The Pawnbroker (1964) Poster

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Visually stunning, provocative drama.
mdm-115 October 2004
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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9/10
Never has internal pain been so vividly portrayed.
wisewebwoman1 January 2004
This is in my 50 best movies of all time list.

Rod Steiger,a gifted actor, is at his very best here portraying Sol Nazerman, a pawnbroker who is completely shut down emotionally.

Through flashbacks, some fast, mostly slow, we see both the joy and subsequent horror of Sol's life in Nazi Germany, when his wife and children are swept into the camps and killed. Sol's deepest pain is that he survived and he carries it visibly. Nothing touches him. He is removed from humanity, living a life outside anyone else's.

This is never more exemplified than at his shop, where he is behind bars, often in shadow, while humanity moves outside, sometimes pleading with him, sometimes just wishing to make an emotional contact to no avail.

Brilliant black and white photography. Quincy Jones' music underscores this, it is jazzy 60s type of music, loud and vibrant, totally contrasting with the dark, dead world of Sol.

The supporting cast are terrific and the outdoor location shooting in New York is riveting. The movement of street life against the heaviness of Sol's plodding.

I still find it hard to believe that Rod lost the Oscar to Lee Marvin in the forgettable "Cat Ballou" (!!) that year.

This has to be seen by any serious lovers of movies. The last scene, done in one continuous take is heartbreaking, Sol finally getting in touch with the pain he has buried so deeply. Gut wrenching stuff. 9 out of 10.
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Disturbing but a great Steiger performance...
tksaysso10 October 2004
The Pawnbroker is a very disturbing film. The title character, Sol Nazerman,

played by Rod Steiger, is an aging Holocaust concentration camp survivor

running a pawnshop in New York. A young hispanic man who works in the

pawnshop looks up to Steiger's character, hoping to learn from the older man's years of experience and expertise in both financial and other business matters.

Steiger's character is emotionally closed throughout the entire length of the film. Jarrring flashbacks to the time when Nazerman was happy with his wife and two small children become increasingly menacing and tragic as the Nazi

domination and cruelty become more dominant. Steiger's character survives his family. The guilt attached to that survival haunts Nazerman as he numbly

proceeds throughout the present-day portions of the film.

This movie takes a huge risk even in it's premise because the title character is never really likable. You certainly have empathy for what Nazerman has

experienced in his life, but the harsh and dismissive way in which he treats both people close to him and the tragic figures who frequent his pawnshop leave you little choice but to have mixed feelings about this man.

Rod Steiger is excellent. It's incredible to think that less than three years later after playing this character, an elderly Jewish concentration camp survivor,

Steiger won an Oscar for his portraying southern bigoted police chief Bill

Gillespie in Norman Jewison's In the Heat of the Night.

Sidney Lumet's direction is excellent. The photography is a starkly shot black and white with a grainy almost documentary-type feel to it. The score by Quincy Jones is somewhat uneven, with inappropriate upbeat instrumentation intruding in to somber scenes.

