The Pawnbroker [based on the novel by Edward Lewis Wallant] is a painstakingly etched portrait of a man who survived the living hell of a Nazi concentration camp and encounters further prejudice when he runs a pawnshop in Harlem.
Rod Steiger plays the embittered pawnbroker, and his personal credo is a reflection of his past experiences. He has lost his faith in God, the arts and sciences, he has no discriminatory feelings against white or colored man, but regards them all as human scum. Such is the character of the man whose pawnshop is actually a front for a Negro racketeer, whose main income comes from the slums and brothels.
There is little plot in the regular sense, but a series of episodes spanning just a few days of the present, which recall many harrowing experiences of the past. Some are absorbing, but others seem to lack the dramatic punch for which the director must have strived.
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By the very nature of the subject, the pic is dominated by Steiger, and indeed virtually must stand or fall by his performance. He knows most of the tricks of the trade, and puts them to good use.
Although appearing only in three scenes, Geraldine Fitzgerald makes a deep impression as a welfare worker who almost succeeds in getting through to him, but at the last moment he refuses to weaken.
1965: Nomination: Best Actor (Rod Steiger)