May 24, 2020

THE EDITOR (2014)


More and more, filmmakers, especially those in the horror genre, are looking to the past for a bout of inspiration. Throwback horror films have become a popular movement over the last decade, with the amount of output increasing as filmmakers' love for the '70s and '80s becomes more and more pronounced. Canadian filmmaking group Astron-6 (Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy, Conor Sweeney, Jeremy Gillespie, and Steve Kostanski) count themselves among the Quentin Tarantinos and the Ti Wests whose own films have attempted to both homage and recapture what made certain sub-genres of that era so entertaining, and so ripe for re-exploration.

With The Editor, the latest send-up from the guys who previously brought us their grindhouse ode Father's Day, their "run, robots!" homage Manborg, and the greatest thing of all time, Biocop, our filmmaking sextet have pointed their loving fingers at the mysterious, beautiful, and nearly-pornographic movement known as the giallo . Named for the cheap pulp, crime, and sex novels found on the bottom shelves of bookstores and newsstands during the early '70s (the name "giallo" derives from their uniformly yellow covers), this unusually alluring movement was a mostly European affair, beginning life in Italy with Mario Bava and Dario Argento before moving over to the United States (in a less obviously artistic form) to eventually inspire the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, John Carpenter, and Brian De Palma. The movement was more known for the fluidity of the camera, frank and unobscured sexuality, and healthy doses of grisly violence made beautiful through a purposeful filter design constructed by bold colors, rather than its ability to tell an original story.

Refreshingly, The Editor manages to do both.


Rey Cisco (Brooks) is an aging film editor with a wooden hand, a result from a freak accident one night in his editing suite. While dealing with the undeniable realization that his is an art being slowly left behind, things grow worse for him once a killer begins stalking members of the cast and crew, dispatching them in violent ways and removing four fingers from their one hand - which matches Rey's own malady, naturally incriminating him as the obvious red herring. Investigating these murders is Detective Porfiry (Kennedy), husband to a victimized and now-blind member of the cast, and whose hilarious wardrobe and wild facial hair seems to be invoking every early-'70s iteration of Donald Sutherland that ever existed. Rey's wife, Josephine (Paz de la Huerta), a former and now irrelevant film actress, doesn't make things any better, consistently reminding him that he barely qualifies as a man, nearly forcing him into the arms of his young and doe-eyed assistant, Bella (an adorable Samantha Hill, with whom, after one film, I am already in love). With all eyes on Rey and his seemingly approaching mental breakdown, the killer continues his bloody kill-list one stab wound at a time, leading to a finale that combines one particular character's descent into madness with the beautiful construct and the often unexplored potentials of the giallo sub-genre.

With its painstaking recreation of the giallo movement, right down to the primary-color lighting design, the hideous '70s fashion, and its eclectic soundtrack of new-wave synth artists working to homage that iconic Goblin sound (special shout-out to Carpenter Brut), The Editor should and perhaps will go down as being the most accurate and lovingly engineered throwback that exists so far in the world of the horror homage. Forget Death Proof or the Machete films, and hit pause on House of the Devil (oh no he din't!) - Astron-6 not only has their assured hands all over their concept, but they're not afraid to see those concepts through to the end, even risking isolating the very audience to whom they might be trying to appeal. An oft-used expression is the devil's greatest trick was convincing man he didn't exist, but The Editor's greatest trick was making its audience think they were sitting down with a straightforward parody of the giallo movement before pulling the shag rug out from under them and forcing them into something unexpected. It's through the surprises offered by the unique story that lifts it beyond a simple who-done-it and transplants it in a world that includes additional loving homage to the body-horror era of Cronenberg's early filmography, Nicolas Roeg-era Don't Look Now, and more, with references to horror mainstays (the D'Argento apartment complex; the famed Italian director with the first name of 'Umberto') ever in place.