All in all, a very good film, but definitely excruciatingly somber in tone.
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10/10
Steiger gives greatest performance of all time
edwardi-koch9 February 2006
Rod Steiger gives the greatest lead-actor performance I have ever seen in the title role of the Pawnbroker. Lumet's direction strikes no false note and neither does the incredibly well-researched and painfully honest script. It's hard to believe how virtually forgotten this true masterpiece of a survivor's private hell. It shows very vividly that even those of us lucky enough to survive the camps need to be ever more rare of spirit to survive without significant trauma scars. Steiger extracts every piece of emotion from his character with a performance that exceeds all that came before it and has never been surpassed. Every aspiring actor needs to view Steiger's performance to realize how magnificent it truly is.
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Is Diane Arbus somewhere around here?
futures-126 December 2005
"The Pawnbroker" (1964): Directed by Sidney Lumet, scored by Quincy Jones, and starring Rod Steiger. This is one of the most powerful character studies in all of film history. It's up there with "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Taxi Driver". Shot in some of the most beautiful, gritty, black and white photography, set in Harlem, often using the real environment and passersby, this work has the feel of anti-Hollywood, which is completely appropriate for the story of a Jew tortured by the memories of the Holocaust, and the environment of pawn brokering. There's not a single moment of comedy, and many moments that feel like Diane Arbus could be seen lingering nearby. Steiger's ability to express withheld expression – anger and pain trying to burst from his impenetrable shell - is awe inspiring. When I first saw this film in the 60's, I knew I wanted to see everything this man did.
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10/10
psychological classic
nl1108723 January 2005
A classic. One of the few if not only who portrays not the atrocity at the surface, but the trauma afterward. No evil SSers in their black uniforms of death. It might have been more entertaining and simple to understand. Instead the movie captures the evil in the victim. There are the walking dead. Those who survived. For them living was nothing but survival. The setting is NYC of the 60s. This movie will outlive most movies. It is a true classic in the psychological genre. The only minor flaw is the clownesque character of Jesus. Rod Steiger puts down an excelling performance as the character of the pawnbroker. A very esthetic filming in black and white.
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8/10
Bitterness, Loneliness and Disbelief in Mankind
claudio_carvalho19 December 2011
In a poor neighborhood of New York, the bitter and lonely Jewish pawnbroker Sol Nazerman (Rod Steiger) is a survivor from Auschwitz that has no emotions or feelings. Sol lost his dearest family and friends in the war and the faith on God and the 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 Latin Jesus Ortiz (Jaime Sanchez), a former urchin that has regenerated and now 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 (Brock Peters) 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 a tragedy and Sol finds a way to cry.

"The Pawnbroker" is a powerful and realistic story of bitterness, loneliness and disbelief in mankind of a man victim of the Holocaust. Rod Steiger has certainly the best performance of his career in the complex role of a skeptical and bitter Jewish. His assistant is an ambiguous character that contrasts with the pawnbroker with his optimistic and happy behavior. In the end, the pawnbroker feels the need to cry and impales his hand with a spike, also in a reference of Jesus Christ. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "O Homem do Prego" ("The Man of the Spike" – literally; however, it is a pun that also means "The Pawnbroker")
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8/10
Dead Man Walking
sol-kay23 January 2005
**SPOILERS** Owning a pawnshop in Manhattan's Spanish Harlem Sol Nazerman, Rod Stiger,tries to cut himself off from any human feelings that he still has left by buying and selling the hopes and dreams, for a few dollars on the buy side and five to ten times as much on the sell side, of the people of the neighborhood that he does business with.

Sol's hopes and dreams were destroyed some twenty five years ago in German occupied Poland. It's there where he lost his entire family in the Nazi concentration camps. As the 25th anniversary of that nightmare approaches Sol starts to get flooded with shocking flashbacks of what happened to him his wife and two children back then and goes as far as trying to stop the clock,or calender, to keep that dreadful anniversary from coming.

Sol's past WWII nightmare in Poland becomes a real and new nightmare now in the New York City of 1964 that meshes together and in the end shocks him back to the reality of being a person with feelings for others as well as himself.

Sol's helper at the pawnshop Jesus Ortiz, Jamie Sanchez, sees a man give Sol an envelop with some $5,000.00 in cash that Sol puts away in his safe. Ortiz thinking that thats the kind of money to be made running a pawnshop wants Sol to tell him all he knows about the business so that he could go into the pawn business himself. What Ortiz didn't realize was that the man who gave Sol the money was Saverese, Warren Finnerty, a bag man for the top crime boss in Harlem Rodriguez ,Brock Peters, who's using Sol's pawnshop to launder his dirty and ill gotten gains.

This set the stage for Ortiz to get involved in a robbery of Sol's store with three of his friends in the neighborhood Tangee Buck & Robinson, Raymond St.Jacques John McCurry & Charles Dierkop. In the end the robbery would result in Ortiz's death and Sol's regaining his humanity by getting his feelings for his fellow man, and woman, as well as himself back but at a shocking and heart crunching cost.

Undoubtedly Rod Stigers best movie performance as concentration camp survivor Sol Nazerman who after trying to suppress his feelings for years has them burst open like a long inactive volcano at the end of the movie.

