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Serious Stanley Kramer

January 10, 2011

by John Farr

As Reel 13 prepares to air the Stanley Kramer Classic, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, John Farr selects three of the late director’s most intense works.


The Defiant Ones (1958)

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WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

When convicts John “Joker” Jackson (Tony Curtis) and Noah Cullen (Sidney Poitier) escape a chain gang manacled together, they must put aside their mutual antipathy. Jackson’s an uneducated Southern bigot who doesn’t hide his contempt for Cullen, while Cullen exhibits his own well-earned hatred of “crackers”. Still, given the circumstances, they must rely on their combined resources to survive.

WHY I LOVE IT:

Another of maverick producer/director Kramer’s consciousness-raising social films, this tale proved a potent metaphor for race relations in 1958. Virtually simultaneous with the rise of the civil-rights movement, this progressive adventure eloquently presented the case for racial harmony in the story of a gutsy prison-break film. Poitier-who at age 30 was set to go where no black actor had gone before–more than holds his own with Curtis, then a big star, who plays the despicable “Joker” to perfection.


On the Beach (1959)

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WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

After learning that a nuclear holocaust has wiped out most of humanity, U.S.S. Sawfish sub commander Capt. Dwight Towers (Gregory Peck) finds a group of survivors near Melbourne, including lovely Moira (Ava Gardner), guilt-ridden scientist Julian Osborn (Fred Astaire), and newlyweds Peter (Anthony Perkins) and Mary Holmes (Donna Anderson). Knowing that slowly creeping radiation from the northern hemisphere will eventually kill them all, each deals with the impending doom in their own way.

WHY I LOVE IT:

A stark wake-up call in its time, Kramer’s blunt, unswervingly bleak doomsday classic was based on a popular novel by Nevil Shute and premiered in major cities around the world on the same day in 1959. Though hardly subtle, “Beach” does boast fine performances by Peck, Gardner, a young Perkins, and Astaire in his first purely dramatic role, playing wildly (and confidently) against type as an intellectual with a heavy conscience.


Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

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WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

This dramatization of the famous Nuremberg trials centers on Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy), who’s sent to Germany as chief Allied judge (Haywood’s character was based on real-life jurist Robert Jackson). Prosecutor Tad Lawson (Richard Widmark) tries a group of top-level Nazis for complying with Hitler’s inhumane edicts, facing off against defense attorney Hans Rolfe (Max Schell). As Haywood presides over the historic trial, he ponders where the great nation went wrong, and how to apportion the blame.

WHY I LOVE IT:

Long but brilliant, “Judgment” was a box-office sensation, due to director Kramer’s sensitive, socially conscious approach, which examines the degree to which people should be held responsible for following orders. The movie includes a host of sterling performances: Schell stands out as the impassioned defense attorney (the part netted him an Oscar), as do Montgomery Clift and Judy Garland, whose tragic characters poignantly mirror the consuming sadness in their real lives. “Judgment” is an absorbing, true-to-life reckoning with the infamous Nazi legacy and the nature of modern justice.


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  • comments (0)
  • rayban

    Great choices, John, I also have a fondness for “Not As A Stranger”(1955) and “Ship Of Fools” (1965). As a film producer, Kramer also has a long list of credits and I particularly love “The Happy Time” with Bobby Driscoll (1952) and “The 5,000 Fingers of Doctor T” with Tommy Rettig (1953).

  • John Farr

    love 5,000 fingers as well!

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