Turner Classic Movies had Judy Garland Day last week and, being a gay man of a certain age, I couldn’t resist tuning in at one point to this 24-hour Judy film fest.
Don’t judge me.
But of all of the choices available who knew that it would be a 1961 dour melodrama about four German judges being tried before a postwar military tribunal for their collaboration with Hitler and the Third Reich, Judgment at Nuremberg, that would hit me like a ton of bricks.
I can think of at least five other Judy films that would have been more enjoyable. (Note: Okay — A Star Is Born, The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me In St. Louis, Easter Parade and I Could Go On Singing). Though none that could be more timely.
In hindsight I should have predicted it. Like the currently much lauded, breakthrough post apocalyptic Hulu series, The Handmaid’s Tale (which is about to once again become a multi Emmy winner for its superb second season), you can’t go wrong in 2018 watching a story about a country of people who enable a rabid white nationalist political regime to persecute, maim and/or kill anyone they deem to be a subversive OTHER.
Unless all you want to do is escape and put your _____ in the sand. In which case, you are not only wrong but veering towards the same sheep-like behavior portrayed by some of your fellow countrymen in that movie, that series and no doubt countless other ____________s about to come out on other platforms that will be, at least thematically, very much like them.
Whether we call it the Nazis, the power brokers of Gilead or simply Trumpism – it’s all the same thing. A regime that wants to demonize anyone outside of a select group of people they don’t judge ‘ideal’ – whether they be Jews, the non-religious or Mexican/Middle Eastern immigrants – in order to rouse a base of loyal voters whose lives they promise to improve and whose country they vow to protect and/or rebuild.
This strategy is always advanced with promises to put the people of said country FIRST, declarations that said country is GREAT and proclamations that the rest of the world is NO BETTER morally than they are and usually quite INFERIOR.
Yeah, I don’t like comparing any regime, especially America’s current regime, to the Nazis. But the argument being advanced is not how successful the regime is at achieving their goals or to what ends they will get to go in order to achieve them. Instead, it’s the philosophy and the strategy.
The degree to how far they get to go – well, this is up to their subjects… er….citizenry. In other words – THIS IS UP TO US.
Again, the comparison seemed a bit reach-y. Until too many lines from Judy’s Nazi film, for which she was nominated as Oscar’s best supporting actress that year along with several other cast members in their own categories, began to ring a bell.
— It started when Marlene Dietrich’s upper crust German woman says of Hitler:
He was in awe of nobility but he hated it.
— Then it continued when Montgomery Clift’s ordinary German man recalled the times he was MOCKED by LEADERS of the power class for speaking in a way that seemed slow even when he demonstrated the ability to understand logic.
— It continued when Judy’s youngish German woman recalled how her best friend, a 65 year old Jewish man, was laughed at and held up to mockery by the PUBLIC at his trial simply because he was A JEW. The charges were violating the new law outlawing A JEW having sex with A GERMAN ARYAN (Judy), a charge he was found guilty of and put to death for even though, as it turned out, it never happened.
–Then there was Marlene’s defense of herself and the German people over Americans condemning her after the war:
Listen to me, there are things that happenedon BOTH SIDES.
— Which all finally led to one of the four judges on trial, eloquently played by Burt Lancaster, exposing the lies he and his fellow Germans told themselves about Hitler and the Third Reich:
We say – what difference does it make – our country is at stake – Hitler (He) will be gone after a while. Things denied to US as a democracy are open to us now…. And then one day we looked around and saw what was going to be a passing phase had become a way of life.
Yes, all of these lines were indeed written – by the great screenwriter Abby Mann – but they were based on actual transcripts and stories he culled from the real Nuremberg trials right after the end of WWII.
They were not his thoughts he put into his characters’ mouths so much as a distillation of real sentences and opinions and ideas of the time.
Though perhaps knowing there would be a portion of their audience that still might think they were being too polemic or had gone a bit too far, the filmmakers’ “movie trial” included 5-10 minutes of REAL NEWSREEL FOOTAGE of thousands of actual naked Jewish corpses – as well as others barely alive and starving – to back up their words.
This along with clips and still photos of the real crematoriums, featuring close ups of the popular German oven manufacturer that built them. In addition to historical maps indicating the dozens of specific towns with concentration camps hidden among a significant percentage of German citizenry who either supported Hitler because he was doing some good things or because it was easier to turn a blind eye to the whole ugly mess just because.
It’s difficult to face the truths, or potential truths, of any world, especially our own, but in the end it’s far uglier not to.
As Spencer Tracy’s presiding American judge lets us know at the end of Judgment at Nuremberg in a way only a presiding American judge played by Spencer Tracy could truly make work:
A country is what it stands for – when it’s the most difficult. We stand for justice, truth and the value of a single human being.
Or to put it in 2018 parlance: There’s a reason why Sen. John McCain, who died on Saturday, chose Barack Obama and George W. Bush, a former Democratic president and a former Republican president, to deliver the eulogies at his Capitol Hill memorial service this week rather than the current sitting President of Trumpism.