Showing posts with label nazis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nazis. Show all posts

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.


Mar 23, 2020

ZONE TROOPERS (1985)


If you've never seen Zone Troopers, but you also like your war films served with a dash of alien silliness, than this '40s-set, Italian-shot production has been eluding you ever since you began developing your weird, weird proclivities.

Starring Lord of the B-Movies Tim Thomerson, as well as Hitler, Zone Troopers is an homage to so many things: the war film, the sci-fi film, Hogan's Heroes, and more. Not carnage-ridden enough to capture the essence of war, not horrific enough to fully exploit the visuals of invading aliens, but entirely silly and spoofy enough to lovingly capture that Hogan's Heroes absurdity, Zone Troopers is a film made to honor bygone eras of cinema where it was okay to slap a half-dozen men in ludicrous space costumes and film them as they stumble through the brush of an Italian wood. That Zone Troopers somehow not only exists in the world in general, but now exists in high-definition, continues to prove that the world is just one big, ol' mystery.


It's hard to critique such a quirky construction as Zone Troopers, considering every tongue was in every cheek during the genesis of the script. Van Patten and LaFleur's performance are Vaudevillian perfect, at times overdoing it as if they were starring in a stage production instead of a film, and this would be fine except that their takes don't quite mesh well with Thomerson's more reserved and gruff take on Sarge. The script itself manages to be amusing at times, but even at a scant running time of 86 minutes, the film still somehow feels like it's stretching this oddball concept - U.S. Military and Aliens vs. Nazis - to the breaking point.

Its obvious golden-age cinema inspirations aside, if Zone Troopers were attempting to serve as an allegory for anything at all, that remains to be seen. However, one aspect of the film remains interesting: when the soldiers meet the alien crew for the first time, only one of them sports the fly-head, crab-mouth creation which receives the most prominence during the film. Because of the film's very low budget, creating additional masks was out of the question, so instead they tweaked the remaining alien designs by spreading silver paint across their unmasked faces. The interesting thing earlier mentioned: these aliens are given blonde hair and blue eyes. What's too obviously a parallel to the "master race" the Nazis were trying to create is never fully realized, so whether or not this was a happy/unhappy accident committed during production, or if such a parallel was purposely included but fully lost within the cheesy confines of a cheesy film, only those who made the film know for sure.

Zone Troopers is about American soldiers teaming up with aliens to fight Nazis. You either know you want to see that or you don't. 


Apr 12, 2015

AND THE BAND PLAYED ON

The Nazis were truly sadistic when it came to psychological torture, and they were even able to turn music into a weapon of misery. The moment an inmate arrived at the camp, an orchestra (usually comprised of prisoners) would play obscenely upbeat music, which inmates had to sing and march to as they walked toward their death. The music continued even while people were being gassed; however, even with a full orchestra, they were rarely able to drown out the screaming.The guilt of doing this haunted survivors for decades after the war.


Story and image source.

Feb 11, 2015

FOG

Once I was camping by myself in the woods in Western Germany near the French border. I had hiked remote forest road for a few miles and stumbled across an old German bunker, which wasn't unusual for this area. The top was caved in, but the walls were intact. I climbed around it and peered inside. It was more like a fortified guard shack than a fortress, and I spent some time exploring the two rooms. By the time I had finished, it was starting to get dark and I decided to camp at a spot I had seen a short distance away instead of staying in the bunker. After setting up my tent, I made a small fire and had dinner. Then I settled down to listen to the woods and enjoy nature. The fire burned down to embers and only gave off light when you looked directly at it. You could see the stars through the forest canopy and it got very quiet. At some point I fell asleep next to the fire.

Some time later I awoke. The fog had rolled in and it was so thick you couldn't see more than twenty feet. I couldn't figure out what had woken me up until I heard someone speaking a short distance away: the kind of loud laughing you hear around a campfire as friends share a beer and tell each other lies about the women they've known. It was far enough away that I couldn't follow the conversation, but it seemed to be coming from the bunker. I figured the place must a local hangout for the adventurous and decided to go down, have a look, maybe introduce myself and make some new friends. Moving carefully through the night fog, I made my way down the hill towards the back of the bunker. The laughter was louder as I approached and I started to see what appeared to be kerosene lights.

Just as I was about to say something, it struck me that the roof was back on the bunker. And the figures moving around the light appeared to be dressed in gray uniforms. I froze in place and watched for a few minutes as they appeared to play cards and joke with one another. I'm certain they were wearing Nazi uniforms. I backed away and quietly made my way to my camp. I checked the fire, but it was out. I spent the next several hours awake listening to the them. Then the fog began to clear out and sound faded away.

In the morning, I could see down the hill to the bunker and the roof was caved in again. And there was no sign anyone was there. Was it my imagination? Or a Nazi reenactment group (which is illegal in Germany)? I don't think so. I'm convinced the fog opened a window back to an obscure checkpoint on a wooded road into France. And several bored soldiers were passing a quiet night while waiting for any vehicles that happened to drive by.

That's not the only time I've seen something in a deep fog I can't explain. It's like a bridge between worlds. When it's so thick you can't see ten feet in front of your face, I try not go outside anymore.


Story source.