76 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on October 15, 2003
Rod Steiger's performance in this film is the best of his career. Period. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor, 1965, and should easily have won--although he did not. In this powerful film, he plays Sol Nazerman, a seedy denizen of New York's Lower East Side who makes his living as a pawnbroker. Into his store come lowlifes of all sorts--hookers, junkies, thieves. Nazerman is a survivor of the Holocaust and carries enormous psychic scars that refuse to stop tearing at his soul.
As a vicious menacing crime figure, Brock Peters is also superb--the present-day reminder to Nazerman of how evil never dies. Other cast members include Geraldine Fitzgerald as a sympathetic caseworker and Jaime Sanchez as Nazerman's young Latino assistant who is of another generation and another culture, and cannot understand his boss' terrible anguish.
Director Sidney Lumet has done an outstanding job here conveying the lifelong suffering that horrific evil brings with it. This is not a graphic film, but one that delivers its message before the days of special effects via pure drama. It is a great thing to have this now available on DVD; this is a film that should be seen by those who treasure phenomenal acting and powerful emotion.
Very highly recommended; the best American film of 1965 and one of the best American films of the 20th century.
45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2005
I saw this film in it's initial release. Lumet just received an Special Oscar, and this film should be at the top of his list of achievements. Steiger was never better, and Quincy Jones first film score was so very appropriate. The only Oscar recognition was for Rod Steiger's amazing performance, so complicated and profound...and so very complete. Missing of recognition was Jaime Sanchez' powerful supporting role, and that of the great Geraldine Fitzgerald, still magnificent after a long hiatus. Also, Brock Peters, after playing the sweet Tom Robinson in "To Kill a Mockingbird", shows great range as the bad guy.Steiger lost the Oscar to Lee Marvin in "Cat Ballou". Even though Marvin played dual roles, Jane Fonda was the center of that film. Steiger was in every frame of "The Pawnbroker". Makes you wonder about the credibility of the Academy, huh? And then there's Lumet, and those very complicated flashbacks of the Holocaust. Quite powerful. This is the first film score by the great Quincy Jones. It is so appropriate. (He was nominated the following year for "In Cold Blood"). Some say Steiger won the Oscar in '67 ("In the Heat of the Night") because he lost for this one. I think not. This was a period in Steiger's career when he was in touch with his material. Lumet, Jones and the late Steiger should be proud that this display of greatness is available for all to see.
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
"the pawnbroker" is the best and most powerful film having to do with the holocaust that i have ever seen. rod steiger gives one of the best performances in the history of american movies, and the devastating implications of the events of WW2 for human beings is delivered here in full force. even the criminal steiger unwillingly works for seems to understand exactly what is going on in his wary employee's mind in his attempts to shut out all emotion as a result of his horrendous experience and in one unforgettable scene roars, "then that makes you NOTHING!" this is a picture of a broken man and an indifferent, evil world, both brutalized beyond redemption. absolutely magnificent and almost unbearably touching.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on July 17, 2002
I saw this as a kid at a drive-in (oh, the pre-ratings days!), and of course was only impressed by the nudity. Yet certain images in the film always stayed in my mind--particularly when the social worker reaches out her hand to comfort the pawnbroker, and he doesn't take it--and later, when I sought it out on VHS, I finally realized what a great film it was. I even went and read the book!
It is not a kid's movie, as I can well attest. Nor is it the sort of treatment on the Holocaust that we have come to expect. This isn't a film focused on the suffering of the concentration camp victims, but on life after such a horrible event, and the pain that always accompanies any engagement in life. The pawnbroker, Nazerman, having survived the camps, has decided he has felt enough pain in his life and refuses to feel anything for anyone again. He has a pawnshop in Harlem, lives with his sister's family in Long Island, dutifully visits the sick brother of one of his friends who didn't survive (while sleeping with his friend's widow)--and never emotionally interacts with any of them. Oddly enough (and deliberately, too, for the novelist who wrote this story meant it as a Christian allegory), his remoteness causes his clients to treat him as a Christ-figure; they bring him not just the junk they need to pawn, but their hopes and fears and griefs, and an aching desire for sympathy.