Not content to just send-up this short-lived and quirky horror sub-genre, Astron-6 continue to rely on the dream-like and abstract world of the giallo while also tapping into that dreamy concept to carry forth its story. From there, The Editor becomes less about a black-gloved, knife-wielding killer and more about the wooden-fingered man who sets out to find the killer's identity, but soon becomes lost in a nightmarish world where he begins to question everything he sees, especially as that world becomes crashing down around him.

All that aside, and also speaking of, The Editor is consistently hilarious; its absurd and at times bizarre humor is used in short spurts. It doesn't offer a laugh-a-minute mentality, but only because it wasn't designed that way (although Kennedy's unhinged detective, as well as his extremely unusual sexual habits, likely walk away with some of the film's most absurd and biggest laughs). Sure, there are some minor digs at the sub-genre's less admirable attributes (the atrocious acting, the poor dubbing, the unrestrained look at sexuality), but The Editor is more concerned with reminding audiences why the giallo movement was such a temporarily captivating time in horror history. The closest thing there ever was to visual poetry within the genre, the giallo proved you could marry grisly content to striking images and create for the audience a ballistic ballet of blood and beauty that, if done correctly, should leave its audience titillated, horrified, and sexually charged all at once. The Editor has managed to do this, all while offering a healthy dose of humor.


One thing that may come as a surprise to someone expecting a more straightforward horror spoof is how strikingly eerie some of the concocted images manage to come across: the blue-eyed phantom who appears intermittently bathed in the blackness of a darkened editing suite actually has the power to send a river of chills down audience spines, and this in a film where one character says to another, "Hey, nice penis! I had a feeling this would be a good night for me!"

Where The Editor falters is during the third-act climax into one character's loss of reality: subplots are introduced that could have easily been removed from the final edit without effecting any significant change to the film's ultimate conclusion. Though the scenes themselves offer a fair bit of humor and homage, they only prove to slow the momentum that The Editor had successfully been building since its face-smashing opening. Not helping is the uneven performance from de la Huerta, an actress whose work has always had one foot firmly planted in the camp of quirk and eccentricity. Her approach sometimes works for a film with purposely heightened sensibilities, but at times just comes across as distracting.

These scarce issues aside, The Editor is a masterful film - not just in the sense of how successful a giallomageTM it manages to be, but also how it circumvents all expectations and manages to add a sense of sincere artistry on top of everything else the audience had already been anticipating. Though it momentarily stumbles during its own storytelling devices, and only when branching off and attempting to inject a new direction into this gone-but-not-forgotten cinema movement, The Editor proves to be yet another unique and unrelentingly entertaining offering from Astron-6.


May 21, 2020

THE KILLER OF DOLLS (1975)


The Killer of Dolls is probably the quirkiest and most bizarre catalog release I’ve seen in years. Though a Spanish production and directed by Miguel Madrid (under alias Michael Skaife), it shares a lot in common with the Italian giallo, right down to the era in which it was made, its style and techniques, and even its reliance on creepy doll imagery. Some folks more learned on the subject wouldn’t quite label it as a giallo, as it’s just different enough to warrant its label as more of a psychological thriller/slasher, but the similarities are definitely there.

One thing that makes the film stand out from its giallo colleagues is that the film’s killer is also its main character. There is no “twist” ending, nor is there a last-act moment that shockingly reveals the killer’s identity. The killer is…Paul (David Rocha), who is very psychologically unhinged, so much that he will literally walk into a dream sequence where things get super crazy before walking right back out again. His mental unrest derives from his domineering mother, who began raising him as a girl after the death of his young sister, and as you can imagine, it’s definitely warped his relationship to women. Paul’s world around him is very skewed, and his walking hallucinations involve people being transposed as mannequins, or vice versa, leaving him to wonder what’s real and what isn’t. 


