Stanley Kramer was an American film director and producer, best known for his socially conscious films that tackled controversial topics and promoted progressive values.
He was a pioneer of the “message movie” genre, using his films to challenge societal norms and encourage audiences to think critically about important issues. Here are three of his best films:
“Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961) – This powerful courtroom drama explores the Nazi war crimes trials that took place in Nuremberg after World War II.
Starring Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, and Richard Widmark, the film examines the morality of holding individuals responsible for the atrocities committed by a whole nation.
The film was critically acclaimed and won several awards, including two Academy Awards.
“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967) – This groundbreaking film explores interracial marriage at a time when it was still illegal in many parts of the United States.
Starring Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn, and Spencer Tracy in his final film role, the film portrays the challenges faced by a young couple as they navigate the prejudices of their families and society. The film was a box office success and was praised for its progressive message.
“Inherit the Wind” (1960) – This film is based on the famous Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925, in which a Tennessee teacher was charged with teaching evolution in violation of state law.
Starring Spencer Tracy and Fredric March, the film examines the clash between science and religion, and the struggle to defend intellectual freedom in the face of religious fundamentalism.
The film was a critical and commercial success, and is still considered a classic of American cinema.
Best Stanley Kramer Movies
Let’s check out Stanley Kramers’s top films.
1. Not as a Stranger (1955)
“Not as a Stranger” is a 1955 drama film directed by Stanley Kramer and starring Olivia de Havilland, Robert Mitchum, and Frank Sinatra.
The film is based on the novel of the same name by Morton Thompson and follows the story of a young medical student, played by Mitchum, who struggles to make ends meet while trying to get through medical school.
Along the way, he falls in love with a wealthy socialite, played by de Havilland, and faces a series of ethical and personal challenges.
Here are a few reasons why “Not as a Stranger” is worth watching:
Strong performances: The film features strong performances from its lead actors, particularly Robert Mitchum and Olivia de Havilland.
Mitchum brings a brooding intensity to his role as the troubled medical student, while de Havilland delivers a nuanced and complex portrayal of the wealthy socialite.
Complex themes: “Not as a Stranger” tackles a number of complex themes, including ethics in medicine, social class, and the struggle to make a better life for oneself.
The film’s exploration of these themes is both thought-provoking and emotionally resonant.
Expert direction: Stanley Kramer was a masterful director who knew how to craft powerful and impactful dramas. His direction on “Not as a Stranger” is no exception, with the film featuring expertly shot and edited scenes that heighten the emotional stakes of the story.
Overall, “Not as a Stranger” is a compelling and emotionally charged drama that features strong performances, complex themes, and expert direction. It is a must-see for fans of classic Hollywood cinema and anyone who appreciates powerful storytelling.
2. The Pride and the Passion (1957)
“The Pride and the Passion” is a 1957 war film directed by Stanley Kramer and starring Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, and Sophia Loren.
The movie is set during the Napoleonic Wars and follows a group of Spanish guerrilla fighters who attempt to transport a massive cannon across enemy lines to aid in the fight against the French.
While the film features a talented cast and impressive visuals, it was not as successful critically or commercially as some of its contemporaries.
Critics noted issues with pacing, lack of character development, and historical accuracy. However, it remains a notable entry in the war film genre and has its fans who appreciate its performances and sweeping epic feel.
3. The Defiant Ones (1958)
“The Defiant Ones” is a 1958 drama film directed by Stanley Kramer and starring Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis.
The film follows two escaped convicts, one black and one white, who are shackled together and forced to work together to evade capture. Along the way, they confront their own prejudices and come to a greater understanding of each other.
Here are a few reasons why “The Defiant Ones” is worth watching:
Powerful performances: Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis deliver powerful performances as the two escaped convicts.
The film was groundbreaking for its time in its portrayal of a black and white man working together as equals, and Poitier and Curtis bring a depth and complexity to their characters that elevates the film.
Tackles important social issues: “The Defiant Ones” is a socially conscious film that tackles important issues of race, prejudice, and inequality.
The film’s message of empathy and understanding is as relevant today as it was when the film was released over 60 years ago.
Expert direction: Stanley Kramer was a masterful director who knew how to craft powerful and impactful dramas. His direction on “The Defiant Ones” is no exception, with the film featuring expertly shot and edited scenes that heighten the emotional stakes of the story.
Overall, “The Defiant Ones” is a groundbreaking and socially conscious drama that features powerful performances, important themes, and expert direction.
It is a must-see for fans of classic Hollywood cinema and anyone who appreciates powerful storytelling.
