Cast & Crew
With the rise of Hitler, Prof. Sol Nazerman, a Jew, and his family were dragged to a concentration camp, where he saw his two children die and his wife raped by Nazi officers. Now he operates a pawnshop in Spanish Harlem. Numbed by the horrors of his past, he considers himself conditioned against any emotion. His assistant at the shop is a brash but sensitive young Puerto Rican, Jesus Ortiz, who senses that there is another being under the cold exterior Nazerman presents. But the boy's attempts to break through this exterior are rebuffed, as are those of Marilyn Birchfield, a neighborhood social worker. When Nazerman learns that Rodriguez, the pawnshop's flamboyant black backer, makes his money through prostitution, the old man recalls his wife's death and swears that he wants no part of the business; but Rodriguez forces him to admit that he knew all along where the money came from. One day Ortiz tries to get assurance from Nazerman that there is more to life than the ugliness he sees around him. When Nazerman responds by being thoughtlessly cruel, the boy spitefully arranges for the pawnshop to be robbed. Facing armed thugs, Nazerman refuses to hand over his money and readily--almost eagerly--awaits death. But Ortiz takes the bullet intended for Nazerman and dies in the old man's arms. In frustration, Nazerman impales his hand on the receipt spindle and wanders into the street.
Nancy R. Pollock
Raymond St. Jacques
E. M. Margolese
Anna Hill Johnstone
Herbert R. Steinmann
The Pawnbroker on Blu-ray
His young, energetic assistant Jesus (Jaime Sánchez of The Wild Bunch) talks a mile a minute and many of the shop's walk-ins, a stream of addicts, hookers, thieves, and a few lonely souls more desperate for contact than cash, try to engage Sol in the most rudimentary of conversations. But Sol is an impenetrable wall of business. He's not rude or dismissive, even when slurs are spit his way, simply terse and direct and unyielding. "I have escaped my emotions," is how he explains it to Tessie (Marketa Kimbrell), the widow of his once-closest friend. To an insistent social worker (Geraldine Fitzgerald) who keeps gently pressing him to talk, he's more forthright about his dispassion and disinterest in his customers or anyone else. "Black, white, or yellow, they are all equally scum. Rejects." After losing his wife, his children, and his parents to the Nazis and the concentration camps, Sol has lost faith in God and humanity alike.
The Pawnbroker follows a few days in the life of Sol as his protective emotional shell cracks and suppressed memories cut through in jagged shards. We never return to the suburban home he shares with his sister and her family, a place he bought but feels apart from. He spends evenings with Tessie, going through the motions of love-making with the same disengaged calm he brings to a hand of gin rummy, and his days haunting the narrow tunnels behind the wire mesh of the pawnshop cage. It's not even his business, merely a front for a Harlem mobster (Brock Peters) who launders money through the storefront while Sol simply looks the other way, signing checks and papers without raising an eyebrow or changing expression. But as the memories batter his hardened heart, the lives of others start to get under his hide and he faces his complicity in the mobster's business.
Steiger, a veteran of the Actor's Studio, has a history of big, histrionic performances, which makes Sol stand out so impressively in his career. Looking decades older than his almost 40 years, Steiger gives Sol a slow, shuffling passivity, an old man's deliberation that keeps him focused on a single task at a time. Only after completing one action does he turn to respond to a question or deal with the next customer, never with a sense of annoyance or exasperation, but neither with a smile or an invitation to engage in anything but a business transaction. Sol doesn't just hide his feelings, he is unfazed and seemingly untouched by the people who pass through his life, and Steiger's performance gives us a man who is all control and suppressed emotion. Until he isn't, and even then his emotions have to fight through the resignation that has taken over his face and entire body. The silent scream and tremors of rage and fury trying to escape in the final minutes is the most internalized performance Steiger has ever given. He was nominated for Best Actor for this role, and it's far more powerful and nuanced than anything he did in In the Heat of the Night, the film that gave him his first Oscar.
The Pawnbroker is most interesting as a product of its time and its collaborators, an intriguing meeting of artists and sensibilities. Director Sidney Lumet was a celebrated TV director with a theatrical sensibility to his early big screen work--he directed Marlon Brando in Tennessee Williams' The Fugitive Kind (1960) and Katharine Hepburn and Ralph Richardson in Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night (1962)--that gives the pawnshop scenes the feel of an off-Broadway play with its social commentary on its sleeve. Lumet fights the staginess of the script adaptation, which sends a succession of patrons through the shop as if checking off the social ills one by one, with a fluid camera that drifts through the nooks and crannies of the space, and when he succeeds it's due largely to the restrained naturalism of Steiger who inhabits the space like an aging lion resigned to his zoo cage.
It's photographed by Boris Kaufman, who won an Oscar for On the Waterfront (the film that Steiger earned his first Oscar nomination, as it happens), and he gives the pawnshop set a shabby sadness. But when the film leaves the shop (or the little apartment that Tessie shares with her infirm father) for the streets, the noise and bustle of the Harlem streets energizes the screen. It's dynamic and alive, an early glimpse of the Lumet who will become one of the great chroniclers of New York City life and a very different kind of New York slum than the handsomely romanticized tenement life and street culture of On the Waterfront.