The movie "The Pawnbroker" covers the days that lead up to Sol's finding out that keeping deep inside all the hurt and suffering from the past will only make him and those around him only more depressed and not allow those wounds of past years to heal. Sol's sees later in the movie how his actions hurt people that tried to be friendly and help him like his new neighbor Marilyn Brichfield, Geraldine Fitzgerald, who tried to strike up a friendship with him. Marilyn was a lonely middle-aged women who lost her husband at an early age.

Sol's most hurtful act was that what he did to his second wife Tessie ,Marketa Kimberell, who's also a concentration camp survivor. After Tessie called him at the pawnshop with the news that her father Mendel, Baruch Lumet, just passed away Sol coldly told her to bury him and hung up.

Sol's relations with Rodiguez was also a bit odd. How could he have not known that Rodriguez owned the whorehouse down the block from his pawnshop when he confronted him at his penthouse about the dirty dealings that he was doing in the neighborhood? Since we know that Sol himself was involved with them by laundering Rodiguez's dirty money and taking a cut for himself all these years?

"The Pawnbroker" is a dark haunting and surrealistic film that hits all the right buttons in it's story about the human condition thats so skillfully played by it's leading actor Rod Stiger. A story of the loneliness and emptiness of the human heart which can only go on for so long until, like in the movie, it either breaks down or bursts open and explodes from the pressure thats been built up in it over the years.
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Undressed Memory
tedg22 November 2006
I recently saw again a couple Lumet projects that I admired, so turned to this.

I think there is something to be said for artists who invent and then convince everyone afterward that what they have just experienced is the way the world is put together.

Some filmmakers do this consistently. Or they do it once, and then just live in the world they've created. Others are amazingly clever at some point, and equally banal at others. Polanski comes to mind.

When this was new, it was groundbreaking, truly an achievement. It worked.

Lumet's approach is actor-centric, not something I particularly value. But it is perfect for an exploration of a man: world growing from an individual. Lumet also likes to use space, but he doesn't know the containment properties of space, only the dividers, so we have the shop will all sorts of walls and fences. The lover's apartment as well.

What was new was this was the first movie — mainstream US movie — to use nudity. Its underwhelming today thank heaven, but rather shocking in its day, especially because the woman is black, and a seller of sex.

In the project, it triggers the most extended flashback sequence, one that involved our hero's deepest disaster. Overlapping flashbacks had been used, most famously in "Manchurian Candidate," which resembles this in some ways. But it hadn't been so fragmented, so apparently integrated into the fabric of the man. We see a desperate whore; he sees his humiliated wife. We see street thugs beating up a drunk; he sees the holocaust.

This cinematic device is now so common as to not be remarkable. Sex (in the form of exposed breasts) and Nazis both had more cinematic power then than now.

Is it greater art if we digest it, even if the work itself becomes ordinary in the process? Seeing this will do to you what happens with the character we see. It will undress your memory, your cinematic memory. If you saw this when you were both young, it will give you a flashback, you living both now and then.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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10/10
Classic, one of my all-time favorites
pbasofin9 July 2002
It's strange to say that this very grim movie is one of my all-time favorites. "The Pawnbroker" might make you suicidal in it's deep cynicism of the human condition, but I think there is a positive side to the film. The main character, a deeply-wounded Holocaust survivor, initial has no feelings for anyone or anything--he's just going through the motions of life. But by the end of the film he learns that people are not all bad--and maybe that's the most shocking revelation of them all!

Certainly Rod Steiger's greatest role. Do see it.
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10/10
An absolutely stunning film...
turtlewax31 July 2001
Although the supporting cast is uniformly excellent (Brock Peters especially so), they are really only believable props to what is, essentially, a one-man performance by Rod Steiger.

And what a performance it is! Steiger grabs your emotions, and maintains a hold long after the final credits roll. He sucks all the oxygen out of the room, and you're not able to draw a deep breath until it's over.

For some reason, this movie seems to have faded from public awareness, and isn't all that easy to find. I first saw it in 1965, and then again about 30 years later; it packed the same emotional wallop the second time around.

Both Steiger and director Sidney Lumet have done plenty of excellent work since The Pawnbroker, but this remains the highwater mark for both.

