Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Pawnbroker (1964)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Pawnbroker (1964)

In director Sidney Lumet's mainstream, socially-conscious psychological melodrama - the first US film to show a woman nude from the waist up with bare breasts that was granted a Production Code seal because the nakedness was integral to the story, and enhanced with a jazzy Quincy Jones score:

  • the opening prologue - a slow-motion, nostalgic, and idyllic mid-summer memory of a Jewish man with his wife, his children and older relatives in an open meadow, when suddenly the images were jarred or interrupted by an unknown menace
  • the response delivered by Nazi concentration camp survivor and embittered East Harlem pawnbroker Sol Nazerman (Rod Steiger) to young Puerto Rican Jesus Ortiz (Jaime Sanchez), his shop assistant, and his question about Jewish business success: "So how come you people come to business so natural" - Nazerman answered (in part): "You people? Oh, I see. Yeah. I see. I see, you, uh, you want to learn the secret of our success, is that right? All right, I teach you. First of all, you start off with a period of several thousand years, during which you have nothing to sustain you but a great bearded legend. Oh my friend, you have, uh, no land to call your own, to grow food on or to hunt. You have nothing. You're never in one place long enough to have a geography or an army or a land myth. All you have is a little brain. A little brain and a great bearded legend to sustain you and convince you that you are special, even in poverty. But this, uh, this little brain, that's the real key, you see. With this little brain, you go out and you buy a piece of cloth, and you cut that cloth in two and you go out and sell it for a penny more than you paid for it. Then you run right out and buy another piece of cloth, cut it into three pieces and sell it for three pennies profit....You just go on and on and on repeating this process over the centuries, over and over, and suddenly you make a grand discovery. You have a mercantile heritage! You are a merchant. You are known as a usurer, a man with secret resources, a witch, a pawnbroker, a sheenie, a makie and a kike!"
Sol's Answer to Question by Jesus Ortiz
about Jewish Business Success
  • quick-cutting flashbacks representing Sol Nazerman's memory flashes (including his memory of outstretched hands next to barbed wire having jewelry removed from fingers by the Nazis, after he glanced at a pregnant customer's glittering diamond engagement ring, or a barking dog and rumble in the slum triggered his recollection of an attempted concentration camp escape by a man struggling to climb over a wire fence before being attacked by a Nazi German shepherd)
Disturbing and Associative Flashcuts
Back to Concentration Camp Horrors
In the Present
In the Death Camp
  • the shock of Sol's skewering and puncturing of his hand on a paper holder
  • the controversial scene in which a black prostitute (Thelma Oliver), the girlfriend of his employee Jesus, bared her breasts for him in exchange for money ("You've got to get me some money - Look!"); a fast series of clips alternated between shots of the prostitute, himself, and his brutal, intense and triggered flashbacks of Nazi guards readying themselves to sexually assault his humiliated wife Ruth (Linda Geiser) (also seen briefly topless) years before - because he interpreted sex as dark and evil, he covered the young topless woman with her raincoat, and gave her a $20 dollar bill
  • the sequence of Sol's crisis of conscience when he accepted the fact that his black business backer Rodriguez (Brock Peters), a local crime boss, was using the unprofitable pawnshop as a front to launder money for his rackets - and brothel businesses (the exploited prostitute worked in the brothel)!
Robbery of Pawn Shop: Tangee with Other Thugs
Robbery Attempt with Firearm
Ortiz' Death on the Sidewalk
Sol's Reaction
  • in the tragic conclusion, a robbery by a neighborhood gang leader Tangee (Raymond St. Jacques) and two thugs (encouraged by a spiteful Ortiz who had been told: "You are nothing to me") led to Ortiz' death when he stepped in between and was hit by a gunshot aimed for Nazerman - Ortiz crawled out to the sidewalk and died in the street, after confessing: "I said no shootin'. No to hurt you"


Black Prostitute
(Thelma Oliver)

Triggering Sol's Flashback of His Wife's Rape in Camp

Sol's Wife Ruth Nazerman (Linda Geiser) - Abused in Death Camp


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