The Pawnbroker (1965)

May 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

Rod Steiger as 'The Pawnbroker'

Written by Morton S. Fine and David Friedkin based on the novel by Edward Lewis Wallant

Directed by Sidney Lumet

Starring Rod Steiger

The Pawnbroker is about a broken man, embittered by his status as the lone survivor of the Holocaust amongst his family and friends. He treats everybody in his life and the world with a dismissive manner that isn’t directed at any individual or group but at the world in general. He longs to die but is not suicidal. This film is about his journey to confronting his inner demons and the lives he touches along the way.

That’s not to say it’s a sappy film or melodramatic in any way. If anything the film is disarmingly subtle in its portrayal and messages. It uses imagery and suggestion way ahead of its time to express the existence and value of a whole slew of lifestyles, personalities and groups all through the interactions this Holocaust survivor has with customers at his pawnshop, which is frequented mostly by gangsters and thugs. It’s a slow movie that asks a lot of the viewer. You have to pay attention and you have to really listen, even though it isn’t exactly a mystery. It’s a superb character study before character studies were en vogue.

The real gem of the film is Steiger, who gives a graceful and fully realized performance for the ages as a German man in his 60’s, while Steiger himself was barely 35 years old. This performance should be studied by as a testament to the ability of actors to create a world within cinema. And I suppose we all have Sidney Lumet’s excellent direction to thank for this as well.


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