Rod Steiger's performance in this film is the best of his career. Period. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor, 1965, and should easily have won--although he did not. In this powerful film, he plays Sol Nazerman, a seedy denizen of New York's Lower East Side who makes his living as a pawnbroker. Into his store come lowlifes of all sorts--hookers, junkies, thieves. Nazerman is a survivor of the Holocaust and carries enormous psychic scars that refuse to stop tearing at his soul.
As a vicious menacing crime figure, Brock Peters is also superb--the present-day reminder to Nazerman of how evil never dies. Other cast members include Geraldine Fitzgerald as a sympathetic caseworker and Jaime Sanchez as Nazerman's young Latino assistant who is of another generation and another culture, and cannot understand his boss' terrible anguish.
Director Sidney Lumet has done an outstanding job here conveying the lifelong suffering that horrific evil brings with it. This is not a graphic film, but one that delivers its message before the days of special effects via pure drama. It is a great thing to have this now available on DVD; this is a film that should be seen by those who treasure phenomenal acting and powerful emotion.
Very highly recommended; the best American film of 1965 and one of the best American films of the 20th century.