Last night I watched the Stanley Kramer 3-hour epic Judgment at Nuremberg. I had some disturbing dreams as I slept overnight, which isn’t unexpected given the subject matter of the film, so why did I put myself through this? Because William Shatner is in the movie, of course!
If you’ve never seen Judgment at Nuremberg, it is a powerful movie about the trial of four judges who worked during the Nazi regime and followed Nazi “justice” in their courts. Abby Mann’s script does a fantastic job of examining the culpability of men whose job it was to uphold the law of the land when the law was corrupt. These were educated men, who had worked in the courts long before the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler took over Germany, and they should have known better.
One of the most emotional scenes in the movie shows actual footage of concentration camps as the Allies liberated them (hence my bad dreams). There were some great performances in this picture, most notably by Maximilian Schell, who won an Oscar for playing the defense attorney. Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, and Montgomery Clift round out this cast, but I don’t want to talk about any of them. I want to talk about
and a few other actors with smaller roles.
Shatner plays Capt. Harrison Byers, who works as Chief Judge Dan Haywood’s (Spencer Tracy) aide. Playing a United Statesian (Canadians are also Americans after all) has become easy for Mr. Shatner, though he can sometimes slip into a pronunciation of a word that may sound odd to our ears. He does this in the way he says, “Nazi.” U.S.ers generally pronounce the word to rhyme with “potsie,” but Shatner’s pronunciation has it rhyme with “patsie.” Is this Canadian? To be honest, I’m not completely sure.
As a good Trekker, I recognized this pronunciation from his performance in the TOS episode “Patterns
of Force,” in which a Federation historian turns an unruly planet into one of order and efficiency by introducing it to National Socialism. In order to find the historian and learn what happened, Kirk and the others have to masquerade as Nazis themselves.
Yes, Shatner’s role is small in Nuremberg, but he receives top billing of all the actors after the seven mentioned above. Not bad for a young man of 30.
Any fan of classic TV will recognize a few other actors in this movie as well. Most notably is Werner Klemperer as Emil Hahn, the most fanatically loyal Nazi of the four judges on trial. This is enough to almost make one snicker, since he is more famous as Nazi Col. Wilhelm Klink in Hogan’s Heroes.
There is a great irony in Klemperer being so identified as a Nazi, since he was a Jew whose family was able to escape Nazi Germany in the 1930s. He reportedly agreed to play these types of roles only as long as the character was either shown to be an unrepentant barbarian (as in Nuremberg) or as a bumbling idiot (as in Hogan’s Heroes).
One other future cast member of Hogan turns up in one scene in this awesome film: Howard Caine, better known as Maj. Wolfgang “Who is this man?” Hochstetter. Unlike Klemperer, however, Caine does not play a Nazi, but husband of Judy Garland’s character, who was a victim of the Nazi’s brutal form of “justice.”
For Trekkers, there is one other actor whom you may recognize: Joseph Bernard. Bernard plays Maj. Abe Radnitz, the assistant prosecutor, in Nuremberg. In Star Trek, he played Tark, the father of a dancer who is brutally murdered by an entity that lives on fear and death in “Wolf in the Fold.” The Jack the Ripper episode.
I can’t stress enough how good the writing and acting is in this film. It may give you nightmares afterward, but I think it’s worth it. Another home run for William Shatner!