4. On the Beach (1959)
“On the Beach” is a 1959 post-apocalyptic science fiction drama film directed by Stanley Kramer and based on the novel of the same name by Nevil Shute. The movie stars Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, and Fred Astaire, among others.
The story takes place in the aftermath of a nuclear war that has devastated the world, and follows a group of survivors in Australia as they come to terms with their impending death due to radiation poisoning.
The film received critical acclaim for its exploration of themes such as the threat of nuclear war, the consequences of human actions, and the human capacity for love and compassion in the face of tragedy.
The performances of the cast were also praised, particularly those of Peck and Gardner. “On the Beach” remains a poignant and thought-provoking film that continues to be relevant today as the threat of nuclear war and the dangers of global conflict remain ongoing concerns.
5. Inherit the Wind (1960)
“Inherit the Wind” is a 1960 American drama film directed by Stanley Kramer and starring Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, and Gene Kelly.
The film is based on the famous Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925, in which a high school science teacher, John T. Scopes, was charged with teaching evolution in violation of a Tennessee state law that forbade the teaching of any theory that denied the biblical account of creation.
The film portrays the fictionalized story of a similar trial, with Spencer Tracy playing the role of Henry Drummond, a lawyer defending the science teacher, and Fredric March playing the role of Matthew Harrison Brady, a religious fundamentalist prosecuting the teacher.
The film explores themes of intellectual freedom, the conflict between science and religion, and the role of government in determining what can and cannot be taught in schools.
“Inherit the Wind” was a critical and commercial success upon its release, and is still considered a classic of American cinema.
The film was praised for its strong performances, particularly by Spencer Tracy and Fredric March, as well as its timely and relevant message about the importance of free thought and open inquiry in a democratic society.
6. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
“Judgment at Nuremberg” is a 1961 American courtroom drama film directed by Stanley Kramer and starring Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Maximilian Schell, and Judy Garland.
The film depicts the trial of four German judges who served on the bench during the Nazi regime, and examines the complicity of the German legal system in the crimes of the Holocaust.
The film is set in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1948, and follows the trial of four judges accused of crimes against humanity.
The judges are represented by a German defense attorney (Schell) who argues that they were only following orders and that the true responsibility lies with the Nazi leadership.
The prosecution, led by an American attorney (Tracy), argues that the judges were fully aware of the atrocities being committed and actively participated in the Nazi regime’s crimes.
The film explores themes of responsibility, justice, and the morality of following orders. It also examines the complicity of the German legal system in the Holocaust and the post-war efforts to hold individuals accountable for their actions during the war.
“Judgment at Nuremberg” was well-received by critics and audiences upon its release, and it was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, winning two for Best Actor (Schell) and Best Adapted Screenplay.
The film is considered a classic of the courtroom drama genre and an important contribution to the examination of the Holocaust and its aftermath in popular culture.
7. It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)
“It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” is a 1963 epic comedy film directed by Stanley Kramer and featuring an all-star cast, including Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Ethel Merman, and many others.
The story follows a group of strangers who learn about a hidden treasure and embark on a wild, chaotic race to find it.
The film is known for its fast-paced action, slapstick humor, and absurd situations, and it has become a classic example of the Hollywood ensemble comedy genre.
“It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” was a commercial success upon release and was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning one for Best Sound Editing.
Despite some criticism for its length and excessive use of physical comedy, the film has remained popular with audiences and continues to be regarded as a classic comedy.
8. Ship of Fools (1965)
“Ship of Fools” is a 1965 American drama film directed by Stanley Kramer and starring an ensemble cast that includes Vivien Leigh, Simone Signoret, Lee Marvin, and Oskar Werner.
The film is based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Katherine Anne Porter and explores themes of prejudice, class, and morality.
The story takes place on a transatlantic voyage in 1933, aboard a German passenger ship carrying a diverse group of passengers from different backgrounds and social classes.
The film depicts their interactions and conflicts as they face the rise of fascism in Europe and the impending doom of World War II.
The film is notable for its nuanced portrayal of its characters and their struggles with their own prejudices and moral dilemmas.
It also features strong performances by its cast, particularly Vivien Leigh as an aging and delusional former starlet, and Simone Signoret as a troubled and conflicted Jewish woman.
“Ship of Fools” received positive reviews upon its release and was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
The film remains a powerful and poignant examination of human nature and the complexities of social and political upheaval.
9. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” is a classic American film released in 1967, directed by Stanley Kramer and starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier, and Katharine Houghton.
The film deals with issues of race and interracial marriage during a time when such relationships were still taboo in many parts of American society.
The story revolves around a young white woman named Joanna Drayton (played by Katharine Houghton) who brings her African American fiancé, John Prentice (played by Sidney Poitier), home to meet her parents, Matt and Christina Drayton (played by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn), for dinner.