Quincy Jones scores the film with a jazzy beat that sets Sol off as a man not just out of time but outside of his own world, and the editing by Ralph Rosenblum (who cut Woody Allen's Annie Hall) disrupts the carefully subdued dramatic atmosphere with narrative jumps that blur the passage of time and startling cuts to the flashbacks that come on like assaults on the mind of Sol. The flashback scenes themselves are less effective, perhaps in part because Lumet's attempts at a realistic recreation of life in a Nazi concentration camp in a few isolated shots can't help but fail to suggest the inhumanity of the real ordeal, but also because they simply look so unconvincing next to the authenticity of his New York street scenes. Fifty years ago, when so few images of concentration camps were shown on film screens, those scenes may have carried greater dramatic impact, but after Holocaust, Schindler's List, and scores of dramatic and documentary portrayals of the Holocaust, they don't ring true as either symbolic or literal representations.
More startling to audiences at the time, I imagine, or at least more unexpected, was the nudity, unheard of in a mainstream American drama in 1964. It's startling because of its matter-of-fact presentation of sex as currency in this culture, and its trigger for a particular flashback that cuts to the heart of Sol's despair. The Pawnbroker was the first American film to show bare breasts and still get the Production Code approval.
The disc features a new digital HD master from Paramount, an excellent transfer with a sharp image and strong contrasts. There is minor speckling throughout but no damage and the image preserves the texture of the filmic source. Which is to say, the film grain is not scrubbed out but neither is it prominent except for a few scenes that were shot on the streets, likely with fast film stock and possibly shot covertly from a hidden camera. The Blu-ray looks superb. There are no supplements.
by Sean Axmaker
The Pawnbroker on Blu-ray
The Pawnbroker (1964), directed by Sidney Lumet, was one of the first American films to address the Holocaust through the eyes of a survivor after the events. Highly influenced by the French New Wave of the early sixties, particularly its use of quick flashback cuts to reveal Sol's personal tragedy, the film explores the effect of memory and emotion on the human psyche while also recalling life-changing events from the objective present. In this, The Pawnbroker shares some stylistic and thematic similarities to the work of Alain Resnais, particularly Hiroshima mon Amour (1959) and his highly influential documentary, Night and Fog (1955). Aside from this, however, Lumet's film is uniquely American, with its harsh, unforgiving depiction of New York City, all of it brought to vivid life by Boris Kaufman's black and white cinematography and a dynamic cast highlighted by Rod Steiger's searing portrayal of the title role.
Although Steiger was already recognized as a highly gifted "Method" actor (he was Oscar® nominated for Best Supporting Actor in On the Waterfront, 1954), The Pawnbroker was the film which earned him international critical acclaim and launched his career as an A-list actor in major films. Yet, at the time, he agreed to do the movie for a reduced fee (he was paid $50,000 - a much lower figure than his normal rate) because he trusted the director (they had worked together previously on the TV series, You Are There).
Steiger was barely forty when he played Sol Nazerman but immersed himself so deeply in the character that it's hard to believe he's not a sixty year old man. His tendency toward dramatic excess though was effectively curtailed by Lumet who later said, "Sure Rod has weaknesses of rhetoric, but you can talk them through with him. I explained that this solitary Jew could not rise to heights of emotion; he had been hammered by life and by people. The faith he had to find was in other people, because God had betrayed him" (from Rod Steiger: Memoirs of a Friendship by Tom Hutchinson).
Steiger would later state, "I think my best work is in The Pawnbroker. The last scene, where I find the boy dead on the street. I think that's the highest moment, whatever it may be, with my talent." The actor's inspiration for this climactic moment, where his grief is expressed as a silent scream, was Picasso's famous painting of "Guernica" with its depiction of the war ravaged villagers. Even more difficult to film was Steiger's final scene when Sol's anguish finally erupts, causing him to drive his hand through the pointed metal spoke for shop receipts.
Not surprisingly, The Pawnbroker had a difficult time finding a major U.S. distributor due to its grim and challenging subject matter. Producer Ely Landau shopped it around to every studio but was told it would never earn back its costs. He didn't have any better luck in England until he arranged for a booking of the film at a West End cinema in London where it had an enormously successful run. As a result, Landau was able to arrange a distribution deal with the Rank organization and open it theatrically in the U.S. where it was critically acclaimed by most major film critics.
The Pawnbroker also generated considerable controversy in several communities. Some Jewish organizations urged a boycott of the film due to its uncompromising presentation of the Jewish pawnbroker which they felt encouraged anti-Semitism. Black groups also accused the film of encouraging racial stereotypes of the inner city where everyone seemed to be a pimp, prostitute or drug addict. Even the Legion of Decency objected to the film for a scene in which Ortiz's girlfriend (Thelma Oliver) bares her breasts in an effort to get more money for a pawn item. All of these charges, however, seem unjustified when one views the film. What emerges is a realistic and devastating portrait of urban alienation.