David Rocha offers a very strong leading performance in an admittedly bizarre concept for a film, and director Madrid is intent on making The Killer of Dolls (also known as Killing of the Dolls) as unique as possible, right down to the random musical number at the beginning of the third act where its participants dance and move like mannequins. It’s actually stranger than I’m making it sound, if you can believe it. There are several murder sequences throughout, and while they may be viewed as graphic, none of them border on the kinds of uncomfortable murder sequences found in Italian gialli or the exploitation films of signori like Joe D’Amato or Bruno Mattei. Fellow Spanish director Jesús Franco’s The Killer of Dolls, for instance, shares similarities in plot and style, even treading the same water with its look at family abuse and dysfunction, but whereas Bloody Moon goes for pulpy thrills, The Killer of Dolls vies for substance, getting deep into Paul’s mangled psyche. 

The Killer of Dolls is now on Blu-ray from Mondo Macabre.

May 18, 2020

THE DEVIL'S CANDY (2015)


The rock ‘n’ roll horror film has somehow become a sub-genre over the years.

Say that phrase and people have their favorites: Rock ‘N’ Roll Nightmare, Hard Rock Zombies, the original Trick or Treat. Rock and horror became somewhat synonymous following the popularity boom of acts like Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, and Kiss, among many others. Their black and dour and chain-ridden iconography and focus on dark lyrics and subject matter made them kindred spirits, so it was only a matter of time before they began to blur the lines and appear in each other’s worlds. Eventually, Alice Cooper was writing songs for Jason Voorhees.

Almost all of these titles weren’t just broadly painted with the horror brush — the films were generally satanic or demonic in nature. Appropriate, being that rock ‘n’ roll was, for a long time, the devil’s music (according to our grandmothers).

The Devil’s Candy is the next step, but also damn refreshing, taking the well-worn trope of “the devil made me do it” and doing something unique with it. Jesse (Ethan Embry) and his daughter  love metal — Metallica, Slayer, and all the rest — but otherwise the film presents them as normal and fully functioning — no hint of a troubled past, no signs of self-harm, depression, etc.


I doubt it’s spoiler material if I say the devil never appears on screen in physical form, nor does anyone become possessed by the devil or any of his minions. And I’m certainly not saying this idea is bad (I tell anyone who will listen about the awesomeness of Let Us Prey, starring Game of Thrones’ Liam Cunningham [Davos] as Beezlebub), but it’s always welcome and appreciative when someone takes a well traveled concept and does something new with it.

Ethan Embry has become a friend to the horror genre over the years, appearing in one of the best Masters of Horror episodes, “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road” (directed by Don Coscarelli), as well as the recent werewolf-at-the-old-folks home flick Late Phases. But if you’re in my demographic, then you remember Embry from one film alone: Can’t Hardly Wait, arguably the Fast Times at Ridgemont High of my generation. Remembering him from that goofball comedy, but seeing him in The Devil’s Candy, makes the actor much more likable in the role, and we, the audience, feel for him when he begins to lose control of his life and fall victim to the dark voices inside his head. The actor is barely recognizable with his Brad Pitt hair and his Bloodsport-era Van Damme body (seriously, I’m a functioning heterosexual and even I was in awe), but his kind and soulful eyes shine through, and every second of pain he experiences is felt by the viewer.

The film is strikingly directed as well, offering a handful of extremely suspenseful, shocking, creepy, and disturbing sequences (not all at once, of course), and this more than includes the excellent finale.
Though The Devil’s Candy runs at a scant 72 minutes, its story never feels incomplete or in need of additional content. It’s not a typical running time for the genre, but there’s nothing wrong with that either. When the film ends, you’ll swear it had only been on for 20 minutes. That’s less to do with running time and more to do with how easily it sucks you in.

May 15, 2020

BOSS (1975)


