Judgment at Nuremberg (Special Edition) Blu-ray Review: Guilty of Being a Great Courtroom Drama

A compelling film that asks eternal questions about society and the responsibility of the people within it.
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Previously an episode of the TV series Playhouse 90 (1959), Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) dramatizes the Judges' Trial of 1947, one of several United States military tribunals that took place in the aftermath of World War II. Leading an all-star cast, Spenser Tracy plays Judge Dan Haywood, one of three judges brought to Nuremberg, Germany in 1948 to oversee a trial against four judges and prosecutors charged with numerous atrocities while serving the Nazi government. His task is complicated because the higher-ups don't want a harsh verdict in order to gain the German people's support for the United States as opposed to the Soviet Union because the Berlin blockade is occurring.

Three of the defendants plead “not guilty”. Werner Klemperer plays defendant Emil Hahn, as he did on TV. Also recreating is role is Maximillian Schell, who won the Oscar for Best Actor as defense attorney Hans Rolfe. His client Dr. Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster) refuses to enter a plea as he doesn't recognize the tribunal's authority and doesn't wish to be connected with the other men.

The script by Abby Mann, who won an Oscar adapting his teleplay, centers on a intriguing question, which is given to the defense who asks the court if the men can be tried for war crimes for enforcing the laws of their country. It also calls out the United States government regarding matters, such as dropping atomic bombs on Japan. But the film doesn't go easy on the defendants as prosecutor Col. Tad Lawson (Richard Widmark) covers incidents like a sham trial involving a Jewish man put to death for his alleged involvement with an underage Irene Hoffmann (Judy Garland), although Garland doesn't look like she would have been 16 at the time, and Rudolph Peterson (Montgomery Clift), who was sterilized after being designated “feeble-minded”.

Kramer includes graphic archival footage from concentration camps in the film, and while tragic, it doesn't seem to have a place in trial yet the defense attorney waits until the next day to object. Janning is eventually compelled to take the stand and it is through his character that the questions of duty and responsibility are made clear.

The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded at an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 in contrast to the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Black are inky and whites are strong, contributing to an array of grays. There are occasional black and whites specks that appear. The latter are noticeable when Hoffman is on the stand. There is a slight flicker at 1 hour 45 minute when Lawson is at a restaurant. There is a vertical scrape along the right side of the frame when the verdict and dissenting opinion are given. There is strong depth and and focus but the softness of the rear projection looks particularly fake when Haywood comes to town.

The audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio English 2.0. It offers solid dialogue that usually doesn't compete with other sound elements. Ernest Gold's score is a tad compressed and a German song that plays during Heywood's walkabout is a little too loud. The track has a slight hiss.

The special features are taken from the 2004 DVD release. They are:

  • In Conversation with Abby Mann and Maximilian Schell (20 min) - The screenwriter and actor have a great discussion. Mann talks about what he was trying to accomplish. Schell talks about treatment he received from Germans regarding the performance.
  • A Tribute to Stanley Kramer (14 min) - Kramer's wife talks about how they met and the making of the movie.
  • The Value of A Single Human Being (6 min) - An interview with Mann, who is still very passionate about the film and the ideals that inspired.
  • Trailers for Judgment at Nuremberg, Inherit the Wind, On the Beach, Not as a Stranger, and A Child is Waiting.

Judgment at Nuremberg is a compelling film that asks eternal questions about society and the responsibility of the people within it. Kramer assembled a talented cast to bring the characters in Mann's script to life and the viewer engaged over its nearly three-hour length. Although there are signs of age and wear, the Blu-ray delivers a good picture and adequate audio. The extras are interesting and make one want to dig further into the film and its making.

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