Pauline Kael was one of the few critics to find fault with the movie, proclaiming the film "trite", but she also saw its merits, "You can see the big pushes for powerful effects, yet it isn't negligible. It wrenches audiences, making them fear that they, too, could become like this man. And when events strip off his armor, he doesn't discover a new, warm humanity, he discovers sharper suffering - just what his armor had protected him from. Most of the intensity comes from Steiger's performance."
Despite the many accolades The Pawnbroker received - the New York Film Critics award for Best Film and Director, the Golden Globe for Best Actor, the Silver Bear (Best Actor at the Berlin International Film Festival), among others - it only garnered one Oscar® nomination - for Best Actor. Steiger was practically certain he was going to win the Academy Award when he arrived at the Oscar ceremony. Right before the award was announced, the actor began to button his jacket in anticipation of leaving his seat and walking down the aisle. Instead he heard the name "Lee Marvin!" "I was absolutely shocked," said Steiger. "And Lee Marvin walked up and got a prize he probably and justly deserved, and I got a spanking from the forces of nature which said, 'Listen, jackass, never take happiness, never take your talent, for granted. Never, in any walk of life, take for granted your capabilities. Each minute a second of life is a challenge - so sit still, schmuck, and let this be a lesson to you. Happiness has to be earned and respected. Rewards must never be taken for granted.' I never forgot that moment" (from Rod Steiger: Memoirs of a Friendship by Tom Hutchinson).
Producer: Ely A. Landau, Philip Langner, Roger Lewis, Herbert R. Steinmann, Joseph Manduke, Worthington Miner
Director: Sidney Lumet
Screenplay: Morton S. Fine, David Friedkin, Edward Lewis Wallant (novel)
Cinematography: Boris Kaufman
Film Editing: Ralph Rosenblum
Art Direction: Richard Sylbert
Music: Quincy Jones
Cast: Rod Steiger (Sol Nazerman), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Marilyn Birchfield), Brock Peters (Rodriguez), Jaime Sanchez (Jesus Ortiz), Thelma Oliver (Ortiz's Girl), Marketa Kimbrell (Tessie).
by Jeff Stafford
Geraldine Fitzgerald (1913-2005)
Born in Dublin on November 24, 1913, Fitzgerald was educated for a time in a convent school in London. Back in her native Dublin, she happily accompanied her aunt, the Irish actress Shelah Richards, to a theater one afternoon when the director mistook her for an actress, and instructed her "to go backstage and change." An inauspicious start, but it gave her the acting bug. She made her stage debut in 1932 in Dublin's Gate Theater and later appeared in a few forgettable British films: Open All Night (1934), The Ace of Spades, Three Witnesses (both 1935). She made the trip across the Atlantic in 1938 to act with Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater, but agents from Warner Bros. quickly signed her and she was soon off to Hollywood.
She made her film debut in 1939 supporting Bette Davis in Dark Victory, but it was her performance in a second film later in the year that proved to be the most memorable of her career - the role of Isabella Linton in Wuthering Heights. She earned an Oscar® nomination for her turn and stardom should have been around the corner, but Fitzgerald's feuding with studio head Jack Warner (he refused to let her return to the New York stage and she would refuse parts that she thought were inferior) led to some lengthy suspensions of unemployment. Irregardless, Fitzgerald still had some shining moments at Warner Bros. the heady melodrama The Gay Sisters (1942); the superb espionage thriller Watch on the Rhine (1943); Robert Siodmak's terrific, noirish thriller The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945); and a tough crime drama where she played opposite John Garfield Nobody Lives Forever (1946).
Fitzgerald returned to New York by the '50s, and found much work in many of the live television dramas that were so popular in the day: Goodyear Television Playhouse, Lux Video Theatre, Studio One, Schlitz Playhouse of Stars; and even some taped television shows: Naked City, Alfred Hitchcock Presents in between her stage demands.
She did return to the screen by the mid-'60s and proved herself a fine character actress in films like The Pawnbroker (1965); Rachel, Rachel (1968); Harry and Tonto (1974); a wonderfully memorable comic turn as Dudley Moore's feisty grandmother in Arthur (1981); and yet another noteworthy performance as Rose Kennedy in the acclaimed mini-series Kennedy (1983). She also appeared in a few television programs: St. Elswhere, Cagney & Lacey, and The Golden Girls before ill-health forced her to retire by the early '90s. Among the relatives that survive her are her son, director Michael Lindsay-Hogg (Brideshead Revisited; a daughter, Susan Scheftel; and her great-niece, the English actress Tara Fitzgerald.
by Michael "Mitch" Toole
Geraldine Fitzgerald (1913-2005)
Copyright length: 119 min. Filmed on location in New York City.
Winner of the 1965 Writers Guild of America Award for Best Screenplay (drama).
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1965 New York Times Film Critics.
Winner of the Best Actor Prize (Steiger) at the 1964 Berlin Film Festival.
Released in United States Spring April 20, 1965
Released in United States 1999
Shown at Cinequest 1999: The San Jose Film Festival (Rod Steiger Tribute) February 24 - March 3, 1999.
Released in United States Spring April 20, 1965
Released in United States 1999 (Shown at Cinequest 1999: The San Jose Film Festival (Rod Steiger Tribute) February 24 - March 3, 1999.)