Fiddler on the Roof is a 1971 American musical comedy-drama film produced and directed by Norman Jewison. It is an adaptation of the 1964 Broadway musical of the same name, with music composed by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and screenplay by Joseph Stein. The film won three Academy Awards, including one for arranger-conductor John Williams. It was nominated for several more, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Chaim Topol as Tevye, and Best Supporting Actor for Leonard Frey, who played Mottel Kamzoil the Tailor (both had originally acted in the musical; Topol as Tevye in the London production and Frey in a minor part as Mendel, the rabbi's son). The decision to cast Topol, instead of Zero Mostel, as Tevye was a somewhat controversial one, as the role had originated with Mostel and he had made it famous. Years later, Jewison explained that he felt Mostel's larger-than-life personality, while fine on stage, would cause film audiences to see him (i.e., Zero Mostel, the actor) rather than the character of Tevye.
The film centers on the Tevye family, a Jewish family living in the town of Anatevka, in the Russian Empire, in 1905. Anatevka is broken into two sections: a small Orthodox Jewish section; and a larger Russian Orthodox Christian section. Tevye notes that, "We don't bother them, and so far, they don't bother us." Throughout the film, Tevye breaks the fourth wall by talking at times, directly to the audience or to the heavens (to God), for the audience's benefit. Much of the story is also told in musical form.
Tevye is not wealthy, despite working hard, like most Jews in Anatevka, and also due to having many children. He and his sharp-tongued wife, Golde, have five daughters and cannot afford to give them much in the way of dowries. According to their tradition, they have to rely on the village matchmaker, Yente, to find them husbands. Life in the little town of Anatevka is very hard and Tevye speaks not only of the difficulties of being poor but also of the Jewish community's constant fear of harassment from their non-Jewish neighbors. In addition, Tevye has a lame horse that adds to the misery of being poor, and has to pull the wagon by himself.
The film opens with Tevye explaining to the audience that what keeps the Jews of Anatevka going is the balance they achieve through following their ancient traditions. He also explains that the lot of the Jews in Russia are as precarious as a fiddler on a roof: trying to scratch out a pleasant tune, while not breaking their necks. The fiddler appears throughout the film as a metaphoric reminder of the Jews' ever-present fears and danger, and also as a symbol of the traditions Tevye is trying to hold onto as his world changes around him. While in town, Tevye meets Perchik, a radical Marxist from Kiev. Tevye invites Perchik to stay with him and his family, and as a deal, offers him food, in exchange for Perchik tutoring his daughters.
Through Yente, a matchmaker, Tevye arranges a marriage for his oldest daughter, Tzeitel, to Lazar Wolf, a wealthy butcher. However, Tzeitel is in love with her childhood sweetheart, Motel (pronounced "mottle") Kamzoil the tailor, and begs her father not to make her marry the much older butcher. Initially angry because he has already made an "agreement" with Wolf, Tevye realizes that Tzeitel loves Motel and yields to his daughter's demands. To get Tzeitel and Tevye out of the agreement with Lazar, Tevye claims to have a nightmare, which he repeats to his wife Golde. In the nightmare, he says that Golde's deceased Grandmother Tzeitel told him that Tzeitel is supposed to marry Mottel, as it was decided in heaven. Also in the nightmare, Lazar Wolf's late wife, Fruma-Sarah, warns Tevye that if Tzeitel marries Lazar, she will kill Tzeitel after three weeks of marriage. Golde concludes that the dream was a message to be followed from their ancestors, and Tzeitel and Motel arrange to be married.
Meanwhile, after one of Perchik's lessons with Bielke and Shprintze (the youngest of Tevye's daughters), Tevye's second daughter, Hodel, mocks Perchik's interpretation of the story of Leah he told her sisters. He, in turn, criticizes her for hanging on to the old traditions of her religion and tells her that the world is changing. To illustrate this, he dances with her, because the opposite sexes dancing together is considered forbidden to Orthodox Jews. The two are shown to be falling in love, and Perchik tells Hodel that they just changed an old tradition.
