LGwriter | Astoria, N.Y. United States | 10/15/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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."
Steiger, Lumet & Q
R. Gawlitta | Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA | 03/02/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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."
A cinematic masterpiece beyond criticism
J from NY | New York | 03/08/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
""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."
theatreslave | New York, NY | 07/17/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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."
More powerful and moving than "Schindler's List"
Tom Tigani | Philly, PA | 03/16/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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."