It is, unquestionably, one of the most powerful films ever made, and that's a might tough act to follow.
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9/10
A very impressive and dramatic movie
SandroSt24 December 2004
A very impressive and dramatic movie. I remember when I saw the first time this movie as a young teenager, I was deeply impressed by it, and after many years it still one of the movie that are important to me. The thing that hit me in the movie is the wire between the violence in the streets of the city and the violence in the Nazist concentration camp. It's the story without any hope of a survivor, a dead man walking, living an impossible life in the violent modern society. It has been the first movie that I saw about other movies about the Holocaust and still Ithink it's one of the more impressive about this argument. I saw many movies about the Holocaust, ma no one treats as this, the difficult life of survivors who lost their family.
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9/10
A death camp survivor in New York
barryrd15 April 2011
A powerful but grim movie about a Harlem pawnbroker terrorized by memories of the Nazi death camps, this is an excellent drama enhanced by a brilliant cast, on-location shooting in New York and at the end, a surprisingly strong note of compassion.

As the movie opens, we see Rod Steiger unwinding on a lawn chair in post-war Long Island, with its tidy homes and lawns. His sister in law tries to talk him into a trip to Europe but the morose Steiger has no use for a trip that would only remind him of the stench of death. He has flashbacks to the horrors he endured. These scenes continue to mar his life as we see men and women being brutalized and witness their barbed wired surroundings as prisoners of Nazi Germany.

Steiger, as the death camp survivor, delivers a superb performance as the man haunted by the memories of his wife and children whose lives were cut short while he was spared, only to live with the bitterness that made his own life so sad.

The customers at his pawn shop in Harlem get the cold, calculating treatment from this broken man as they try to cope with their own meagre means of subsistence. Geraldine Fitzgerald plays the role of a social worker who tries to befriend him and meets with the same cold shoulder. I have seen this actress in other movies but was never so impressed with her, as in this movie. Towards the end, Steiger turns to her for company and understanding, as he deals with the thugs he allows to use his shop for their own nefarious deeds in exchange for money.

A young Puerto Rican assistant tries to learn the trade from his boss. Steiger takes the time to coach him and seems to get some satisfaction from this relationship. Only much later does he realize how much the assistant cared for him. The customers are mild, gentle people trying to eke out whatever they can get from this hard, bitter man.

The film-making conveys great realism. We see Steiger walk through Times Square with the marquee for Leslie Caron in the L-Shaped Room, one of the movies of the time. We hear the rumble of the elevated train as it makes its way through the neighborhood. The character actors in supporting roles are excellent and add to the overall impact of this drama.

This movie is not about the Holocaust as such, but the viewer can see the impact of the horrors on one man and how it affected his life and those around him. The emotional trauma did not allow him to respond to the acts of kindness that he received. Finally, he had to deal with one heroic deed that was completely unexpected. How he carried on, we cannot know but we can see that his world did not completely reject him, although he tried to reject it. We can understand that he is a victim of a great atrocity.

This movie was directed by the recently-deceased Sidney Lumet, who even Martin Scorsese said was the quintessential New York director. This movie takes a universal theme and gives it a great backdrop. This is one of the finest, realist films I have ever seen. A highly personal encounter with a great tragedy.
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8/10
I do not believe in God, or art, or science, or newspapers, or politics, or philosophy.
lastliberal-853-25370812 February 2011
This has to be the most depressing film I have ever seen. I seriously stopped in the middle because I was getting so bummed out.

Rod Steiger as Sol Nazerman, the pawnbroker of the title is brilliant in the role. I doubt if there is anyone else who could have brought froth the depths of despair that Nazerman was experiencing. He lost everything, not just a family, but his who reason for living, and, as he says, there was nothing he could do about it. He was utterly helpless as his world crumbled.

He was a man without compassion or felling. His only comfort was money, and that really did him no good. It did not help him when he was reliving the flashbacks from the Holocaust. All he wanted to do was die, but apparently did not have the will to do it himself, so he set himself up for killing.

Steiger wasn't the only person that made this film worth watching. There was Brock Peters as a gangster, Thelma Oliver as the girlfriend of his assistant (Jaime Sánchez), and Sánchez himself.

