Blu-Ray Review: The Pawnbroker

The caged Sol Nazerman

When Rod Steiger received an Academy Award nomination for his performance as Marlon Brando’s brother in On the Waterfront it seemed like he’d made it. However, during the next decade his career went in fits and starts and by the time he was cast to play the lead in The Pawnbroker it was undoubtedly on the wane. That all changed with his performance in Sidney Lumet’s 1964 film, for which he was in the running for a Best Actor Oscar.

The taciturn Sol Nazerman (Steiger), known as ‘Uncle’ to his customers, runs a pawn shop in a New York slum. A survivor of the concentration camps, he deals with his trauma by closing himself off to the world, focusing on making money. Steadfastly ignoring the issues and backgrounds of his clientele. His Puerto Rican assistant (Jaime Sánchez) sees him as a way out of poverty, while he closes his eyes to the activities of his boss (Brock Peters). One event triggers a flood of memories and his past comes back to haunt him.

The Pawnbroker is an unsettling and disturbing drama. As the first American film made from the perspective of a Holocaust survivor, it centres on the impact that period had on Nazerman. It’s a character study of grief and trauma. Indeed, In Steiger’s incredible performance Lumet has a central pivot which makes it so tense and such a powerful piece of cinema. Controversial at the time, The Pawnbroker deals with a number of societal problems through the eyes of intense suffering.  


  • Presented in High Definition and Standard Definition
  • Newly recorded audio commentary by Maura Spiegel, author of Sidney Lumet: A Life and Annette Insdorf, author of Indelible Shadows: Film and Holocaust
  • Guardian Interview: Rod Steiger (1992, 113 mins, audio only): Rod Steiger discusses his career and talks candidly about his mental health issues in this interview with film critic Tom Hutchinson. Recorded at the BFI’s National Film Theatre following a screening of The Pawnbroker
  • Now and Then: Quincy Jones (1968, 20 mins): the legendary producer, musician, songwriter and composer is interviewed by Bernard Braden for his never broadcast series Now and Then
  • Ten Bob in Winter (1963, 12 mins): Lloyd Reckord’s Ten Bob in Winter is one of the most notable shorts to come out of the BFI Experimental Film Fund. An early classic of Black British cinema about the intriguing social dynamics that arise as a ten shilling note is passed around the Black community.
  • Trailer
  • The Pawnbroker gallery
  • **FIRST PRESSING ONLY** Illustrated booklet including new writing on the film by filmmaker and film historian Jim Hemphill, an essay on Quincy Jones by Nicolas Pillai, and a Sidney Lumet biography by Maura Spiegel

The Pawnbroker is released on Dual Format by the BFI on 16 August.

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