Wednesday, September 24, 2003


Rod Steiger is the title character, the manager of a pawnshop in Harlem; he survived the Holocaust but he saw his family degraded and killed. He has become numb to both the joys and the suffering of the people around him (his family, his acquaintances, and his customers). People's sob stories, told as they dicker with him for more money, don't affect him, and neither do attempts by others to initiate friendly relationships. A neighborhood woman (Geraldine Fitzgerald) tries for something like a romance, but is rebuffed. Jaime Sanchez is a worker at the pawnshop who tries to approach him as a mentor, but Steiger is reluctant to be even that. Brock Peters is a gangster who owns the building and uses the shop as a money-laundering front. Peters' pimping brings back horrific memories to Stieger of seeing his wife raped by Nazis. In the end, Sanchez, who has been looking for a way out of the thuggish life he seems destined for, helps his pals rob the pawnshop, an event that leads to the inevitable tragic ending. Flashbacks to Steiger's past are done mostly in lightning-fast glimpses. The black and white cinematography enhances the bleak atmosphere, though the loud Quincy Jones score doesn't really fit. There is an interesting visual motif of fences and gates to reinforce Steiger's separation from humanity. Steiger is very good, but so is Jaime Sanchez, an appealing actor whose career didn't take off like it should have. A 60's classic of alienation that fits right in with movies like DARLING, THE COLLECTOR, and BLOW-UP.

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