The gritty and dark setting was perfect for the film. Sidney Lumet was excellent as the director.
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9/10
Reconnecting With The World
bkoganbing25 May 2008
The Pawnbroker is maybe the best of Sidney Lumet's New York based films. It tells the story of Sol Nazerman, former professor from Germany, Holocaust survivor, now making a living as a pawnbroker in Harlem. Rod Steiger got an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. If he had lost to Sir Laurence Olivier for Othello I might understand, but losing to Lee Marvin for Cat Ballou? All three are performances on different planes of acting.

This is one of those films like Cyrano De Bergerac which rise and fall on the ability of the person performing the title character. With a minimum of dialog and a performance mostly of anguished expressions, Rod Steiger conveys the story of a man who's really seen the worst of what life has to offer and expects very little from humanity. And in Harlem no one rises among the dregs of society that usually come peddling the last of their dreams to him.

This film was done in 1964 and that was also the year of the Harlem riots, sparked by an NYPD officer killing a black teenager. My guess is that Sol Nazerman's pawn shop, white owned that it was never saw a scrap of damage. That's because one of the reasons he stays in business is because of a little money laundering on the side for Harlem racketeer Brock Peters.

Unfortunately Steiger's assistant Jaime Sanchez sees a huge amount of cash being deposited in the safe after office hours. He's an ambitious young man and not really deciding which side of the fence to fall on. It's more his indecision that leads to tragedy later on.

The highlight of the film for me is Steiger's equivalent of a 'hath a Jew not eyes' speech when he explains to Sanchez just why the Jewish people have the 'mercantile heritage' as he puts it. Too often it's forgotten that in all the places for thousands of years where Jews couldn't own land, this was what was left to them. On a side note that's one of the reasons for the State of Israel developing its own collective agricultural institution, the Kibbutz. It was to get Jews deliberate in touch with the land, to grow things on it and develop an attachment to it.

Some of the other cast members of note are Geraldine Fitzgerald as a neighborhood settlement house social worker who tries to penetrate Steiger's catatonic personality and a really wonderful bit by Reni Santoni as a junkie trying to pawn a radio and jonesing to beat the band.

Still the film is Rod Steiger's show, one of the few times he carried a film by himself and he does it magnificently.
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An Exercise in Hidden Pain
paul sloan18 July 2000
Rod Steiger has seldom been better than as Sol the Holocaust survivor running a pawnshop in Harlem.Much of the movie is how he tries to keep his emotions hidden despite almost constant memories and flashbacks of the Holocaust. The editing of these flashback scenes is really powerful and lingers in the memory long after the movie has finished. Rod Steiger in this movie comes over as a simmering pot of pain who colud boil over at any minute. You would love to take his pain away yet you wait for him to explode in some kind of rage. The black & white photography gives a grainy realism to the film while Quincy Jones'music is bombastic big band jazz that sounds typical of 1960's films but sounds weird in the setting of this tale. Star rating- 9/10 One point--- Sol says all he wants is peace and quiet. Now he was never going to get that running a moneylending business in the middle of Harlem!
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8/10
Exceptional Cast and Direction - Highly Recommended
TheJonesBones18 June 2020
First, I will say that the plot of this film is existential and unremarkable - BUT this facet of the production only serves to highlight its many strengths, which include more than one noteworthy performance by both established veteran and up-and-coming new players. In fact, this is why I'm writing a rare review - this black-and-white film altered my well-being and general understanding of the world, if only for a moment. I watch films like this again and again and again, each time seeing/hearing something new in it.

Rod Steiger (Sol) out-does himself by playing a subtle, understated part that absolutely SEETHES. Brock Peters (Rodriquez) plays Brock Peters - what a remarkable presence! Geraldine Fitzgerald (Marilyn) and Juano Hernandez (Mr. Smith) claw at my heart with their unshared message of unrelenting and pitiless loneliness. Jaime Sánchez (Jesus) plays the better half of his later role in "The Wild Bunch", but both are killers. Thelma Oliver (along with Linda Geiser) is stunningly bold and beautiful - she performs a scene in this film that literally changed the film industry forever. Marketa Kimbrell and Baruch Lumet (Tessie and Mendel) alternately bleed repressed angst and scarcely constrained loathing. Raymond St. Jacques (Tangee), Reni Santoni (Junkie), Warren Finnerty (Savarese), Ed Morehouse (Oratory Award Guy - incredibly, his ONLY role, ever)... all will make you believe - I leave it to the reader to figure out what that belief might be or become.

