Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

As a director, Stanley Kramer devoted most of his career to tackling the big issues—racism, fundamentalism and nuclear holocaust among them. Perhaps his most ambitious project was this three-hour-plus relentless study of Nazi Germany held under the magnifying glass at the Nuremberg Trials. Focusing on the Judges Trial, the picture uses fictionalized characters to capture the controversy at the heart of the prosecution of four German judges who had enforced inhuman laws related to ethnicity, politics and physical and mental disabilities. Kramer’s position as one of Hollywood’s most committed liberal filmmakers helped him attract a dream cast, with many actors working for a fraction of their usual salaries. Spencer Tracy stars as the U.S. judge presiding over the case, with Burt Lancaster as one of the defendants, Richard Widmark as the prosecutor, Marlene Dietrich as a widow who helps Tracy understand the German people and, in two stunning cameos, Montgomery Clift and Judy Garland as victims of the judges’ decisions. Marlon Brando fought for the role of the German defense attorney, but Kramer was so impressed with Maximilian Schell’s performance in the television version of Abby Mann’s script, he insisted on casting him. The fifth-billed Schell would win a Best Actor Oscar, making him the lowest-billed actor ever to win that award, with another going to Mann’s screenplay.

(d. Stanley Kramer, 186m, 35mm)