Pawnbroker, The (1964)

Pawnbroker, The (1964)

“I am not bitter. No, that passed me by a million years ago.”

Synopsis:
A traumatized Holocaust survivor (Rod Steiger) running a pawn shop in Harlem reluctantly trains an eager employee (Jaime Sanchez) while fending off advances from a friendly social worker (Geraldine Fitzgerald) and bargaining ruthlessly with his down-and-out customers.

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Review:
Holocaust survival films make for undeniably — and understandably — brutal viewing, perhaps few quite so sharply as this adaptation (by director Sidney Lumet) of Edward Lewis Wallant’s novel. There is much to admire here, with the b&w visuals consistently stunning, the performances distinctive and heartfelt, and Quincy Jones’ soundtrack a true highlight. However, viewers must prepare themselves for relentless agony as we watch a deeply broken man perpetuate his own horrors onto others through grim apathy and misanthropy. Check this one out for its many fine qualities — including Steiger’s memorable lead performance — but be aware you may not be able to handle watching it more than once.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Rod Steiger as Nazerman
  • Strong supporting performances


  • Effectively claustrophobic sets
  • Fine use of authentic New York locales

  • Boris Kaufman’s cinematography

  • Quincy Jones’ soundtrack

Must See?
Yes, for Steiger’s performance.

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2 thoughts on “Pawnbroker, The (1964)

  1. Agreed; a once-must for Steiger’s performance.

    And it’s true – this film is hard-enough to take once, let alone again. It’s the kind of film that, once seen, is not forgotten. As the years go by afterwards, if you think about this film at some point, you may not recall every scene – but its overall impact probably doesn’t leave.

    I had only seen this once before – many years ago. Before this second viewing, I remembered enough about it to recall just how painful it is.

    It’s a film about being haunted by people in your past – and by what happened to them – and by what easily could have happened to you as well (because you were with them)… but it didn’t happen to you. It’s about love entwined with survivor guilt – and how that can (when you let it) stunt your life and your emotional growth.

    Steiger captures that perfectly.

  2. “As the years go by afterwards, if you think about this film at some point, you may not recall every scene – but its overall impact probably doesn’t leave.”

    Exactly. I very specifically recall watching this as a teenager (at a time when I was first watching many classic movies), and while it’s true I couldn’t recall specific scenes, enough of the overall aura had stayed with me that the revisit felt somehow familiar.

    I tried re-watching this a few years ago and had to stop. This time, I stayed with it and am glad I did — but just not sure I will again. It’s seared.

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