Judgment in Berlin is a 1988 film adaption of the non-fiction novel of the same name, starring Martin Sheen, Sam Wannamaker, Sean Penn and Jutta Speidel. The book and the film which is basically Judge Herbert Jay Stern's memoir of the entire case depict, according to Stern himself, the most unusual case he ever had to preside as Judge over, the aftermath of the LOT Polish Airlines Flight 165 hijacking.
It is 1978, and East Berliners Detlev Tiede (Helmut Thiele in the film, played by Heinz Hoenig) as well as his friend Ingrid Ruske (Siegrid Radke, played by Speidel) try to flee the GDR to the West. Their first attempt taking a ship from Poland fails when Ingrid's West German boyfriend is seized with the false papers before meeting them, and so they have the desperate idea of seizing the plane they are supposed to take back to Berlin, forcing it to land in the West. The plan works, but this opens a whole other can of worms, leading eventually the US Court in Berlin (which until then only existed on paper) to convene for the first and only time.
This film contains examples of:
- Adaptation Distillation: The film shortens a lot of the legal and historical background and creates a few Composite Characters.
- Based on a True Story: The basis for Stern's book (and thus the film) are his memories on the trial following the LOT Polish Airlines Flight 165 hijacking.
- Berserk Button: Stern really hates the idea that the Constitution does not apply to his court, and fights the notion of letting his court degenerate into a show trial in which he is a mere puppet. It does not help he's Jewish, and the entire thing reminds him way too much of the judges of Nazi Germany.
Hellring: I ask the Court to rule, Your Honor, not just for our clients, but also for the honor of Our country, that these fugitives from another social system be at least entitled to due process of the law in this American court!SA Palmer: We do not understand the confusion on the part of the Defense over this matter, Your Honor.SA Palmer: This Court sit (noise, Stern bangs his gavel) This Court sits in conquered territory. It is an occupational court. Therefore, it stands to reason that it is an instrument of American foreign policy. It cannot, by definition, independently decide anything.Stern: (Incredulous) So, in other words, this Court follows the directives of the US Secretary of State? In other words, *my* job here is to simply obey? I have nothing to decide.SA Palmer: Not on the question of the jury trial, no.
- Let Me Get This Straight...: The moment in the preliminary hearings when the two State Attorneys try to deny the right to due process, basically telling a federal judge that the US Constitution does not apply in his court. Not quite believing what he is hearing, Stern asks for clarification and is understandibly furious, especially as both State Attorneys completely ignore the incredulity of his and of the defense.
- Courtroom Antics: The elder defence attorney Bernard Hellring (Jan 4, 1991) was (in)famous for them.
- At one point, he recites from Alice in Wonderland to underscore just how unlawful the notion of not having a jury is. (Stern later notes in his book that is is indeed a fitting allegory for the sheer strangeness of the trial.)
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Hellring's brand of courtroom speaking hailed "from an age when people streamed into the courtrooms like into theatres", to the point Stern practically orders him to stay succinct.
- East Germany
- West Germany
- You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: Martin Sheen's expression as Stern when the two prosecutors are trying to order him around (arguing with Occupational Law). It makes for a terrifying Mood Whiplash when the ''WTF'' expression melts off his face during the following clarification, leaving behind a Death Glare.