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In a poor neighborhood of New York, the bitter and lonely Jewish pawnbroker Sol Nazerman is a survivor from Auschwitz that has no emotions or feelings. Sol lost his dearest family and friends in the war and his faith in God and belief in mankind. Now he only cares for money and is haunted by daydreams, actually flashbacks from the period of the concentration camp. Sol's assistant is the ambitious Latino Jesus Ortiz, who wants to learn with Sol how to run a business of his own. When Sol realizes that the obscure laundry business he has with the powerful gangster Rodriguez comes also from brothels, Sol recalls the fate of his beloved wife in the concentration camp and has a nervous breakdown. His attitude leads Jesus Ortiz to tragedy and Sol finds a way to cry. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Powerful drama centering around elderly NYC slum-area pawnbroker (Rod Steiger in Oscar nominated performance), tormented by his painful memories of Nazi concentration camp nightmare. Embittered, he brushes off all friendly people in his life, insisting that nothing matters and emotions are wasted.
Apparently "playing the system" for years, allowing king-pin thugs to use his store as a money laundering "front", while collecting his "cut", the no-nonsense pawnbroker is suddenly plagued by flashbacks, showing how his young wife and son are killed, and at once wanting to stop the evil workings of his hoodloom infested slum neighborhood. When the young "apprentice" he hired lays his own life on the line to protect him from being shot during a robbery, the pawnbroker shows his first human emotions since the horrific day he lost his family.
The flawless direction, masterful black & white cinematography, haunting Jazz score, along with innovative handling of the themes (racism, prostitution, social reforms, etc.), make this nothing less than a masterpiece. There is a sequence with prolonged nudity, considered daring during the "Hayes Code" years, even if it appears tame by today's standards. The scenes are not gratuitous, but essential to the plot. Still these scenes may make this film unsuitable for pre-teens.
Like Shindler's List, this is a film many may find painful to watch. By 1965 standards, the mere attempt of giving insight into the evils of the Holocaust was a strong move. The resulting product withstood the test of time and will endure. Named as his personal favorite work, "The Pawnbroker" gives us Rod Steiger's finest performance! Highly recommended.
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