AT NUREMBERG (M.G.M. HOME VIDEO)
Nominated for eleven Academy Awards and recipient of two, JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG sheds light on the darkest era in modern history, as a retired judge (the phenomenal Spencer Tracy) presides over the trial of four German judges who (mis)used their power to conduct and "legitimize" unspeakable atrocities under the Nazi regime, and it is typical of the outstanding results which producer/director Stanley Kramer achieved with his socially conscious films. And the powerful Oscar-winning Abby Mann screenplay and some truly inspired and imaginative casting complement Kramer's distinctive directorial style.
What is perhaps most remarkable about Mann's screenplay is that, even though it extends what was originally the basis for a eighty minute Playhouse 90 TV broadcast to a whopping three hour running time, there is virtually no sign of bloat or padding in the finished product.
JUDGMENT conclusively proves that it is time to put aside the many "camp caricatures" of Marlene Dietrich that for decades have minimized her prodigious thespic abilities. Her portrayal of a Nazi General's widow is so brilliantly observed and quietly powerful that it seems almost unbelievable that she in fact found the role so politically repugnant that she initially turned it down, and the fact that she holds her own in her scenes with Tracy is further testament to the largely unheralded talent that she possessed.
Possibly the riskiest casting was that of Judy Garland in the role of a frumpy German/Jewish victim of the judges, but I've always maintained that even in her fluffiest vehicles she exhibited a natural acting ability second to none, and her complete Oscar-nominated triumph here is no surprise to me, and (also Oscar-nominated) Montgomery Clift's performance as a victim of sterilization is a performance of uncommonly raw and scathingly truthful power. While it's impossible to denigrate Maximilian Schell's crafty and intense work as the defending counsel here, it's nothing less than amazing that he won the Oscar for essentially repeating his role in the original TV presentation and in fact triumphed over the nominated Tracy, who gives his judge such stunningly vibrant and many-faceted life that he provides graphic and conclusive proof that he was quite possibly the greatest film actor of the twentieth century. There can be no debate about the fact that he is the heart and soul of this film.
More good news is that M.G.M. has delivered a stunning black and white 1.66:1 letterbox transfer that is spectacularly clean and crisp, and that they have augmented the previously monaural soundtrack (included here) with a new 5.1 Surround track that is dialogue directional to such an extent that it substantially enhances this heavily dialogue-driven film, and brings back happy memories of the live directional stereo soundtracks that were featured on the early Fox CinemaScope extravaganzas. The bad news is that the exceptionally high quality of this transfer has been cruelly undermined by the fact that it is non-anamorphic, a decision that becomes all the more shocking when one realizes the great care that has been taken with all other aspects of this "special edition " release. It doesn't seem possible that the powers-that-be at M.G.M. Home Video remain, at this late date, blissfully unaware that most TV manufacturers have ceased production of the old 4:3 format TV's, and that anamorphic wide-screen sets are flying out the door. Hopefully, they will someday soon see the light of day, and their anamorphobia will be a thing of the past!