Boss, also known as The Black Bounty Hunter and its original/credits title Boss Nigger (the one and only time I’ll use that particular title, and for search/posterity only), was released less than one year after Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles. Both films saw a pretty similar plot, though the latter was played for much broader comedic effect: a black sheriff presides over a white town in the Old West and shakes up their culture — along with their women. And while Boss is a comedy, it’s not nearly as on the nose as its most immediate colleague. Being a Blaxploitation title, it also strives to upset the status quo by deviating away from the comedy to revel in darker aspects of humanity’s ugliness. Much of this comes from the hugely offensive exchanges that Boss (Fred Williamson) and his deputy, Amos (D’Urville Martin) engage in as they first arrive in town. (The n-word is thrown around more liberally than Tarantino’s Django Unchained, and that’s saying something.) But it also comes from the violence, the tragedies faced, and in the generally despicable way that the white town treats black and Mexican characters. The Blaxploitation sub-genre could do this like no other, and though it’s a cinematic movement not taken all that seriously due to some of the dubious titles that were released and the unintentionally amusing tropes that became legacy, always hidden within some heinous concepts was an important, and sometimes smartly rendered, morality tale. (Williamson’s Black Caesar is the best example of this.)

Williamson, who wrote and produced Boss, sometimes falls victim to too broadly showing whites as offensive — even those who aren’t trying to be. “Our family in Boston had black people working for us,” begins the white Miss Pruit (Barbara Leigh), and already you begin to cringe — openers like this equate to “I’m no racist, but..” in real life. “They were good people. They used to sing and dance a lot. I used to love to watch them.”

Cut to this face:


In fact, there’s exactly one white character — Pete the Blacksmith — who is a decent man right off the bat; he doesn’t start off as horrid and bigoted before learning the error of his ways. Williamson’s script suggests that, in a town of, maybe, a hundred citizens, one of them isn’t racist.

Yikes.

Though not taken very seriously (Blaxploitation might rank even below horror, which I never thought was possible), the sub-genre was instrumental in doing one main thing: exposing white audiences to black culture, in an effort to humanize them, by sneaking it into otherwise mainstream concepts for films. It’s no mistake that Blaxploitation was launched and enjoyed a nice long successful run following the turbulent fight for civil rights during the 1960s. It was a direct response and reaction to uncertain times and deeply rattled communities. Super Fly is one of the best examples of this covert exposure to black culture, during which the film stops the action several times as its main cast of characters visits a club to watch entire song performances by the film’s soundtrack contributor, Curtis Mayfield. Boss doesn’t follow this same approach, forgoing a look at black culture and instead focuses on the black experience; even when its black characters are in positions of power, specifically law enforcement, they still suffer the indignities of being treated like human garbage by the townsfolk. It’s just that they’re now in a place where they can do something about it. You’ll note, amusingly, that when Boss and Amos begin posting new ordinances all around town about what’s now considered illegal, and what kinds of fines those infractions incur, none of them rank more than a $5 fine — unless, of course, someone uses a racial epithet against someone else. That ranks a solid $20 fine or a day in jail.

Much of Boss is very funny, but it’s that kind of humor where you feel conflicted for laughing, even though that’s what was intended. Williamson knows there’s humor to be found in casual offense; I can’t even imagine what the pearl-clutchers of today’s easily-outraged populace would think as they watched. The strongest point of Boss’ use of humor is that the viewer becomes more easily disarmed during the moments that are genuinely dramatic. You spend so much time laughing about how Amos likes to pursue “fat women,” or at how obliviously terrible the town can be to Boss and Amos, that once a young boy is trampled in the street by the film’s villain, it’s not something you’d expect and it packs a surprising punch.

Blaxploitation very rarely infiltrated the western genre, even though the idea to do so harks back to 1938 with Two-Gun Man from Harlem, but with Williamson as the lead/co-writer/producer and veteran Jack Arnold (Creature from the Black Lagoon — irony!) at the helm, it’s doubtful any other duo could have pulled off a more entertaining and even poignant film.


May 12, 2020

I KILL DRAGONS (2017)


(Immediate spoilers to follow. RUN.)

