There’s more talk in this moral-packed melodrama than most modern audiences appreciate, but behind all that oratory is splendid acting. The story takes place at one of the later, lesser war crimes trials in the late 1940s; the defendants aren’t the perpetrators of the slaughter but the judges who provided the legal rubber stamp. At issue is their actual level of responsibility. A fiery Maximilian Schell portrays the idealistic German attorney who offers the accused justices a spirited defense, and Garland and Montgomery Clift tamp down their star power to present timorous victims seeking to be heard. But the movie belongs to the subtly powerful Tracy, playing an elderly American judge drawn out of retirement to hear the case. His scenes with Marlene Dietrich, as the widow of a German general, are especially riveting, with the two exploring the question of whether there can be true right and wrong in war, or whether there are merely winners and losers. Under civility usually lies cynicism; under Tracy’s lies moral strength.
EXTRAS Included are conversations with the film’s Oscar winners, Schell and screenwriter Abby Mann.