the proper frame of mind to break down and cry.



The world premiere was held on December 14, 1961, at the Kongresshalle in West Berlin, Germany.[1] 300 journalists from 22 countries were in attendance,[12] and earphones offering the soundtrack dubbed in German, Spanish, Italian, and French were made available.[1] The reaction from the audience was reportedly subdued, with some applauding at the finish, but most of the Germans in attendance leaving in silence.[12]

Kramer's film received positive reviews from critics and was lauded as a straight reconstruction of the famous trials of Nazi war criminals. The cast was especially praised, including Tracy, Lancaster, Schell, Clift, and Garland. The film's release was perfectly timed, as its subject coincided with the trial and conviction in Israel of Nazi SS officer Adolf Eichmann.

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times declared it "a powerful, persuasive film" with "a stirring, sobering message to the world".[13] Variety wrote: "With the most painful pages of modern history as its bitter basis, Abby Mann's intelligent, thought-provoking screenplay is a grim reminder of man's responsibility to denounce grave evils of which he is aware. The lesson is carefully, tastefully and upliftingly told via Kramer's large-scale production."[14] Harrison's Reports awarded its top grade of "Excellent", praising Kramer for employing "an ingenious device of fluid direction" and Spencer Tracy for "a performance of compelling substance".[15]

Brendan Gill of The New Yorker called the film "a bold and, despite its great length, continuously exciting picture", which asks questions that "are among the biggest that can be asked and are no less fresh and thrilling for being thousands of years old". Gill added that the cast was so loaded with stars "that it occasionally threatens to turn into a judicial Grand Hotel. Luckily, they all work hard to stay inside their roles."[16] Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post declared it "an extraordinary film, both in concept and handling. Those who see this at the Warner will recognize that the screen has been put to noble use."[17]

The Monthly Film Bulletin of Britain dissented, writing in a mostly negative review that "this large-scale trial film undermines faith in its philosophical and historical merit by colouring the better part of its message with hackneyed court-room hysteria", explaining that "in a series of contrived scenes ... the point is hammered home right down to the last shock-cut. The same specious technique (zoom-lens shots and camera-circlings predominant) and showmanship turn the trial into little more than a travesty—notably in the melodramatic switch in the character of Janning."[18]

The film grossed $6 million in the United States and $10 million in worldwide release.[19]

The television network premiere of the film was shown on ABC on 7 March 1965; it was interrupted to show news footage of the violence on "Bloody Sunday" during the Selma to Montgomery marches.[20] The juxtaposition of the film about Nazi atrocities and the news footage of violence against African-American people resulted in sympathy and greater support for the civil-rights cause.[21][22]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[23] Best Motion Picture Stanley Kramer Nominated
Best Director Nominated
Best Actor Maximilian Schell Won
Spencer Tracy Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Montgomery Clift Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Judy Garland Nominated
Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium Abby Mann Won
Best Art Direction – Black-and-White Rudolph Sternad and George Milo Nominated
Best Cinematography – Black-and-White Ernest Laszlo Nominated
Best Costume Design – Black-and-White Jean Louis Nominated
Best Film Editing Frederic Knudtson Nominated
Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award Stanley Kramer Won
American Cinema Editors Awards Best Edited Feature Film Frederic Knudtson Nominated
Bodil Awards Best Non-European Film Stanley Kramer Won
British Academy Film Awards Best Film Nominated
Best Foreign Actor Montgomery Clift Nominated
Maximilian Schell Nominated
Cinema Writers Circle Awards Best Foreign Film Won
David di Donatello Awards Best Foreign Production Won
Best Foreign Actor Spencer Tracy Won[b]
David Giovani Award Marlene Dietrich Won
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Stanley Kramer Nominated
Fotogramas de Plata Awards Best Foreign Performer Spencer Tracy Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Maximilian Schell Won
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Montgomery Clift Nominated
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Judy Garland Nominated
Best Director – Motion Picture Stanley Kramer Won
Best Film Promoting International Understanding Nominated
Laurel Awards Top Drama Nominated
Top Male Dramatic Performance Maximilian Schell Nominated
Top Male Supporting Performance Montgomery Clift Nominated
Top Female Supporting Performance Judy Garland Nominated
Top Cinematography – Black and White Ernest Laszlo Nominated
Nastro d'Argento Best Foreign Director Stanley Kramer Won
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films 8th Place
National Film Preservation Board National Film Registry Inducted
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film Nominated
Best Actor Maximilian Schell Won
Best Screenplay Abby Mann Won
Online Film & Television Association Awards Hall of Fame – Motion Picture Won
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Written American Drama Abby Mann Nominated

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.[24] Additionally, the film had been nominated for AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies.[25]


Judgment at Nuremberg was released in American theatres on December 19, 1961.

CBS/Fox Video first released the film as a two-VHS cassette set in 1986. MGM re-released the VHS version in 1991, while the 1996 and 2001 reissues were part of the Vintage Classics and Screen Epics collection respectively. In addition, the special edition DVD was released on September 7, 2004.[26]

Three Blu-ray versions of the film were also produced. A limited edition Blu-ray was released by Twilight Time on November 14, 2014. Kino Lorber re-released the Blu-ray as a standard release in 2018. The BFI released a 2-disc Blu-ray on January 20, 2020.[27][28]

The Australian Blu-ray was released as part of The Hollywood Gold Series.[29]


In 1985, a Soviet stage adaptation of the film under the title Judgment was produced for Baltic House Festival Theatre, with Gennady Egorov as director.