Its 2008 graphic novel notwithstanding, I Kill Giants shares almost an uncomfortable amount of similarity to 2016’s A Monster Calls, itself based on a novel of the same name published in 2011. In both stories, two adolescents escape into the confines of their imaginations to help them make sense of, and try to stop, the cancer that’s eating away at their mothers. Their refusal to accept what is, and which can’t be stopped, forces them to create worlds where they are strong and fearless and, most importantly, victorious. In our own dark times, we often create alternate realities in which to exist where that loved one hasn’t yet passed on, or where the person you love also loves you back. In spite of the momentary moments of comfort this can bring us, reality is never too far behind. Films like A Monster Calls and I Kill Giants are allegories for the grieving process; through our young antagonists, we confront the fears of our past and the things which have brought us the most pain and we resurrect that sensation of dealing with something entirely out of our control. Both films offer hope — not for a favorable outcome, but for one where the world won’t end, and life can still go on.

Madison Wolfe (previously seen as another beleaguered character in The Conjuring 2) is a tremendous young actress; that she’s already appeared in the likes of Trumbo and True Detective also shows that she knows a good project when she sees it. All of I Kill Giants rides on her shoulders; very few scenes take place without her. And in them she’s either fierce, or stubborn, or acerbically funny. Zoe Saldana as the school’s counselor also does great and affecting work; the scenes between Wolfe and Saldana are among the strongest in the film, and Saldana provides the maternal care that seems to be otherwise missing from Barbara’s life, despite the best intention of her older sister, Karen (an excellent Imogen Poots).


Also of note: the impressive use of CGI for what is clearly a low budget affair. Given the title and concept, yes, giants are brought to life using a mixture of computer graphic imagery and animation, and it never once looks cheap or hokey. Films with similar budgets rely on CGI solely for gunshot wounds and even they manage to look extremely unconvincing. In I Kill Giants, every use of CGI looks theatrical-worthy, and it’s not intermittently used, either. The machinations of Barbara’s imagination are a near constant presence and they are always worthy of tent pole expectations.

Being someone very emotionally affected by A Monster Calls, the secret behind I Kill Giants reveals itself a little earlier than the filmmakers intended. Upon this realization, the goodwill earned up to that point deflates just a bit, but through its performances and its emotional honesty, it earns  the same amount of goodwill as its predecessor by its end. Though the former reigns supreme over the latter, I Kill Giants deserves to stand side-by-side with its spiritual counterpart. It’s still an extremely touching story with an equally important message, and what’s the harm in allowing films to share that burden beyond just the one title?



May 9, 2020

WALKING OUT (2017)

 

The father/son bond is one of film’s most explored relationships, more so than mother/ daughter/anyone else, and that’s because men are hard headed and stubborn and create a lot of their own problems. That’s hard-wired into our DNA. A father wants his son to find his way in life, whether it’s being exactly like him or nothing like him. And a son, likewise, wants to find his own way and prove to his father that he can do it. When this relationship is portrayed on-screen, it can be powerful because men are rarely given the opportunity to look vulnerable.

The way Walking Out handles it is one of the more unique approaches, in that even though Father (Bomer) and Son (Wiggins) are estranged, they are not strangers. There is a mutual love there. The son, David, might show trepidation for spending a trip in the frigid wilderness hunting with his gruff father, but it’s not the kind of conflict where that’s the last place he wants to be and therefore he’ll be a total brat about it. Meanwhile, the father, Cal, still holds a grudge against David’s mother for having left him, which may or may not be leaking out in the way he treats his son. Cal, as played by Bomer, very finely treads that line between being a likable character and one whom you wish would treat his son better. He’s hard on David in a way that’s likely (and hopefully) beyond the way fathers generally treat their sons. Cal doesn’t have a passive bone in his body, and if there’s a way he can educate his son on the fineries of hunting, but which almost always extends to life in general, he will do so — even if in the form of shaming him. Despite this, there is love there between them, and it’s a love that grows as the two end up depending on each other to escape the wintry wilderness alive — Cal with his knowledge, and David with his strength.


For 95% of the time, Bomer and Wiggins are the only characters on screen, and both of them give great performances, with Bomer’s loving but prickly Cal being a tough balancing act. Bill Pullman appears in flashback sequences as Cal’s own father, managing to echo a similarly gruff but loving exterior he would soon pass onto his son.

