Concentration camp survivor Sol Nazerman (Rod Steiger) tries to make a fresh start in New York but is plagued by flashbacks of his experiences during the Holocaust, depriving him of any faith in humanity and causing him to withdraw from life into the small fortress of the Harlem pawn shop where he works.
Steeped in cynicism, he turns a blind eye to the antics of a local racketeer operating out of his shop – until a social worker tries to break through to him and reawaken his sense of right and wrong.
Steiger established his credentials as an actor of international standing with this complex psychological portrait.
Director Sidney Lumet treats his material – adapted from Edward Lewis Wallant’s searing novel – with solemnity and compassion, and the tone is sensitively enhanced by an evocative jazz score from first-time film composer Quincy Jones.
At the time of its release, the film was controversial in its representation of African-American gangsters, not to mention its then-shocking use of brief nudity – The Pawnbroker was the first film featuring a frontal shot of a woman’s bare breasts to receive the approval of the Motion Picture Production Code.
But it’s Steiger’s portrayal of a lost soul at odds with a harsh world that lingers long after the credits have rolled.
Nancy R Pollock
Raymond St Jacques