Watch this movie. You might regret it, but you will never forget it.
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10/10
A character actor tour-deforce.
atombee26 January 2011
A Sidney Lumet masterpiece. Perfectly rendered Quincy Jones musical score, and a gritty, haunting tale of loss and redemption. Outstanding performances from esteemed actors Brock Peters, Raymond St.Jaques, and Juano Hernendez. Perhaps, one of Rod Steigers most contained and perfectly wrought characterizations. The bleakness of his performance, and the tension that builds as life crumbles his fragile barricades, is almost unbearable in it's sustained intensity. Everything comes together in this film. Cinematography, music, seamless acting and a powerful storyline, that leaves Sol Nazermans epiphany like an arrow through the heart.
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7/10
You think you're depressed.
st-shot11 November 2009
Harlem pawnbroker Sol Nazerman wants to be left alone. A death camp survivor whose wife and children did not get out he has withdrawn from the world as much as possible in order to cope. The down and out people that frequent his shop get little more than his standard offer. There is no small talk, haggling or eye contact. Take it or leave it. Jesus, his ambitious assistant is treated with the same attitude except when Sol decides to impart some brutal life lessons on what it is to be a "merchant." Grim as his existence is Nazerman seems content to let his life slip away without the pain of feeling anything. This all changes when it's revealed he's running a front for a Harlem crime boss to launder cash. Forced to confront his involvement in criminal activity and constantly reminded of his concentration camp past Nazerman descends even deeper into his own private hell.

From start to finish The Pawnbroker is one tragic journey. Save for the optimistic Jesus the film is populated with characters in various forms of desperation. Rod Stieger as Nazerman is at times almost too painful to watch as he slips in and out of catatonia between the callous and cold diatribes he serves up to those attempting to reach out to him. Jaime Sanchez as Jesus is a bit too strident and Geraldine Fitzgerald's out of her depth social worker too clueless but Brock Peter's stylish thug is a potent dose of reality and highly effective.

Director Sidney Lumet's direction lapses into heavy handedness (slo mo, overlong flashbacks) on occasion bogging the film down while at other times "nouvelle vague" technique produces some powerfully edited scenes. Boris Kauffman's smoky cinematography successfully establishes mood and place stealing shots on Harlem streets and imprisoning Nazerman within the maze of cages in his shop and Quincy Jones quirky score partners nicely with the action and setting.

The Pawnbroker can be a difficult film to get through since the suffering remains unrelenting and Lumet's pacing is erratic most of the way but Stieger's towering performance makes it well worth the ordeal.
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9/10
"I have escaped from the emotions. I am safe within myself."
ackstasis25 April 2008
1964 was an incredible year for Sidney Lumet. Not only did he release 'Fail-Safe (1964),' one of the most gripping and haunting thrillers of the Cold War era, but he also directed Rod Steiger in 'The Pawnbroker (1964),' a gritty and powerful drama centred around an emotionless Holocaust survivor. Especially after watching the highly-theatrical '12 Angry Men (1957),' this film proves especially surprising, as, aesthetically, it represents a completely new era of Hollywood film-making. Predating the gritty, inner-city realism of 'Midnight Cowboy (1969)' and 'The French Connection (1971)' by half a decade, 'The Pawnbroker' sits at the crest of an American New Wave. Boris Kaufman's kinetic black-and-white cinematography is fresh and invigorating, presenting the squalid streets of Harlem in all their bleak and sinister glory.

The Holocaust was still tentative subject matter during the early 1960s, and very few films had dealt directly with the persecution and extermination of the Jews at the hands of Nazi Germany. Likewise, while many pictures had followed the attempts of returned war veterans to assimilate back into normal society, rarely had anybody attempted to explore Holocaust survivors in a similar manner. Sol Nazerman (Rod Steiger) arrived in the United States a broken man, having lost his family in the concentration camps. The heartbreaking experience has left Sol with a cold resentment towards both himself and society, and, with a stubborn conviction that will ultimately hurt those close to him, he has unreservedly distanced himself from all emotion.

