[Quick Summary: A tribunal decides the innocence or guilt of four German judges who were on the bench during WWII.]
How do you make a 1948 war crimes trial that lasted 8 months appealing? Relevant?
This script could've been a boring trial, but writer Abby Mann* kept it interesting:
- The story follows Justice Haywood (played by Spenser Tracy) who is a fish-out-of-water. He is very curious, and takes us outside the courtroom into every day life.
- I expected the courtroom scenes that follow the prosecutor, defense attorneys, etc. However, I did not expect so many character scenes outside the courtroom.
- I really liked how Mann structured the story to show Haywood's inner conflict about judging other judges' innocence or guilt:
1) We see glimpses of the inner conflict, here and there, mixed with humor.**
2) Mann personifies the German point of view through the character of Mrs. Berholt, a German widow with whom Haywood bonds with over music.
She represents the Germans (like her husband) who did not want the Nazis in power, but were swept up in the mess, and falsely accused of crimes and punished.
She makes Haywood face the fact that the issues are not black and white:
"ex. MRS. BERHOLT: What did he know about the crimes they cited him for? (pause) He was placed on trial with the other military leaders. He became part of the revenge which the victors always take on the vanquished...(simply, devastatingly)...it was political murder. (pause. Quietly look at Haywood) You can see that, can't you?
Pause. There is a moment. Haywood speaks finally. Obviously terribly moved by what she has said but not looking at her.
HAYWOOD (finally): Mrs. Bertholt. I don't know. (pause) I don't know what I see. (pause) I shouldn't be here right now talking to you. But I want to understand. I want to understand. I have to.
Mrs. Bertholt looks at him a moment. The stooped, agonized bulk of man sitting on the couch. She realizes how fully he is involved with his case and how much he really wishes to do what is right.
He is giving back to her the memory of the people in America that she had most come to admire. There is a moment.
MRS. BERTHOLT (gently): Would you like some more coffee?
HAYWOOD (quietly): Yes. I would.
Mrs. Bertholt begins to pour."
WHAT I'VE LEARNED: One way to show the protagonist's inner conflict is to set him/her against another antagonist/friend/bystander who strongly takes one side in the conflict.
Now the protagonist's inner opinions will be brought out in the open.
Judgment at Nuremburg (1961)
by Abby Mann
Adapted from his 1959 teleplay (play here)(original 1959 video broadcast here)
*FYI: Mann is also the writer who brought the great Kojack (1973) to tv.
**The glimpses were just enough. I so appreciate that it is not heavy handed conflict, ALL THE TIME. Otherwise, it would have felt like a lecture.