The action is a continuing round of efforts--by his assistant Jesus, by the social worker, by the pimp who uses his shop to launder money, and by the customers he trades with--to break through the armor plating the pawnbroker uses to keep the world and its pain at bay. By the 25th anniversary of his family's capture by the Nazis, which destroyed everything in the world he loved, his ability to preserve his detachment in a world that never runs dry of pain has driven him to seek death. It takes a tragedy and the realization that he is still loved to finally force him to reconnect with humanity--a moment of sacrifice and salvation, which is what the allegorical basis of the story requires, and is what makes the ending feel so "right."
The Amazon reviewer says there are some melodramatic points that can grate, but names the wrong one in my opinion. The dying "friend" who is always harping on Nazerman's refusal to feel anything is the main thing that now annoys me, as if we could miss the point after the way the pawnbroker blisters everyone around him. But the "blood on my hands" criticism is a misunderstanding of the film's last moments and their purpose. This climactic scene is the pawnbroker's "crucifixion," necessary for any Christ-figure to fulfill his destiny (note what part of the body is pierced); in it, he not only achieves transcendence, but the physical pain he inflicts on himself reflects the emotional pain he is allowing himself to feel again. The filmmakers had to dramatize his internal transformation somehow, and I think they came up with a pretty good visual metaphore for it, if understood properly.
I can't think of any other film that has so many important themes going through it, and handles them with such sureness and clarity, and with so many beautiful performances. (Don't forget, this was one of Geraldine Fitzgerald's few film appearances; this great actress is beyond compare.) It failed to get many awards at the time it was released, but happily appreciation of its accomplishment has increased with time.
I join the others who wonder where the DVD version, with director's and actors' comments, is for The Pawnbroker. Alas, Steiger has just died, so we may never have any of his opinions on this stellar role (one hopes he talked about the part on talk shows at some point). It really should be assembled on DVD with all the trimmings before any more of the original cast and crew leave us. Somebody in Hollywood should wake up.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
This devastating film about a holocaust survivor living (or rather existing) in Spanish Harlem NY, was an important, controversial and courageous exercise in 1965, and it retains its power all these years later. With what is without doubt Rod Steiger's finest performance, this study of a man haunted by his memories, and so traumatized by survivor's guilt and grief that he has numbed his emotions beyond human touch, and isolated himself completely from the humanity surrounding him, might even stun and disturb today's cynical sophisticates.
The only thing Sol Nazerman, the Pawnbroker, hasn't lost is his life. Everything he loved has been taken from him, and the wall he has erected to separate himself from his pain has likewise enured him to any human emotion, even pity and compassion for the human flotsam that daily appears before him with their pathetic possessions to pawn. He has no longer the ability to love, hate, desire or despair. He simply transacts, without care or consideration. Rod Steiger could be a bombastic and over-the-top actor, so his restrained, thoughtful, carefully modulated performance here is a revelation and an acting masterpiece.
Filmed with gritty realism on location in black and white (absolutely correct for this piece), it is a very adult, mature, and somber work. It was controversial in its time for nudity and because the gangster that uses Nazerman's pawnshop to launder money is black. That, and an unflinching look at the Spanish Harlem of junkies, prostitutes and so on. Today, all of this seems completely appropriate.
The supporting cast led by Jaime Sanchez as the assistant, Geraldine Fitzgerald as the kind and lonely social worker & Brock Peters as the malevolent entrepeneur, the ruthless gangster with a taste for refinement,are excellent. There are nice bits by Jauno Hernandez, Rene Santoni, and others as the Pawnbroker's customers.
Sidney Lumet provides his customary skill and precision in direction, not to mention bringing out Steiger's tremendous performance. The editing by Ralph Rosenblum intercuts Nazerman's terrible memories in flashback with his present surroundings brilliantly. Quincy Jones's score works nicely.
But the show is Steiger. His lesson to Sanchez on the "mercantile heritage" of the Jew is a classic scene. And the careful buildup to the shattering climax of the piece, as Nazerman becomes increasingly overwhelmed with the images of his lost family and the wreckage of his past that culminates in his crashing breakthrough into the present and the onslaught of his emotions will not be forgotten by anyone loving great acting and filmmaking.
This is not an easy film. It does not sell out its story cheaply to any kind of audience-friendly ending. This is modern tragedy, done with care and guts, and well worthwhile for those who treasure that.