The constable is basically sympathetic to the Jewish villagers, though not enough to give up his job in their defense. He resists when ordered to put on a "spontaneous" anti-Jewish demonstration but gives in to keep his job. Before Tzeitel's wedding, he warns Tevye of the impending demonstration.
Later, at Tzeitel and Motel's wedding, an argument breaks out over whether a girl should be able to choose her own husband. Perchik addresses the crowd and says that, since they love each other, it should be left for the couple to decide and creates further controversy by asking Hodel to dance with him. The two begin to dance, and gradually, the crowd warms to the ideaâ"with Tevye and Golde joining, then Motel and Tzeitel. The wedding then proceeds with great joy. Suddenly, the military presence in the town and the constable arrive and begin a pogrom, attacking the Jews and their property. The constable stops the attack on the wedding celebration after the "radical" Perchik is wounded in the scuffle with the Tsar's men; however, he allows the pogrom to continue in the form of massive property damage to the village of Anatevka.
A few months later, as Perchik prepares to leave Anatevka to work for the revolution, he proposes to Hodel and she accepts. When they tell Tevye, he is furious that they have decided to marry without his permission and with Perchik leaving Hodel behind in Anatevka, but again he relents because they love each other. This time, Tevye tells Golde the truthâ"and as a side effect they are prompted to re-evaluate their own arranged marriage and relationship, realizing that, in their own way, they do love each other. Weeks later, when Perchik is arrested in Kiev and is exiled to Siberia, Hodel decides to join him there. She promises Tevye that she and Perchik will be married under a canopy there.
Not too long afterwards, Tzeitel and Motel become parents, and Motel finally buys the sewing machine for which he has long scrimped and saved. By now they are becoming, in their own right, respected members of the community, and a close, almost parent-child relationship is developing between Motel and Tevye and Goldeâ"who, not so long ago, had scorned Mottel as a nobody.
Meanwhile, Tevye's third daughter Chava has fallen in love with a young Russian peasantâ"a Russian Orthodox Christianâ"named Fyedka. She eventually works up the courage to ask Tevye to allow her to marry him. Horrified, Tevye forbids her to see him again, as well as to not have any contact or to mention his name again, but they elope and are married in a Russian Orthodox church, as Golde would find out when she meets up with the priest upon hearing about the marriage. Grief-stricken, she runs off to find Tevye doing his rounds and tells him everything. In a soliloquy reminiscent of those spoken by Tevye concerning his other daughters but with a radically different conclusion, Tevye concludes that he cannot accept Chava marrying a non-Jew, in effect abandoning the Jewish faith, so he disowns her. He then urges Golde to go home to the other children.
Finally, the Jews of Anatevka are notified that they have to leave the village or be forced out by the government; they have three days. Tevye, his family and friends begin packing up to leave, heading for various parts of the United States and other places: Yente the matchmaker to Ottoman Palestine, Lazar Wolf to Chicago and Tzeitel and Mottel to Warsaw (until they make enough money to join the rest of the family in New York). Chava and her husband Fyedka come to Tevye's house and tell her family that they are leaving tooâ"unable to stay in a place that would force innocent people out. They head to Krakow, Poland. Tevye shows signs of forgiving Chava by murmuring under his breath "And God be with you", silently urging Tzeitel to repeat his words to Chava. Golde calls out to Chava and Fyedka, telling them where they will be living in New York.
The mass departure of the Jews from Anatevka takes place while the Constable silently watches. The community forms their circle for one last time before scattering in their different directions. Just before the closing credits, Tevye spots the fiddler and motions to him to come along, symbolizing that even though he must leave his town, his traditions will always be with him. The film ends with the fiddler following Tevye down the road, playing the "Tradition" theme.
