Wilder and Lemmon had their thing, Kazan had Brando, Cukor had Kate, Scorsese had DeNiro and then DiCaprio and Stanley Kramer had Spencer Tracy. Being the benevolent man I’ve heard, Spencer Tracy probably thanked heavens for Stanley Kramer. An excellent actor when given the chance, no other director has consistently pulled greatness out of Spencer. From Guess Who’s Coming Dinner, to Inherit the Wind and this magnum opus Judgment At Nuremberg. Although Inherit the Wind is my favourite stand alone Tracy performance, I always return to Judgment at Nuremberg when I think of the good work the two have done together. Sure it got steamrolled by West Side Story, and all (undeservedly in a few categories) but I still remember Judgment at Nuremberg, fondly (well as fond as you can think of a film so harrowing). It should be ranked atop the list of great films with all those other classics of the era.
The thing is though, I can wax on for pages about Spencer’s excellence – I’m an ardent admirer; but as brilliant as he is here it’s Maximilian Schell that deserves effusive praise. This would probably rank high on a list of Oscar shockers. I’m not sure who was the buzzed winner, but Max’s win (his nomination even) is not indicative of what we usually associate with the Oscars. In fact, the same year the Supporting Actor performance went to the George Chakiris’s obnoxiously loud Bernardo (a variation of Shakespeare’s Tybalt). I don’t think subtlety really begins to describe Max here. Yet, it’s not an understated performance in any way. In fact, it’s probably more strong supporting than actually leading – but that’s just opinion. Max’s performance ranks as one of my favourite decisions from Oscar and he and Tracy are both memorable here.
I wouldn’t say I’m smitten with Judy Garland – the actress, but few of her performances touch me as much as her turn here. It’s not wholly loved, but I don’t care. It’s a bizarre performance from her, when we think of the screen characters we associate her with. Irene Hoffman is a woman who has gone through a number of trials, in a way it’s a perfect fit for Judy who was at her lowest (it was only a few years before her suicide). She was never the greatest technical actress, but what she was able to do was connect with the sensitivity in her character. She does this here, excellently. Montgomery Clift, with just a few minutes of screen time gives another great performance and Marlene Dietrich is brilliant, as always.
Judgment at Nuremberg is a brilliant piece of cinema. It’s based on true events, and unlike so many stories of the war it deals with the aftermath – something we rarely see. The entire film permeates with a tension that’s almost overwhelming and the black and white only adds to the apprehension. Kramer did his best work here, and even though he’s rarely remembered today when we think of the greats – his brilliance is assured. Judgment at Nuremberg probably isn’t that cheerful, but it’s still an excellent piece worthy of your time.