American born 1913. Degree from NYU in business adminstration 1933. Starts in film at 20th Century Fox as writer. 1943-45 serves in Army Signal Corps making training films. Works as independent producer until 1955 when begins producing and directing. At a time when Hollywood lost interest in social issue films SK made a steady stream during the 1950s and 1960s with only occasional lapses into preachiness. SK made films which dealt with issues of criminality, mental illness, rehabilitation of veterans, racism, student unrest, junvenile delinquency, need to support legitimate authority, nuclear war


  • "The Defiant Ones" (1958)
  • "On the Beach" (1959)
  • "Judgement at Nuremberg" (1960)
  • "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" (1967).



  • a New England judge - Spencer Tracy
  • the army prosecutor - Richard Widmark
  • the German defense attorney - Maximilian Schell
  • the widow of a convicted German general executed for ordering the execution of American POWs - Marlene Dietrich
  • the academic German judge Ernst Janning - Burt Lancaster
  • the working class and feeble-minded victim of Nazi sterilisation policies Petersen - Montgomery Clift
  • the young Jewish woman Irene Hoffman - Judy Garland

A long and bleak courtroom drama which was first to deal with the Nuremberg trials. Takes place in 1948 nearly 3 years after the most important Nazi leaders had already been tried. Main characters: a New England judge (Spencer Tracy) newly arrived in Nuremberg who typifies the educated Americans who cannot understand how a cultured people like the Germans could support Hitler and the Nazis; the army prosecutor (Richard Widmark) who prosecutes with some personal animosity a group of Nazi judges for assisting in the carrying out of the Nazi racial policies; the defense attorney (Maximilian Schell) who defends the judges with perhaps too much passion, arguing that it is the function of judges in any society to uphold the laws enacted by the government and that to judge these individual men is to put all of Germany on trial for complicity; the widow (Marlene Dietrich) of a convicted German general executed for ordering the execution of American POWs; the academic German judge Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster) who reluctantly carried out the duties of a judge under the Nazis; the working class and feeble-minded victim of Nazi sterilisation policies Petersen (Montgomery Clift); the young woman Irene Hoffman (Judy Garland) convicted by the Nazis for "polluting the Aryan race" by having sex with a Jew thus violating the Nuremberg Laws.


  • the issue of food shortages, ration cards for ordinary Germans before Erhard's currency reforms and deregulation decree
  • legal and moral dilemma of prosecuting those who were carrying out "law" of Nazi government, who committed crimes in the name of the law. The dissenting American judge argues that these matters cannot be decided in a court of law which serves a different function. Raises question whether there is a "higher law" to which all governments can be held accountable? ("justice, truth, value of a single human being"); or is this a "game" being played by the victors over the vanquished? is this a true trial or a "political" trial (intervention of Cold War during trial)?
  • clever way SK shifts in mid-sentence from voice of interpreter to English language dialogue, realism of court room
  • prosecutor's attempts to show that the hands of the American judges are also blood-stained, quotes Oliver Wendall Holmes' views in favour of sterilization, morality of civilian deaths at Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • problem of what "ordinary Germans" knew about concentration and death camps during war, films of Dachau, Belsen, Buchenwald
  • accusations against judges - enforced Nuremberg laws concerning racial pollution, forced sterilisation, knowingly signed orders for secret arrest and deportation of victims to camps.
  • references to Berlin Blocade on radio, intensification of Cold War meant Americans now wanted support of German people and state in conflict with USSR, need to bring war crimes trials to an end for political reasons
  • Ernst Janning's reasons for not opposing Nazis - "fever" swept Germany in 1930s, love of country, believed Nazis "passing phase" which would pass, underestimated their hold on power and public support.
  • defense attorney's arguments in support or mitigation - fact that all judges forced to swear Civil Sevant Loyalty Oath of 1934, all those who supported or tolerated Nazis are guilty not just these individuals; other nations supported Hitler (USSR with Hitler-Stalin Pact, Vatican with concordat of 1933, Churchill's 1938 letter to Times supporting Hitler, American industrialists who helped finiance or supply German rearmament)
  • final conversation between American judge (ST) and Janning.
J: "I never knew it would come to that."
ST: "It came to that the first time you sentenced a man you knew to be innocent."