Walking Out is gorgeously shot, mostly on location in the woods and mountains of Montana.  It’s one of those films shot in the cold that makes you feel the cold, so between that and the harshness that Cal and David endure, it makes for a bleak and grueling watch at times — but by design. It’s not one of those films that’s designed to make its audience feel like they’ve experienced a thrilling adventure, but more like an emotional awakening. By its end, yes, it doesn’t offer the kind of ultimate experience that the father/son bonding film usually offers, but, sadly, it might be one that sometimes echoes closer to reality.

May 6, 2020

BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 (2017)


The words “horror-western,” “cannibal tribe,” and “Kurt Russell” left me intensely excited for writer/director Craig Zahler’s directorial debut, Bone Tomahawk. After months of anticipation, finally seeing it was an underwhelming experience. Running at 2 hours and 12 minutes, the first two acts were slowly paced — lots of characters talking to each other and allowing their personalities to rub each other the wrong way. This was Bone Tomahawk’s overall biggest criticism, but it wasn’t something I personally minded, because when you’ve got actors like Russell, Bruce Dern, and Patrick Wilson playing these old west characters speaking to each other in that old west way, it was all very charming — not to mention well written, and very Linklaterish in that conversation realism, even if it didn’t seem to be leading to anything in particular. The third act, however, dramatically changes the tenure of the film, during which Russell and co. finally meet this cannibal tribe, and not everyone makes it out alive. What began as something different and daring ended with very cheap looking sets and graphic violence that kind of came out of nowhere.

Despite that, I made a note of Zahler’s name, largely because of how he approached writing and directing such a left-field kind of story while attracting A-list talent for a genre title. So when his sophomore effort, Brawl in Cell Block 99, began gearing up, I felt that familiar anticipation creeping in.


This time, I was not at all disappointed. On the contrary, it’s incredible — audacious, ballsy, (and daring) — a grindhouse flick that actually feels like a grindhouse flick rather than the gawdy Grindhouse double feature from Tarantino and Rodriguez, or its bastards Hobo with a Shotgun and the Machete series. From its mythical lead bad-ass (Bradley Thomas, as played by an intimidating Vince Vaughn), to its increasingly depressing prison settings (a popular environment for grindhouse flicks), to its array of cartoonish villains (a perfectly calibrated Don Johnson), Brawl in Cell Block 99 feels like the first film in a long time to not only properly make good on its grindhouse roots, but to present something sincere. What does that mean? It means that while something like Hobo with a Shotgun could be argued as being a fun and frantic experience, it’s not necessarily a good film. Brawl in Cell Block 99 is. It somehow manages to dip its toes into both pools with great success. Its special effects (all practical) are presented as purposely hokey; the level of violence Vaughn’s Bradley commits against his target is so graphic that it almost has to be — extremely realistic effects would have robbed the film from its intended camp value, and sometimes these hokey effects threaten to fly in the face of the otherwise razor-serious tone, but it’s a perfect balancing act; these two at-odds approaches complement each other rather than come to blows. Never in a million years did I think I’d ever see Vaughn and genre favorite Udo Kier sharing the screen — between that and the odd but somehow appropriate R&B/soul-driven soundtrack, Brawl in Cell Block 99 should be scattered and random, but yet it all works. And Udo Kier calmly driving down a quiet suburban street listening to soul is just hilarious to me — don’t ask me why. Perhaps the kidnapped, bound, and gagged pregnant woman and sadistic doctor in the backseat have something to do with the absurdity of the moment.

Far too exact to be coincidental, Brawl in Cell Block 99 also runs at 2 hours and 12 minutes (this must be Zahler’s lucky number), and while he again employs his very deliberate pace, this time it feels like a grand design — something part of the plan; incremental rising action. We already know from the outset that Bradley ends up in a hellish prison landscape, so the first half of the film plays with that, putting him on a path that eventually leads him there. Unlike Bone Tomahawk, the pace here is effectively executed — the film opens with a detectable amount of tension, and slowly builds and builds until those prison bars slam home behind the bald-headed and cross-tattooed Bradley Thomas. 