In 2001, another stage adaptation of the film was produced for Broadway, starring Schell (this time in the role of Ernst Janning) and George Grizzard, with John Tillinger as director.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ This does not refer to the 1946 Nuremberg trials of the leadership of Nazi Germany, which was in front of an international panel of judges, not solely American ones. Of the 20 defendants in that trial, as of 1961 three men still remained in prison: Rudolf Hess, Albert Speer, and Baldur von Schirach.
  2. ^ Tied with Anthony Perkins for Goodbye Again.


  1. ^ a b c Scott, John L. (December 14, 1961). "West Berlin Reaction on 'Nuremberg' Awaited". Los Angeles Times: Part IV, p. 7.
  2. ^ Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p. 145
  3. ^ Box Office Information for Judgment at Nuremberg. Archived 2011-11-28 at the Wayback Machine The Numbers. Retrieved April 14, 2012.
  4. ^ "Judgment at Nuremberg full credits". TCM Movie Database. Archived from the original on 2016-11-10. Retrieved 2016-11-10.
  5. ^ "Playhouse 90 – Season 3, Episode 28: Judgment at Nuremberg – TV.com". TV.com. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on 2016-03-07. Retrieved 2015-06-07.
  6. ^ "Library of Congress announces 2013 National Film Registry selections". The Washington Post (Press release). December 18, 2013. Archived from the original on December 18, 2013. Retrieved December 18, 2013.
  7. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Archived from the original on 2008-08-29. Retrieved 2020-11-17.
  8. ^ "A Commentary on the Justice Trial".
  9. ^ Nixon, Rob. "Pop Culture 101: Judgment at Nuremberg." TCM.com. 2012. Archived 2018-07-15 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 2012-11-02; Mann, Abby. Judgment at Nuremberg. London: Cassell, 1961, p. 93.
  10. ^ Bradley, Sean. "Judgment at Nuremberg". University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. Archived from the original on 2008-09-13. 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 patriotism or treason for the judges. [...] Why did the educated stand aside? Because they loved their country.
  11. ^ "Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) FAQ". The Internet Movie Database. Archived from the original on 2017-01-08. Retrieved 2018-07-01.
  12. ^ a b Scott, John L. (December 24, 1961). "Berlin 'Judgment' Draws Jas, Neins". Los Angeles Times: Calendar, p. 4.
  13. ^ Crowther, Bosley (December 20, 1961). "The Screen: 'Judgment at Nuremberg'". The New York Times: 36.
  14. ^ "Judgment at Nuremberg". Variety: 6. October 18, 1961.
  15. ^ "Film Review: Judgment at Nuremberg". Harrison's Reports: 166. October 21, 1961.
  16. ^ Gill, Brendan (December 23, 1961). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. p. 68.
  17. ^ Coe, Richard L. (February 15, 1962). "'Nuremberg' Is Great Film". The Washington Post. p. D6.
  18. ^ "Judgment at Nuremberg". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 29 (337): 19. February 1962.
  19. ^ "Box office / business for Judgment at Nuremberg". IMDb. Archived from the original on 31 March 2016. Retrieved 21 February 2016.
  20. ^ Andrew Glass (7 March 2013). "600 begin Selma-to-Montgomery march, March 7, 1965". Politico. Retrieved 28 April 2021.
  21. ^ Barbara Harris Combs (26 November 2013). From Selma to Montgomery: The Long March to Freedom. Routledge. p. 40. ISBN 978-1-136-17376-9.
  22. ^ Emilie Raymond (8 June 2015). Stars for Freedom: Hollywood, Black Celebrities, and the Civil Rights Movement. University of Washington Press. p. 195. ISBN 978-0-295-80607-5.
  23. ^ "NY Times: Judgment at Nuremberg". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2011. Archived from the original on 2011-11-09. Retrieved 2008-12-24.
  24. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10". American Film Institute. Archived from the original on 2021-03-08. Retrieved 2019-11-18.
  25. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2013-10-26. Retrieved 2011-12-10.
  26. ^ "Judgment at Nuremberg". MGM Home Entertainment. Beverly Hills, California: MGM Holdings. ASIN B0002CR04A. Archived from the original on February 16, 2017. Retrieved November 9, 2016.
  27. ^ "Judgment at Nuremberg Blu-ray Limited Edition". Blu-ray.com. Archived from the original on November 10, 2014. Retrieved November 11, 2014.
  28. ^ "Judgment at Nuremberg Blu-ray". Blu-ray.com. Archived from the original on September 3, 2018. Retrieved September 10, 2019.
  29. ^ "Judgment at Nuremberg Blu-ray Hollywood Gold Series". Blu-ray.com. Archived from the original on October 25, 2014. Retrieved April 30, 2014.
  30. ^ Burke, Thomas (March 27, 2001). "Judgment at Nuremberg Theatre Review". Talkin' Broadway. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved May 11, 2018.

External links[edit]