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Tuesday, June 28, 2016


[Admit One is a series of brief confessions/reactions to finally seeing movies any film nerd should've already seen.]

One of several crowning jewels in Stanley Kramer’s headier-than-thou resume, a brow-furrowed, three-hour adjudication of Nazi war criminals that’s given thankful respite from its melancholy by the periodic display of Marlene Dietrich’s cheekbones. We move through the opening formalities of establishing Spencer Tracy’s tribunal judge character as an everyman (“a hick like me”), a man of principle!, but who we’re told, in several not-so-subtle strokes, should only be understood as the exact opposite of someone who’d fanatically obey the rules like those in the dock. Thus our avuncular and inquisitive conscience-of-the-film is thrust into a case nobody wanted – presiding over the judging of judges who may or may not share partial responsibility for sending Jews to their death in concentration camps during WW2 – and we settle into the rhythm of the movie: a sort of American Idol-like rotation of great actors doing great turns on the stand. These sobering testimonies build upon each other, assisted by several cinematically forward-looking snap-zooms, generating nothing so clear as an easy reckoning of their individual guilt, but at least creating intensely watchable drama, culminating unsettlingly in the prosecution’s courtroom projection of sickening, damning film footage of spent and bulldozed victims at the liberated/death-shrouded camps.

During the final hour, we drift from the abstract question of whether these men were acting in the country’s best, long-viewed interests by cowing to Hitler today, and into the more immediate question of whether Tracy will sentence these men as harshly as we know he wants to now that Germany (and Germany’s good will vis-à-vis America) is needed to help fight the Russkies in the suddenly looming Cold War tomorrow. It’s a shift in focus that makes the movie relevant for all time, as leaders are constantly balance-beaming the cry for social justice and the need for international détente.

As for the parade of fine actors, (Oscar-nominated) Judy Garland plays a woman who is suffering through an invasive re-trial of sorts for supposedly being intimate with an older Jewish man, a bold violation of the fascistic Nuremberg Laws established by Hitler in the 30s. But while her performance is imbued with her always believable, wounded-bird tremble, her arrival to the story falls soon enough after a truly heartbreaking scene by (also Oscar-nominated) Montgomery Clift – whose mentally fractured, sexually emasculated character must testify to his own unfair chemical castration at the hands of unscrupulous doctors – and is so tightly flanked on all sides by rarely-better (also Oscar-nominated) Burt Lancaster and (Oscar-winning) Maximilian Schell, all spouting Abby Mann’s Oscar-winning script, that to my first-viewing eyes, her bona-fides are effectively swamped out. I guess we can blame the Academy for making the movie a rank acting contest, so forgive me if I say that Judy’s three-scene arc is good, but Monty’s lone, ten-minute compendium of squirmy, cornered helplessness made me cry.

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