While Joanna and John are excited about their impending marriage, Matt and Christina struggle with their own prejudices and fears about the challenges their daughter will face as the wife of a black man.
As the film progresses, the characters engage in deep and honest conversations about their beliefs and values, ultimately leading to a heartwarming conclusion that celebrates love and acceptance across racial lines.
“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” was a critical and commercial success, and is widely regarded as a landmark film in American cinema history.
10. The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969)
“The Secret of Santa Vittoria” is a 1969 American-Italian film directed by Stanley Kramer, based on the novel of the same name by Robert Crichton. The movie is set in the small town of Santa Vittoria in Italy during World War II.
The town’s mayor, Italo Bombolini (played by Anthony Quinn), is a jovial and charismatic man who is more concerned with wine-making and keeping the town’s spirits high than the war raging around them.
However, when the Germans occupy the town and demand that the villagers turn over their entire wine supply to them, Bombolini and the townspeople decide to hide their most valuable and prized possession:
one million bottles of wine. With the help of his loyal friend, the town drunkard, Bombolini manages to outsmart the German soldiers and keep the wine hidden from them.
As the war comes to a close and the Allied forces approach, Bombolini must convince the townspeople to keep the secret of the hidden wine and to fight to keep it from falling into the hands of the enemy.
The film received positive reviews for its humor, drama, and strong performances, particularly from Quinn, who won a Golden Globe for his role.
It was also nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Film Editing and Best Music, Original Score.
Overall, “The Secret of Santa Vittoria” is an entertaining and uplifting story about the power of community and the importance of standing up for what you believe in, even in the face of great adversity.
11. R.P.M. (1970)
“R.P.M.” is a movie directed by Stanley Kramer and released in 1970. The film is a political drama that explores the student protests and social unrest that took place on American college campuses during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The movie stars Anthony Quinn as Dr. “Paco” Perez, a university president who finds himself caught in the middle of a student rebellion.
The students are led by a charismatic radical named “Farnsworth” (played by Gary Lockwood), who advocates for greater student autonomy and a more socially conscious curriculum.
As tensions mount between the students and the administration, Dr. Perez is forced to confront his own beliefs and values.
He struggles to balance his commitment to academic freedom and the pursuit of knowledge with his responsibility to maintain order on campus and uphold the law.
“R.P.M.” received mixed reviews upon its release, with some critics praising its timely subject matter and powerful performances, while others criticized its heavy-handed approach and simplistic characterizations.
However, the film remains an important historical artifact of the political and cultural climate of the era.
12. Bless the Beasts & Children (1971)
“Bless the Beasts & Children” is a 1971 American drama film directed by Stanley Kramer and based on the novel of the same name by Glendon Swarthout. The film follows a group of six teenage boys who are sent to a summer camp in Arizona for troubled youth.
The boys form a bond with a herd of bison nearby, and become determined to rescue the animals from hunters who plan to kill them.
The film explores themes of adolescence, social conformity, and the treatment of animals. The boys struggle to fit in with the other campers, who mock and bully them for their nonconformity.
They find solace and purpose in their mission to save the bison, which they see as a symbol of freedom and rebellion against the oppressive adult world.
The film was well-received by critics and audiences for its powerful anti-establishment message and its treatment of social outcasts.
It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Cindy Williams’ performance as one of the camp counselors.
“Bless the Beasts & Children” has been praised for its relevance to contemporary issues surrounding animal rights and conservation, and its exploration of the complex dynamics of adolescent social hierarchies.
It remains a beloved cult classic among those who value its messages of compassion, rebellion, and the importance of standing up for what is right.
13. Oklahoma Crude (1973)
“Oklahoma Crude” is a 1973 American Western film directed by Stanley Kramer and starring Faye Dunaway and George C. Scott.
The film is set in Oklahoma during the early 1900s and follows the story of Lena Doyle (Dunaway), a tough and independent oil driller who battles against corrupt oil barons to save her family’s oil well.
The film received mixed reviews upon its release, with some critics praising Dunaway’s performance and the film’s anti-establishment themes, while others criticized the plot as formulaic and the characters as clichéd.
Despite its mixed reception, “Oklahoma Crude” has since gained a cult following among fans of Western films, and it is often cited as an example of Kramer’s interest in exploring social issues through genre films.
14. The Domino Principle (1977)
“The Domino Principle” is a 1977 American thriller film directed by Stanley Kramer and starring Gene Hackman, Candice Bergen, and Richard Widmark.
The film follows a man named Roy Tucker (played by Hackman), who is serving a long prison sentence for a crime he did not commit.
