A truly great performance

12 Feb

Montgomery Clift in "Judgment at Nuremberg".

Each time this year, TCM – the cable movie channel – presents, “31 Days of Oscar.” I happened to have tuned in when it was showing the 1961 film, “Judgment at Nuremberg.” I had never seen it. From the beginning, it was easy to tell this film is not only very good, it is very special and unique, with a strong, unusual perspective and a universal message.

I had been expecting anti-German propaganda.

Directed by Stanley Kramer, the film is studded with stars: Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Marlene Dietrich, Montgomery Clift, Judy Garland – even a young William Shatner pops up. The story is about the post-war trials in Germany. Top Nazis have already been prosecuted, and the film focuses on the trial of three judges who approved Nazi-ordered sterilizations (read castrations).

What motivated me to write this post, however, was Montgomery Clift.

His performance on the witness stand as a not-very-intelligent sterilization victim overwhelmed me with its power.

I was never a fan of Monti’s, who looks very different in this film. I had seen him play roles like soldiers and boxers and never felt they were right for him.

As the sad little witness, frightened and damaged, he is incredible. His screen time is a mere 12 minutes.

Please watch. (the first minute or so is missing)

Here is the interesting part, as reported on the Internet Movie Database site: Clift was having an extremely difficult time remembering his lines, so the director told him to ad lib, and that his confusion would ad to the confusion the character was going through under cross examination.

God did that work.

Clift usually cut his hair short after each movie, and didn’t make another until it grew back. In this film, there was no time for it to grow back.

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