Rather than offering Sol relief, the decadence and corruption of modern New York only fuels his pessimism towards life. Having bitterly accepted the centuries-old stereotype that he is "a usurer, a man with secret resources, a witch, a pawnbroker, a sheenie, a mockery and a kike," Sol manages a small pawnshop, systematically robbing decrepit and grotesque individuals of their hope and livelihood with all the compassion of the Nazis who murdered his family. The shop itself is merely a front for the illegal underground dealings of Rodriguez (Brock Peters, displaying an exceedingly commanding presence); it's probably with a deliberate irony that it is an African American, delegated in the past to the bottom rung of society's ladder, who holds considerable authority over Steiger's tired, beaten Jew.

Jaime Sánchez gives another of the film's excellent performances, playing Jesus Ortiz, a Latino youth who has decided to shun crime in favour of eventually owning an honest business. However, Sol callously rejects Jesus' attempts at redemption, crushing his energetic spirit and inevitably turning him back to a life of crime. Geraldine Fitzgerald is also very good as Marilyn Birchfield, a lonely widow who tries, without success, to form a friendship with Sol, not knowing that he has consciously barred himself from all meaningful human relationships. In his distressing attempts to end the pain of suffering, Sol has become a prisoner within himself; at the film's end, he pierces himself in the hand, a final masochistic act of desperation, just so he call feel… something, anything.

'The Pawnbroker' has a wonderful music soundtrack, which was performed by Quincy Jones. The upbeat and energetic jazz tunes are almost mocking in way in which they clash with the subject material, so completely unsuited to such a sombre story, and yet somehow more honest than a more traditional music composition could ever have been. It is almost as though the hustle-and-bustle of Manhattan, completely ignorant and indifferent to the troubles of one old man on a single street corner, has effectively swallowed up Sol and his painful memories. It's a telling metaphor for a society that too-often neglects the darkest chapter in recent human history.
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10/10
This move has been under rated for years.
chrisdpol-orders228 July 2006
This movie should be included in those lists of the 100 best movies ever made. It belongs right along with Schindler's List in its portrayal of the Holocaust. Rod Steiger makes you feel the pain of his loss and the guilt of being a survivor.

The time is the 60's and not only is the movie a stark portrayal of the Holocaust, it also is a stark portrayal of the ghettos of the US 1960s. Rod Steiger is not a likable character until you learn of his history. He has felt so much pain in his life that he has lost his ability to feel, and you see him badly treating his fellow human beings. Rod Steiger has so immersed himself in the character, that he loses his own identity in this film.
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A fan of film noir motion picture that realistically chronicle social relationship between different kinds of people.
stevenrmc6 December 2004
A superb film, vividly the harsh realities of New York Ghetto life in the 1960s. Lumet's mixture of different ethnic and racial groups and and kinds of friction that develops when these groups confront one another is quite realistic. The script, of course, is superior, and inasmuch as it is more commentary on social situations --- I would not expect quick, brusque activity. The music score by Quincy Jones is a perfect match of the New York ambiance. Moreover, that the film is in B/W only complements the gritty, intense relationships between the characters. Steiger, as always, is superb in the role, and St. Jacques makes a very convincing West Indian thug. This is a film to be studied by serious filmmakers.
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4/10
Edgy but imperfect
moonspinner5522 January 2005
Rod Steiger doesn't so much give a great actor's performance in "The Pawnbroker" as much as he presents a seminar on film about great acting. He spits out his lines, contorts his face and becomes mired in bitter, embattled rage. We get few other dimensions from Steiger and, even at the picture's close, I felt little about his character's progression because the actor himself is still teaching class. As a Concentration Camp survivor immigrated to New York City, Steiger cannot do anything simple: his pain is grandiose, unsubtle. As for the plot, everything is spelled out for us to read, and director Sidney Lumet refuses to let the audience do any additional work. The look of the picture is edgy (pushing the boundaries of cinema in '64 with a gritty scenario), but the rest is flattened out, made too easy. The flashbacks are well-done (especially a haunting shot involving rings on the prisoners' fingers), but Quincy Jones' music is too jazzy (particularly at the end) and the dialogue, courtesy screenwriters Morton Fine and David Friedkin, is too direct and forceful. Eventually, the film is simply off-putting. ** from ****
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The Pawnbroker
Coxer9915 April 1999
This awesome film is driven by a powerhouse performance by Steiger as a victim of his past reminiscences with the Holocaust. How Lee Marvin won that 1965 Oscar from Steiger is an ongoing mystery to me! Lumet's direction of the camera is brilliant. Everything fits together perfectly. The lighting, color and music are all blended to create an eerie world for us.
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10/10
Surviving The Holocaust Physically, But Not Psychologically
virek21314 December 2020
Though it may not have seemed like it at the time, director Sidney Lumet's 1965 film THE PAWNBROKER was an exceptionally innovative film for a number of significant reasons. For one, it was arguably the first American film to deal seriously with the aftermath of the Holocaust, and how those survivors have to deal with the horror they saw in the concentration and death camps of twenty to twenty-five years before. For another, it did so by pushing the limits of what was acceptable in early/mid-1960's cinema, specifically by showing that horror in a more direct way via nudity and a certain amount of graphic violence as well. But Lumet, one of the many directors who came out of television in the 1950's and helped to move the art of cinema forward, did so in a very concise and responsible fashion. With a subject like the psychological after-effects of the Holocaust, he couldn't do so any other way.

