'The Pawnbroker' [Blu-ray]
(Rod Steiger, Jamie Sanchez, et al / Blu ray / NR / (1964) 2014 / Olive Films)
Overview: Rod Steiger plays Sol Nazerman, a survivor of a WWII Nazi death camp where his wife, parents and children were murdered. His soul robbed of hope, he takes refuge in misery and a bitter condemnation of humanity while managing a Harlem pawnshop subjected to an endless parade of prostitutes, pimps and thieves.
Blu ray Verdict: Harlem pawnbroker Sol Nazerman wants to be left alone. A death camp survivor whose wife and children did not get out he has withdrawn from the world as much as possible in order to cope. The down and out people that frequent his shop get little more than his standard offer. There is no small talk, haggling or eye contact. Take it or leave it.
Jesus, his ambitious assistant is treated with the same attitude except when Sol decides to impart some brutal life lessons on what it is to be a "merchant". Grim as his existence is Nazerman seems content to let his life slip away without the pain of feeling anything. This all changes when it's revealed he's running a front for a Harlem crime boss to launder cash.
Forced to confront his involvement in criminal activity and constantly reminded of his concentration camp past Nazerman descends even deeper into his own private hell.
From start to finish The Pawnbroker is one tragic journey. Save for the optimistic Jesus the film is populated with characters in various forms of desperation. Rod Stieger as Nazerman is at times almost too painful to watch as he slips in and out of catatonia between the callous and cold diatribes he serves up to those attempting to reach out to him.
Jaime Sanchez as Jesus is a bit too strident and Geraldine Fitzgerald's out of her depth social worker too clueless but Brock Peter's stylish thug is a potent dose of reality and highly effective.
Director Sidney Lumet's direction lapses into heavy handedness (slo mo, overlong flashbacks) on occasion bogging the film down while at other times "nouvelle vague" technique produces some powerfully edited scenes. Boris Kauffman's smoky cinematography successfully establishes mood and place stealing shots on Harlem streets and imprisoning Nazerman within the maze of cages in his shop and Quincy Jones quirky score partners nicely with the action and setting.
'The Pawnbroker' can be a difficult film to get through since the suffering remains unrelenting and Lumet's pacing is erratic most of the way but Stieger's towering performance makes it well worth the ordeal.
Oh, and for the record, since the film was black and white, the blood seen is actually chocolate syrup! Also, the music on the radio in the scene between Ortiz and his girlfriend is composer Quincy Jones' 'Soul Bossa Nova,' which would later be used in the Austin Powers films. And, finally, the original brownstone building which served as the setting for the Nazerman Pawn Shop (located at 1642 Park Avenue in Manhattan) no longer exists. The site is now occupied by a four unit, four story brick apartment block which was built in 2010. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.77:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.