- "Prologue / Tradition" â" Tevye and Company
- "Matchmaker" â" Tzeitel, Hodel, Chava, Shprintze, and Bielke
- "If I Were a Rich Man" â" Tevye
- "Sabbath Prayer" â" Tevye, Golde, and Chorus
- "To Life" â" Tevye, Lazar Wolf, and Male Company
- "Tevye's Monologue (Tzeitel and Motel)" â" Tevye
- "Miracle of Miracles" â" Motel
- "Tevye's Dream" â" Tevye, Golde, Grandmother Tzeitel, Rabbi, Fruma-Sarah, and Chorus
- "Sunrise, Sunset" â" Tevye, Golde, Perchik, Hodel, and Chorus
- "Wedding Celebration / The Bottle Dance"
- "Tevye's Monologue (Hodel and Perchik)" â" Tevye
- "Do You Love Me?" â" Tevye and Golde
- "Far from the Home I Love" â" Hodel
- "Chava Ballet Sequence (Chava)" â" Tevye
- "Tevye's Monologue (Chava and Fyedka)" â" Tevye
- "Anatevka" â" Tevye, Golde, Lazar Wolf, Yente, Mendel, Mordcha, and Company
Principal photography was done at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, England. Most of the exterior shots were done in SFR Yugoslaviaâ"specifically in Mala Gorica, Lekenik, and Zagreb within the Yugoslav constituent republic of Croatia. Isaac Stern provided the violin solos.
Differences from the Broadway musical
The film follows the plot of the stage play very closely, retaining nearly all of the play's dialogue, although it omits the songs "Now I Have Everything" and "The Rumor (I Just Heard)". Lyrical portions of "Tevye's Dream (Tailor Motel Kemzoil)", were omitted to avoid repetition. Also, the song "Tradition" omits the dialogue between Reb Nachum the beggar and Lazar Wolf, and the dialogue of Yente attempting to match Avram's son with an almost-blind daughter was omitted. In "Tradition", the argument between two men, about whether a sold horse is actually a mule was changed to whether a horse claimed to be six years old was actually twelve. Tevye whispers to one of the men that "it was really twelve years old", thus starting the heated argument again.
Three scenes were added to the film:
- The Constable gets orders from his superior for the "demonstration" against the Jews (referred to by the superior as "Christ-killers") in Anatevka
- Perchik is arrested at a workers' rally in Kiev
- Golde goes to the priest to look for Chava (described by her in the stage production)
A new song intended to be sung by Perchik was recorded ("Any Day Now"), but it was omitted from the final print and is included in the 2004 re-released soundtrack. When the film was re-released in 1979, 32 minutes were cut, including the songs "Far from the Home I Love" and "Anatevka".
Although the conventional wisdom is that the film is a faithful adaptation of the original stage version, recent work by Fiddler scholar Jan Lisa Huttner demonstrates that the differences between stage and screen are much deeper than generally understood. Between Fiddler on the Roof's Broadway debut in 1964 and the film's 1971 release, the turbulent American culture affected the adaptation of characters like Yente and Perchik, as well as the general setting of Anatevka. Bea Arthur's Broadway stage presence as tall, booming Yente contradicts Molly Picon's tiny, timid portrayal in the film. Arthur sang her own song "The Rumor" and had dialogue with men and women versus Piconâs minimal dialogue (in scenes with only women) and lack of music. Perchik's song to Hodel "Now I Have Everything", is also cut from the film, replaced by a scene in Kiev which Huttner refers to as "outtakes from Dr. Zhivago". She also demonstrates that the inspiration of Marc Chagall is eliminated entirely. The original set design by Boris Aronson (who knew Chagall from the 1920s Moscow State Jewish Theater) is transformed from Broadway's magical but claustrophobic village to the film's concrete, realistic world of Anatevka.
Because the film follows the stage musical so closely, and the musical did not have an overture, the filmmakers chose to eliminate the customary film overture played before the beginning of most motion pictures shown in a roadshow-style presentation. However, there is an intermission featuring entr'acte music, and exit music is played at the end after the closing credits.
The film was a big hit, earning United Artists profits of $6.1 million, plus distribution profits of $8 million.
The film won three Academy Awards in 1972 and two Golden Globes in 1971. It won Academy Awards for Best Song Score Adaptation, Best Cinematography, and Best Sound (Gordon McCallum, David Hildyard).
It also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy and Golden Globe Award for Best Actor â" Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for Topol.
- Fiddler on the Roof at the Internet Movie Database
- Fiddler on the Roof at the TCM Movie Database
- Fiddler on the Roof at Box Office Mojo
- Fiddler on the Roof at Rotten Tomatoes