Rod Steiger gives what may be one of the most difficult performances any actor has ever given in any film, in that he portrays Sol Nazerman, a Holocaust survivor who is now an extremely isolated pawnbroker in New York's ethnically diverse Harlem district. He may have been able to survive the physical horrors of Auschwitz, but the rest of his family didn't; and his loss in belief in God (for seemingly allowing six million of his fellow Jews to be gassed or incinerated on Adolf Hitler's orders) has led him to make his pawn ship and the mere accumulation of money his only lot in life. The realization that the laundry business he also runs on the side with a local crime boss (Brock Peters) comes from brothels causes him to have flashbacks to those dark horrors of 1944-45; and his coldness makes it difficult for him to show his Puerto Rican-born assistant (Jaime Sanchez) how to run a business of his own. This only leads to tragedy when a fatal shooting occurs at his shop, and, for the first time in decades, Steiger finally cries.

Lumet, who had already scored at least two major-league cinematic successes, first in 1957 with the legendary courtroom drama 12 ANGRY MEN, and then in 1964 with the nuclear war suspense drama FAIL-SAFE, did not initially have it in mind to work with Steiger, whose acting he considered a bit too intense; but thankfully, Steiger overcame Lumet's initial reluctance, knowing that the character he was to play required a strong sense of underplaying, almost devoid of all emotion (at least until the bleak end). As with the two aforementioned masterpieces, Lumet made it important to shoot THE PAWNBROKER in stark black-and-white, partly out of being influenced by the French new-wave style and to accentuate a documentary-like appearance. Being a native New Yorker, Lumet shot much of this film on location in the Big Apple itself, taking advantage of the city's gritty ethnic mixtures, and to show the all-encompassing darkness of Steiger's destitute pawnbroker unable to come to terms with the memories that are by no means in a distant past. In every real way, Steiger, with Lumet's concise, clinical direction, shows us the effects of what we might know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Survivor's Guilt, on those who escaped the Holocaust, but who still live as though it happened yesterday.

Aided by a fine score by Quincy Jones (the first in Jones' illustrious career), THE PAWNBROKER can be seen, alongside Steven Spielberg's 1993 masterpiece SCHINDLER'S LIST, as a masterwork on the greatest example of Man's inhumanity to Man. Although it's likely seen nowadsys, almost fifty-six years (to this writing) since its release, as a very cold film, it is in many ways that coldness that makes THE PAWNBROKER such a powerful film. One can never know what it's like to be an oppressed person until one walks in that oppressed person's shoes.
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