Rod Steiger (In the Heat of the Night) earned a Best Actor Oscar® nomination for his stunning performance in this powerful story of hope and empathy from celebrated director Sidney Lumet (Dog Days Afternoon). 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. Jamie Sanchez (The Wild Bunch) plays Ortiz, Sol’s underprivileged and idealistic assistant who dreams of a better life. Two of the film’s best features are the gorgeous black-and-white cinematography by the great Boris Kaufman (On the Waterfront) with a memorable trumpet score by the legendary Quincy Jones (The Getaway). The wonderful cast also includes Geraldine Fitzgerald (Wuthering Heights), Brock Peters (To Kill a Mockingbird) and Raymond St. Jacques (Cotton Comes to Harlem).
Based on a novel by Edward Lewis Wallant, this gritty story follows Sol (Rod Steiger in a breakout performance), a lonely camp survivor who has dealt with the destruction of his family by suppressing all emotion and cleaving to the philosophy that nothing matters except money. (His bedridden and dying friend Mendel describes him, to his face, as "the walking dead.") Sol cannot accept the friendship of his assistant, Ortiz (Jaime Sanchez), or of an equally lonely widow (Geraldine Fitzgerald). As the 25th anniversary of his wife's murder approaches, he starts to fall apart, and it becomes clear that what he really wants is to die. The film was considered shocking when first released, both because of its rawness and because of brief nudity. Time has made some of the dramatic touches seem melodramatic--especially the corny "blood on my hands!" final scene. But Steiger's performance is still remarkable, and, even after MTV, the sudden-flashback editing is a forceful technique. A high point of Sidney Lumet's career. Black and white, with lots of atmospheric trumpets by Quincy Jones. --Richard Farr
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