Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

G | 180 or 187 mins | Comedy-drama, Musical | November 1971

Director:

Norman Jewison

Writer:

Joseph Stein

Producer:

Norman Jewison

Cinematographer:

Oswald Morris

Production Designer:

Robert Boyle
Full page view
HISTORY

Before the opening credits there is a prologue, set between dawn and dusk of the villagers' day, in which Topol as "Tevye" addresses the audience to explain the precarious existence of the Jews in pre-revolution Russia of the early 1900s. As the song "Tradition" commences, Tevye introduces several notable minor characters in order to illustrate village life, and the villagers--fathers, mothers, sons and daughters--sing about their specific roles within the traditional Jewish family. Emphasis is placed on how the children are trained for marriages that are arranged by the “Papa,” who reigns supreme in the hierarchy of the family. Tevye explains that, because of the long-held traditions that govern what they eat and wear and how they are to behave, people in the Jewish community know their place and what God expects of them. He concludes by saying that without their traditions their "lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof."
       In the opening credits that follow, Harold Prince's onscreen credit reads: "Produced on the New York stage by Harold Prince." Jerome Robbins' opening onscreen credit reads: "Entire stage production directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins." Chaim Topol is credited onscreen and most reviews simply as "Topol." The actor Michael Glaser, who portrayed "Perchik," was credited later in his career as "Paul Michael Glaser." The ending credits conclude with an acknowledgment to the people of the villages of Lekenic and Mala Gorica and the city of Zagreb, Yugoslavia.
       During the opening credits, the fiddler, a symbolic character who appears intermittently throughout the story in response to Tevye's thoughts, plays a passionate violin solo while standing on the rooftop of a small ... More Less

