Charles Boyer - Fanny
Paul Newman - The Hustler
Spencer Tracy - Judgment at Nuremberg
Stuart Whitman - The Mark
Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg is one of those big important issue pictures that started to become prevalent in the late 1950s and into the 1960s. It has an all-star cast headed by an aged Spencer Tracy as a judge presiding over the international trial of four German judges that handed down indictments of victims of the Fourth Reich. From reading, I have understood that this was originally a television drama that Kramer transformed into this mammoth 3 hour plus movie. Surprisingly, it has an overture and exit music, but no intermission. It is a static affair filled with histrionics, crying, blustering speechifying and crying for attention supporting roles by Montgomery Clift and Judy Garland. This film, supposedly, began the practice of Academy voters nominating "usual" head-liners in supporting categories. This enraged Hollywood gossip columnists, like Hedda Hopper, who thought it was an insult to allow a "star" to be thought of as a supporting player. Today, of course, it is common place and usually means a sure-fire win in that secondary category for the "star".
The star who, ironically, won the statuette for Best Actor this year was an actor who was not so known by American audiences at the time. Austrian born actor Maximilian Schell plays Hans Rolfe the German lawyer representing four judges who over saw the indictments of victims of the Fourth Reich. Schell had performed this role once before in the 1959 Playhouse 90 television production and was selected by Kramer to reprise his role several years later. Schell does an admirable job and you do pay a lot of attention to him when he is on screen. He poses an impressive figure; bold personality, strident voice and good looking dark features. His role is an odd one to honor in this category only because he plays a man who could be seen as a sort of villain. He is a man who strongly believes in the innocence of the men who allowed many to be sterilized, executed and sent to concentration camps for acts such as fraternizing with Jews and not being able to pass intelligent tests by the German officials. He believes in the duty of men to support the law of a land ... even if that law is unsound. However, Schell's Rolfe is a complex character; an honorable man who does not want his country to be thought of as entirely evil and corrupt; that there is still good there and these men were forced to do their duty whether sound or unsound. The opposing view, voiced by the usual blustering acting of Richard Widmark as the American military Captain in charge of the prosecution, is that evil acts should not be allowed whether they are law or not; evil should be stood up to and challenged. Schell poses a very good defense but ultimately loses, as we know from history and from the confession of guilt by one of his clients, that he admires greatly, played by Burt Lancaster (the winner of the previous year's Best Actor Oscar). He plays a learned renown German judge and professor of law who we find out hated the Fuhrer and all he stood for, yet upheld the edicts this monster and his Nazi officials had enacted into the law of the land.
Why did Schell win the prize? Good question. I found him adequate; he even has a spotlighted full-blown yelling to the rafters speech in the courtroom toward the conclusion ... pure Oscar bait. The film, though, dealt mostly with Spencer Tracy's role as presiding judge and his relationship with a German widow played by Marlene Dietrich. We spend almost the entire film with Tracy and his observations of German post-War life. Tracy was, indeed, nominated for Best Actor, but lost to Schell. And, most of all, I was impressed by Lancaster as the accused German judge. He is a fantastically fascinating character. He is stoic and appears evil and mysterious. As the film progresses you see his true nature and his moral dilemma. And the two powerhouse actors, Lancaster and Tracy, hold court in the final scene. Schell seems more of a supporting player to me and, perhaps, 1961 was a year that, through events or preoccupation with other matters of historical value, it was time for the Academy voters to hand the gold to a foreign actor.