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Judgment at Nuremberg

Kino // Unrated // June 9, 2015
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Randy Miller III | posted June 11, 2015 | E-mail the Author

Long considered one of the best post-WWII dramas of all time, Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg offers an exhaustive look at Germany's crimes against humanity during The Holocaust. It portrays the trials held in Nuremberg, Germany and, like the Soviet-made Judgment of the Peoples (and its English-language equivalent, The Nuremberg Trials), shares similar sentiments while approaching the subject matter from a different perspective. It's also three times the length of both previous films: clocking it at 179 minutes, we're given a broad spectrum of plot elements that unfold gradually including the trial of four German judges and prosecutors, the sanctions resulting from 1920's Treaty of Versailles before Hitler's reign, political pressure to lessen the Germans' judgment to gain their favor during the Cold War, and much more. Of course, first-time viewers with a passing knowledge of 20th century history should know where Judgment at Nuremberg ends up before the credits roll...and in the film's favor, it does a fantastic job of playing things straight and avoiding many cheap shots that hindsight could have easily warranted.

Aside from its raw drama and magnetic source material, Judgment at Nuremberg's greatest asset is its ensemble cast. Featuring Spencer Tracy (as Chief Judge Dan Haywood, one of three men who preside over the trial), But Lancaster (Dr. Ernst Janning, one of the four defendants), Maximilian Schell (German defense attorney Hans Rolfe), Marlene Dietrich (Frau Bertholt, widow of an executed German general), Montgomery Clift (Rudolph Petersen, convicted by the Nazis and 'legally' castrated), Judy Garland (Irene Hoffman, who's afraid to testify against her own people), William Shatner (U.S. Army Captain Harrison Byers), and many others, the leads and supporting roles are uniformly excellent. Together, the cast feels as deep and layered as the trial itself, which is spelled out in plain English without feeling oversimplified. Perhaps the film's best scene, however, is an almost throwaway moment at a prison dinner table, in which the four accused Germans discuss the implausibility of The Holocaust's death toll. In terms of visual power, it's almost the exact opposite of the presentation of concentration camps that preceded it, but no less effective.

It's not surprising, then, that, Judgment at Nuremberg is hardly a flashy affair and lacks the flourish and gimmicks that might risk sensationalizing actual events. In fact, these plain-wrap visuals almost perfectly mirror the story itself: it's essentially about ordinary people involved in an extraordinary trial long after the highest-ranking Nazi officials were either already dead or imprisoned, and easily stands as one of the top courtroom dramas for its skillful blend of passion and honest historical perspective. It's usually remembered (alongside 1967's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner) as director Stanley Kramer finest film; no stranger to movies about social change, the late director seemed to pull out all the stops during Judgment at Nuremberg, which has aged incredibly well during the last 50+ years.

Much like Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, John Frankenheimer's The Train, and a handful of other vintage MGM catalog titles licensed to Twilight Time for Blu-ray during the last few years, Judgment at Nuremberg has been given a second chance on DVD courtesy of Kino Lorber's "Studio Classics" line. Though obviously a step down in the A/V department and lighter on supplements than the Blu-ray, this low-priced disc is more widely available and serves as a respectable runner-up for those who aren't completely sold on 1080p yet. Sometimes, a silver medal is good enough.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Twilight Time's Blu-ray represented a huge leap in quality over MGM's 2004 DVD (which was, surprisingly for its time, non-anamorphic), and thankfully Kino's new DVD uses that newer source material as the basis for this solid 1.66:1, 480p transfer. Image detail is quite good and details are crisp during outdoor and courtroom sequences alike; dirt and debris are scarce, aside from a few trouble spots near the opening moments, and there are no flagrant digital imperfections along the way. Dimly-lit scenes don't fare quite as well: shadow detail is limited and there are moments of persistent flickering, but it's nothing major and likely a source material issue. Overall, the visuals are great from start to finish, with the film's dynamic compositions and crisp cinematography providing plenty of support for the story to unfold gradually. Unless you're adamant about owning the Twilight Time Blu-ray, there's a lot to like here.

DISCLAIMER: These compressed and resized screen captures are strictly decorative and do not represent DVD's native 480p resolution.

The audio is presented in its original Dolby Digital mono format and defaults to a two-channel spread, with a moderate and pleasing amount of depth on several occasions. Dialogue, music cues, and occasional background noises are adequately balanced and don't fight for attention...but to be honest, there's very little for the sound mix to do here and this DVD does its limited job admirably. Defects are minimal, though I did notice stray amounts of distortion and/or clipping that rendered a handful of lines difficult to decipher; this is likely a source material issue and hardly worth complaining about. Thankfully, optional English subtitles have been included during the main feature.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

The interface uses original poster artwork; it arrives in a standard keepcase with cover art identical to the menu. This is a dual-layered disc with a switch near the 90-minute mark and, like most Kino DVDs, is locked for Region 1 only.

Bonus Features

Just about everything from the 2004 DVD, including three Featurettes ("In Conversation: Abby Mann and Maximilian Schell", "The Value of a Single Human Being", and "A Tribute to Stanley Kramer") and the film's Theatrical Trailer, which were all ported over to the Blu-ray. Missing from the latter disc is Twilight's signature music-only audio track, and the 2004 DVD's extensive photo gallery also hasn't made the cut. Not a huge loss, but somewhat disappointing.

Final Thoughts

Kino's done film fans a great service by continuing to churn out MGM catalog titles licensed to Twilight Time; though they're unfortunately not available on Blu-ray due to legal reasons, these DVDs use the same superior source elements prepped for the Twilight editions. Judgment at Nuremberg is no exception, as fans are treated to an excellent A/V presentation that easily beats MGM's non-anamorphic 2004 DVD and carries over most of the extras too. So while the Twilight Time Blu-ray remains the version to beat, this is a slightly more affordable alternative for budget-conscious shoppers. Either way, the film's an undisputed classic and Kino's DVD does it justice. Recommended.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.
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