Footnote: And they gave the Oscar to Lee Marvin for Cat Ballou. Nuff said.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2000
This is one of my favorite films. Rod Steiger, the most underrated artist alive, in my opinion, plays a Jewish pawnbroker who struggles with memories of the war, loss of his family and the apathetic shell his life has become. When he finally realizes that the people around him need his concern and without it, they can't survive, it's too late. A young Quincy Jones composed the tremendous Jazz score that gives every scene depth and punch. The film is in black and white which makes the characters seem more shady, sad and poignant. It is filmed on location in Hell's kitchen, at that time, a derelict New York neighborhood. This gives the film an atmosphere of desperation, fear, foreboding and regret. It is a sensitive, complex film that stirs the emotions on so many levels. See it if you can.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on March 16, 2000
In some ways, more powerful and moving than "Schindler's List" as it examines the holocaust's devastating impact on one survivor. Sol tries to reconcile his past with his current (and equally bleak) situation as a pawnbroker in Harlem. The movie chronicles his ongoing struggles in trying to reconnect with his emotional self. The flashback images of the Holocaust still packs a punch - the one image that sticks out for me is the scene that has the camera pan across a row of upstretched arms and hands, pressed against barbed wire as Nazi's reach across the wires and pluck the valuable rings from the victim's fingers.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
This is one of only a few films in which there are certain scenes which, for various reasons, I find almost unbearable to watch again. The others include the scene at the train station when Sophie must make her choice, the sequence of murders in In Cold Blood, the burning of the church in The Patriot, the multiple hangings in The Ox-Bow Incident, and the evisceration of William Wallace in Braveheart.
Brilliantly directed by Sidney Lumet, with equally brilliant cinematography by Boris Kaufman (both of whom should have at least been nominated for an Academy Award), this is among the first films to dramatize with high levels of seriousness and sensitivity the essential evil of the Holocaust. Sol Nazerman is the central character, played by Rod Steiger who was nominated for an Academy Award for best actor. Lee Marvin received that award for his role in Cat Ballou. (I thoroughly enjoyed Marvin's performance but still think Steiger deserved the award. To his credit, so did Marvin and said so.) Nazerman is a pawnbroker in New York City, having long ago lost (or so it seems) his ability to have any feelings for anyone else...or even for himself. His mind may be especially alert but his heart seems numb after so much emotional pain.
In terms of plot, not much happens. Most of the the film focuses is on Nazerman's dysfunctional interactions with other people, notably with Marilyn Birchfield (played by Geraldine Fitzgerald) and Jose Ortiz (Jaime Sanchez) who works for Nazerman. What's Nazerman's problem? With meticulous care, Lumet gradually reveals the past from which he emerged but, in certain respects, from which he has not survived. His "problem" is that he has lost his will to live but not to exist.
Many of those who have seen the film will insist that, in the final scene, when Nazerman screams out in pain, the sound of that scream has haunted them ever since. In fact, there was no sound. Steiger later explained that his approach to that climactic moment in the film was inspired by Picasso's anti-war mural, Guernica, which portrays unprecedented atrocities committed on April 27th, 1937, against the civilian population of Guernica, a small Basque village in northern Spain. To Steiger's and Lumet's everlasting credit, Nazerman's silent scream allows the film to have the greatest possible subliminal impact on those privileged to experience it.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 22, 1998
No question that the 1964 Rod Steiger movie version of this novel is a masterpiece in stark black & white. No less powerful is the source book's account of Sol Nazerman, who survived the Holocaust only to be living in the middle of another kind of concentration camp as a Harlem pawnbroker. The power of this book is in Wallant's consummate handling of some of the bleakest material one can imagine. It's hard to put this one down and, once read, it's hard to forget. END
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2006
Rod Steiger is a Harlem pawnbroker haunted by the memories of his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp. His entire family was lost in the camp, and he can't understand or accept the fact that somehow he's survived. He is the epitome of a walking dead man: he's become totally devoid of all feelings; his only response to people is by acting cruel and aggressive. He believes that money is all that matters in life; all emotions have completely evaporated from his life. Steiger's performance is powerful, and some of the symbolic representations (when he forces his palm through a desk/counter spike, for example) are potent. He spends a great deal of the movie almost in an emotional trance, staggering around his shop, the streets, and the subway, lost within himself - Steiger makes the pain very real. Director Sidney Lumet used fraction-of-a-second flashbacks back to the concentration camp images to excellent effect. Quincy Jones did the soundtrack.