After being approached by a mysterious organization, he agrees to take part in a political assassination plot in exchange for his freedom.
The film explores themes of government corruption, conspiracy, and the ethics of political violence. It also features strong performances by its lead actors, particularly Gene Hackman in a complex and morally ambiguous role.
While “The Domino Principle” did not receive the critical or commercial success of Kramer’s earlier films, it remains a fascinating and thought-provoking examination of political intrigue and the murky world of covert operations.
The film’s themes are still relevant today, and its depiction of the use of violence in the name of political change remains a timely and important commentary on the nature of power and its abuse.
15. The Runner Stumbles (1979)
“The Runner Stumbles” is a drama film released in 1979, directed by Stanley Kramer and starring Dick Van Dyke, Kathleen Quinlan, and Ray Bolger. The film is based on a play by Milan Stitt, which in turn was inspired by a true story.
The story takes place in a small Michigan town in 1911, where a young nun named Sister Rita (played by Kathleen Quinlan) is sent to teach at a parish school.
She meets and becomes close to the local priest, Father Rivard (played by Dick Van Dyke), and their relationship becomes complicated as they struggle with their feelings for each other and their commitment to their religious vows.
The film is primarily a character study of the two main characters, as well as the other members of the parish, who are all dealing with their own personal and spiritual struggles.
As the title suggests, the story is also about the mistakes and missteps that the characters make along the way, and how they must confront their own flaws and weaknesses in order to find redemption.
“The Runner Stumbles” was not a commercial success, but it received some positive reviews for its strong performances and thoughtful exploration of complex themes.
3 Characteristics of Stanley Kramer Films
Stanley Kramer was an American film director known for his socially conscious and politically charged films. Here are three characteristics that can be found in many of his films:
Social commentary: Many of Kramer’s films dealt with social issues of the time, such as racism, nuclear war, and civil rights.
He was known for tackling controversial topics and presenting them in a thought-provoking manner that challenged viewers to think critically about the world around them.
Ensemble casts: Kramer often assembled large ensemble casts of well-known actors, which gave his films a sense of importance and gravitas.
His films often featured multiple storylines and perspectives, which allowed him to explore complex themes and ideas.
Emphasis on dialogue and message: Kramer’s films were often characterized by long, impassioned speeches and monologues that conveyed his message and political beliefs.
He was a master of crafting dialogue that was both powerful and thought-provoking, and he used this skill to create films that were not only entertaining but also intellectually stimulating.
3 Reasons Why You Should Watch Stanley Kramer Films
Stanley Kramer was a legendary American film director and producer who made several important films during his career. Here are three reasons why you should watch Stanley Kramer films:
Social and Political Relevance: Kramer was known for making films that tackled social and political issues of his time. His films dealt with topics such as racial discrimination, nuclear war, capital punishment, and the Vietnam War.
By watching his films, you can gain a better understanding of the social and political climate of the era in which they were made, and how these issues continue to be relevant today.
Strong Performances: Kramer worked with some of the best actors of his time, including Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Burt Lancaster, and Sidney Poitier.
His films are known for their powerful performances, with actors delivering nuanced and layered performances that add depth to the characters they portray.
Masterful Direction: Kramer was a master of his craft, and his films are known for their impeccable direction, tight pacing, and effective use of visual and aural elements.
His films often featured complex narratives and multiple storylines, which he was able to weave together seamlessly. By watching his films, you can learn about the art and technique of filmmaking, and appreciate the skill and talent required to make a great movie.
Best Stanley Kramer Films – Wrapping Up
Stanley Kramer was a prolific filmmaker who directed and produced many important films throughout his career. Here are some of his best-known and most highly-regarded films:
“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967) – This film, starring Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, and Katharine Hepburn, is a groundbreaking exploration of interracial marriage and relationships.
“The Defiant Ones” (1958) – This classic film, starring Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier, tells the story of two escaped prisoners, one black and one white, who must work together to survive.
“Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961) – This courtroom drama explores the complicity of the German legal system in the Holocaust and features a powerhouse cast including Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, and Maximilian Schell.
“On the Beach” (1959) – This post-apocalyptic drama, starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, depicts the aftermath of a global nuclear war.
“Inherit the Wind” (1960) – This film, based on the real-life Scopes Monkey Trial, explores the conflict between science and religion in the United States.
“Bless the Beasts & Children” (1971) – This coming-of-age drama tells the story of a group of teenage boys who seek to save a herd of bison from hunters.
These films reflect Kramer’s commitment to tackling important social and political issues, and his skill at crafting compelling stories that resonate with audiences.
His legacy as a filmmaker is an enduring one, and his films continue to be celebrated and studied by film lovers around the world.
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