Movie Monologue Monday – Rod Steiger in The Pawnbroker

Welcome back after a short break from Movie Monologue Monday. This week I’m featuring a clip that I had never seen before – Rod Steiger in The Pawnbroker.

Normally I do a little research on the movie and give a bit of context for the clip, but when I first saw it I felt that the clip in and of itself was pretty self-explanatory. Watch it a zillion times and we’ll discuss it below.

Seen it? Good.

Here’s what I think – Steiger is amazing. Stillness and economy of movement been a recurring theme on Movie Monologue Monday and this performance is no exception. Every move he makes is purposeful, illuminates the character and the character’s intentions.

Watch it again and plot out his level of intensity. It broils in the beginning, percolates throughout and erupts in the climax. He plays the monologue like it’s the movement of a symphony. He uses variety in his performance. Sometimes he’s quick, sometimes he’s slow. Sometimes he’s loud, sometimes he’s quiet. Sometimes he moves, sometimes he’s still.

This is a great piece to share with students to illustrate the importance of variety, of build, of saving the climax for the end.

On a purely technical note, did you notice that the entire monologue is performed in one uninterrupted take? That says a lot about Steiger’s skills. It also says a great deal about the cinematographer and the crew on the film. Not only is the monologue delivered in one take, it’s delivered while the camera makes several movements. Any time the camera moves in a movie takes an extraordinary amount of planning and coordination.

And one of the moves is a MAJOR SUPER move. Go back to the beginning of the monologue and note the positions of the other actor (Jaime Sánchez) in relation to the desk. The clip is very dark, but I’ve lightened the shot up a bit here:

Does that space look wide enough to fit a camera through? A camera on a dolly? Plus crew? Trust me, it’s not. Yet at one point in the monologue the camera passes right through that gap.

That means that at some point in time (when we, the audience aren’t looking) space has to be made for the camera. We see Sánchez lean a bit to get out of the way when the camera makes its move so we know he’s still there. And I just noticed that Steiger appears to be leaning on the desk mere seconds before the camera makes its move. My theory is that that whole desk unit has to shift out of the way. Which then means that there a bunch of crew members in there rolling it out while Steiger is performing.

With that in mind, I’m even more impressed with Steiger’s performance. He’s giving a perfectly measured intimate dramatic performance surrounded by the chaos of a film crew in motion. Love it.

Class Exercise

  • Watch the video and discuss these questions. Don’t worry about whether or not everyone has seen the whole movie. Fill in the missing details using what you see, hear, and imagine.
  • At the beginning of the piece, Sol (Steiger) is referred to as “you people.” Does this phrase make him angry? If so, why doesn’t he start yelling from the beginning of the speech?
  • What symbolism do you see in the way the very first shot is staged?
  • Is this speech something the character has been asked before? Is it something he’s thought of before?
  • When the camera first zooms in on Sol, the lighting on his head is terrible. Do you think this is on purpose? Why or why not?
  • Sol leans on the desk, but when the camera moves the desk clearly isn’t there. At what point in the speech do you thing the crew moved the desk away?
  • After the camera moves in it gets very low. What effect does that create?

About the author

Craig Mason