Montgomery Clift received his fourth and final Oscar nomination for portraying Rudolph Peterson in Judgment At Nuremberg.
Montgomery Clift plays a man who is one of the former victims of the Nazi regime who testifies against German judges involved with Nazism. Here is one of the performances where the actors personal life gives an another level of depth to a performance. The man he plays is a broken man in many ways as Clift was at this time in his life. Clift clearly is not a well man but surprisingly it not distracting and oddly adds to his performance here. Clift uses an effective German accent here that works very well with his character, showing the somewhat slow and off nature of the man without forcing it at all.
When Clift's character is first called in I instantly was interested in him. He instantly shows Peterson as a man who is nervous, scared, and not a complete man with just the way he walks and sits down at the witness stand. His way of demeanor and moving is compelling and instantly shows the nature of Peterson before he says a single word. Clift does not stand still constantly moving showing Peterson's nervousness but moving a caution fearful fashion, not in a shy fashion. Peterson is questioned at how he was mistreated by the Nazi's which he reveals that he was sterilized due to being determined as a simpleton by the Nazis. Clift perfectly shows how Peterson has incredible difficulty in retelling and even thinking about his troubled memories.
Clift shows so much of this poor man in 12 minutes than many actors do in more than an hour. He is excellent in portraying that Peterson tries not to be a victim, happily telling about his family and even jokes briefly about his dealings with the Nazi, but Clift always clearly shows this man is not complete and has clear problems dealing with his situation. His performance really is heartbreaking because how honestly he shows this simple man who was wronged by cruel people, especially when he is also mistreated by one of the judges defense attorneys (Maximilian Schell). His inability to deal with the pressure of the court is incredibly effective, and when he tries to gain sympathy by showing a picture of his mother, is as emotionally powerful as possible. His movements and face are perfect, when he wags his finger at the attorney saying he is wrong, it feels as real and powerful as film scenes get. Clift never rings a false note, every movement seems true and real despite the difficult nature of the character. Clift's one scene here is by far the best scene of the film, his performance left a far greater impression than the film possibly could.