10 March 2010

The Secret to Success | Rod Steiger in '64

The Pawnbroker, 1964

The film was the first American movie to deal with the Holocaust from the viewpoint of a survivor. It earned international acclaim for Rod Steiger and was among the first American movies to feature nudity during the Production Code and was the first film featuring bare breasts to receive Production Code approval.

Director Sidney Lumet initially had misgivings about Steiger being cast in the lead role. He felt that Steiger "was a rather tasteless actor — awfully talented, but completely tasteless in his choices." Lumet preferred James Mason for the role, and comic Groucho Marx was among the actors who had wanted to play the lead.

The film was controversial for depicting nude scenes in which actresses Linda Geiser and Thelma Oliver fully exposed their breasts. The scene with Oliver, who played a prostitute, was intercut with a flashback to the concentration camp, in which Nazerman is forced to see his wife (Geiser) forced into prostitution. The scenes resulted in conflict with the Motion Picture Association of America, which administered the Motion Picture Production Code.

The Association initially rejected the scenes showing bare breasts and a sex scene between Sanchez and Oliver, which it described as "unacceptably sex suggestive and lustful." On a 6-3 vote, the Motion Picture Association of America granted the film an "exception" conditional on "reduction in the length of the scenes which the Production Code Administration found unapprovable."