Film fans often seem surprised when Vaughn goes dramatic, but he’s played just as many serious roles as he has comedic ones, even having played a serial killer twice — in the horrid Psycho remake and the underrated thriller Clay Pigeons. And if we can thank the boring second season of True Detective for anything, it’s for reintroducing that idea of a serious Vince Vaughn to a wide audience. Vaughn rides that reasonable good will and ups the ante with Bradley Thomas, who makes for one of the best characters he’s ever played, and results in one of his best performances. It’s through his portrayal of his character that you never doubt for one moment the surreal violence he’s able to commit against those who deserve it — and a couple folks who don’t.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a huge surprise. Don’t miss it.

May 3, 2020

JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG (1961)


It's 1948 in Nuremberg, Germany. World War II has been over for two years, and the Allied powers have organized an official tribunal against four former Nazi judges who used the judicial system to sanction the vilest atrocities ever committed against mankind. What should be the easiest slam dunk in tribunal history is anything but, and the entire world's eyes are on this modest courtroom where the German defense attorney has posited a very slippery and controversial counter-argument against the culpability of his clients: with which individual or hierarchy does guilt cease? Is Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster) the demon boogeyman that deserves to be formally charged for crimes against humanity? Or is it himself along with the three other judges sharing space on the same dock? Or, ultimately, is it all of Germany, or the world - its smaller governments and its people - who watched the Third Reich attempt to decimate an entire nationality and who did nothing to stop it? Chief Judge Day Haywood (Spencer Tracy) has the sad honor of overseeing such a claim. He, along with two other judges, must hear the relentless defense attorney Hans Rolfe (Maximillian Schell) argue using that latter tactic - that to condemn one men, or four, is to condemn an entire nation.

So says Mrs. Bertholt (Marlene Dietrich), owner of the house in which the stationed Chief Judge Haywood is staying: "I have a mission with you Americans: to convince you we're not all monsters."


Judgment at Nuremberg is phenomenal. Those more learned and cultured than I in the history of landmark cinema have already far more properly lauded this 1961 powerhouse directed by Stanley Kramer than I ever could. From the performances to the lush production design to the absolute best component, the flawless screenplay by Abby Man, Judgment at Nuremberg rightfully maintains its status as being one of the greatest films of all time. Despite the presence of legends Spencer Tracy and Burt Lancaster, it's the performance of Schell as Defense Attorney Rolfe who provides the film's best character (and for which he won an Academy Award). Like Judgment at Nuremberg, in which a world-changing event spearheaded by the Nazi party committed to the pages of history the worst crimes man could ever commit to man, Rolfe becomes the embodiment of the spectacle in which these tribunals were viewed. Defend those monsters? Give them a voice and an audience? But instead of taking the easy way out and painting Rolfe as a typical unlikable archetype, Schell instead imbues upon his character as much sympathy as he can while remaining within the realm of realism. Watch as he shows no restraint with the prosecution's first expert witness, his fury bolstered by what he views as hypocrisy, but then watch him with the prosecution's second witness, a mentally unbalanced man who suffered forced sexual sterility under orders of the Nazi regime - watch as Rolfe straddles that line between defending his clients while still personifying his at-odds position on how he must do so. Rolfe treats the witness with kid gloves, as he knows there's a certain level of bastard he needs to obtain in order to render the witness's testimony as invalid.

The character of Rolfe and performance by Schell mirror the very idea behind the Nuremberg trials: Not everything is black and white. There are no easy answers.

There has been no film about the atrocities and subsequent condemnation of Nazi Germany more important than Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg. Both culturally significant and cinematically brilliant, it will not only remain one of the greatest all-time films, but the greatest courtroom drama ever made, alongside Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men. Interestingly, there's a scene in the film where an American journalist bemoans that he couldn't "give a story away" about the Nuremberg trials to American readers, as they had already become hardened and indifferent to the events of the war. And yet, fifty years later, Judgment at Nuremberg still has the power to shock, disgust, and educate - not only about what it was like to put a way of life on trial, but to live within its shadow.