Pawnbroker, The (1964)

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

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.


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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