Before the opening credits there is a prologue, set between dawn and dusk of the villagers' day, in which Topol as "Tevye" addresses the audience to explain the precarious existence of the Jews in pre-revolution Russia of the early 1900s. As the song "Tradition" commences, Tevye introduces several notable minor characters in order to illustrate village life, and the villagers--fathers, mothers, sons and daughters--sing about their specific roles within the traditional Jewish family. Emphasis is placed on how the children are trained for marriages that are arranged by the “Papa,” who reigns supreme in the hierarchy of the family. Tevye explains that, because of the long-held traditions that govern what they eat and wear and how they are to behave, people in the Jewish community know their place and what God expects of them. He concludes by saying that without their traditions their "lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof."
       In the opening credits that follow, Harold Prince's onscreen credit reads: "Produced on the New York stage by Harold Prince." Jerome Robbins' opening onscreen credit reads: "Entire stage production directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins." Chaim Topol is credited onscreen and most reviews simply as "Topol." The actor Michael Glaser, who portrayed "Perchik," was credited later in his career as "Paul Michael Glaser." The ending credits conclude with an acknowledgment to the people of the villages of Lekenic and Mala Gorica and the city of Zagreb, Yugoslavia.
       During the opening credits, the fiddler, a symbolic character who appears intermittently throughout the story in response to Tevye's thoughts, plays a passionate violin solo while standing on the rooftop of a small wooden house. The actor portraying the fiddler, Tutte Lemkow, was dubbed by the famous violinist Isaac Stern. Several times throughout the film, when Tevye must choose between tradition and his daughters' happiness, all action except for Tevye's is frozen, a device used in the original stage play written by Joseph Stein, who also wrote the screenplay. Brief flashbacks occur during the songs “Far From the Home I Love” and “Little Bird, Little Chavela.” During the latter, a dance commences during the song and is performed by Tevye’s three eldest daughters, their suitors and the Fiddler, while the camera moves between Tevye and the dance.
       The film and stage play of Fiddler on the Roof were based on stories by Sholem (or Sholom) Yakov Rabinowitz (1859--1916), who wrote under the pseudonym, Sholem Aleichem, which is also a common greeting meaning "peace be with you." Born into a poor Jewish family near Kiev in the Ukraine, Aleichem became a prolific writer of stories in Russian and Hebrew, languages used by the learned Russian Jews. After 1883, he also wrote in vernacular Yiddish, and was the first to write children's literature in that language. Because of the pogroms in Russia, Aleichem and his family emigrated first to Switzerland and, in 1914, to New York City, where his unusual pen name and the style of his stories prompted his reputation as the "Jewish Mark Twain."
       His stories about Jewish shtetl life were beloved and translated into many languages. His posthumously produced play Tevye the Milkman (1917) and several other of his stories featured many of the characters that would later appear in Fiddler on the Roof . Despite initial fears prior to the 1964 opening of the stage version that the story of Fiddler on the Roof would interest only a limited, ethnic audience, the Broadway production, starring Zero Mostel as Tevye, was universally acclaimed, and became the first commercially successful English-language play about Eastern European Jewish life. It ran continuously until 1972, well after the film’s release. Remounted several times, it is considered by many a masterwork of the theater.
       According to a Nov 1964 DV news item, Ross Hunter and Harold Prince were considering producing Fiddler on the Roof for Universal. In Jan 1966, LAT reported that United Artists was in the process of buying the rights to the play, under the stipulation that the film not be released until 1971, in order to avoid interfering with the play's profits. A Jul 1968 Var article reported that Norman Jewison would produce and direct the film version, which would be produced by his Simkoe Productions and Walter Mirisch for United Artists release. At that time it was expected that either Mostel or Israeli actor Topol, who performed the role in 1967 on the London stage, would play the lead. According to modern sources, Jewison felt that Mostel’s more comedic approach would not translate well to the film and he wanted a first or second generation Russian Jew in that role. According to a Nov 1971 The Citizen Newspapers , Rosalind Harris, who played “Tzeitel,” was an understudy for that role in the New York stage version at that time.
       As noted in the Var review, the choreography for the film was taken "mostly intact" from Jerome Robbins' choreography for the 1964 stage version. As in the stage version, the film was originally shown with an intermission and entr'acte music. The script, too, is almost verbatim of the stage play, but some sequences were added, such as Perchik’s capture and arrest in Kiev, Golde’s visit to the Orthodox Church, and conversations between the constable and his superior, a character who did not appear in the stage version. Shots of the countryside and village, which were only implied in the stage play, were explicit in the film.
       As noted in the NYT review, the movie contained more elaborate realism than the stage play, a complaint the reviewer made of "most stage to screen stories," in which there is an attempt "to enlarge the physical frame of the show" rather than tamper with the text. According to a Dec 1971 The Times (London) article, Jewison "had known from the beginning that realism would be one of his main problems." Jewison noted that Fiddler on the Roof “is closer to being a folk opera than it is a musical," and that to “infuse the music into the piece without stopping the story” he had to take out some of the dance and chorus. He also omitted from the film the song “Rumor,” which depicted how information in a letter from Perchik to Hodel is relayed around the village and changed, as well as Perchik’s song, “Now I Have Everything.” Although a new song, "Any Day Now," was written to be sung by Perchik, it was cut from the released film. The director presented songs as voice-overs to keep the story moving.
       According to the The Times article, the music was prerecorded in May 1970, before principal shooting began, using a double playback system. Although the tempo of the music was set at that time, the performance of each song could be altered and re-recorded over the orchestral accompaniment during the shooting of the scene.
       To achieve the feeling of Tevye’s intimacy with God during his conversations with the deity, Topol focused his eyes on a Star of David that was attached to a stick carried behind the camera by Jewison, according to The Times article. The article also stated that Jewison shot the film through a piece of silk stocking “to give a kind of umber, earth-toned quality.” He noted that no primary colors were used in the picture except for the red flag in the revolutionary scene in Kiev.
       HR production charts reported that the film was shot in Yugoslavia and London. A written statement before the closing credits states that technical facilities were furnished by Jadran Film in Zagreb, Yugoslavia and Pinewood Studios in London, England. According to the Var review, the fictional village of Anatevka was filmed at Lekenik, Yugoslavia, located twenty-five miles from Zagreb. Studio production notes stated that Jewison felt that the Lekenik and Mala Gorica had an “inherent Chagall-like style that blended with the design of the film and the intent of Sholom Aleichem.” The buildings for the town were built out of wood from dilapidated houses in the area that would have existed at the time of the film’s setting. Production designer Robert Boyle studied over 100 plans of synagogues from the Ukraine to ensure the set’s authenticity.
       According to the studio notes, the main rehearsals were held at Pinewood Studios, although others were held on London’s Floral Street and in a synagogue in Soho. Modern sources add Nigel Kingsley and Kenneth Walker to the cast. According to an Oct 1971 Var , Fiddler on the Roof had a one-performance charity premiere in Amsterdam on 21 Oct 1971. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, losing to The French Connection (see below). Topol was nominated for Best Actor, Leonard Frey for Best Supporting Actor, and Jewison for Best Director. John Williams won his first Academy Award for Best Scoring. Gordon K. McCallum and David Hildyard won Best Sound and Oswald Morris won Best Cinematography. The film also received a nomination for Best Art Direction, but lost to Nicholas and Alexandria .
       As reported in a 2001 Time Out (London) news item, the film was condemned by the military regime of Chile for sixteen years because of its alleged Marxist content until the government lifted the ban in 2001. Another film based on the work of Aleichem is The World of Sholom Aleichem , which was directed for television in 1959 and had in its cast Zero Mostel. Although a Dec 1965 DV news item reported that Arnold Perl, who owned the rights to the Aleichem properties and had written an English adaptation of one of the stories, had plans to produce a non-musical film based on the works as an independent film at Zagreb Studios in Belgrade, no further information was found about this project. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
3 Nov 1964.
---
Daily Variety
30 Dec 1965.
---
Daily Variety
17 Jul 1968.
---
Daily Variety
16 Jan 1970.
---
Daily Variety
1 Nov 1971
p. 3, 7.
Filmfacts
1971
pp. 385-90.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Mar 1966.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Aug 1970
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Feb 1971
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Nov 1971
p. 3.
Life
3 Dec 1971
pp. 87-90.
Life
10 Dec 1971
p. 16.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
12 Oct 1970.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
13 Oct 1970.
---
Los Angeles Times
29 Jan 1966.
---
Los Angeles Times
17 Jul 1968.
---
Los Angeles Times
14 Feb 1971.
---
Los Angeles Times
5 Nov 1971.
---
New Republic
20 Nov 1971.
---
New York Times
4 Nov 1971
pp. 52-54.
New York Times
28 Nov 1971
Section II, p. 1.
New Yorker
13 Nov 1971.
---
Newsweek
15 Nov 1971
p. 114.
Saturday Review
13 Nov 1971.
---
The Citizen Newspapers
11 Nov 1971
p. 1, 13.
The Times (London)
11 Dec 1971.
---
Time
22 Nov 1971
p.8.
Time Out (London)
2 Jun 2001.
---
Variety
17 Jul 1968.
---
Variety
21 Jan 1970.
---
Variety
15 Jul 1970.
---
Variety
13 Oct 1971.
---
Variety
3 Nov 1971
p. 16.
Village Voice
18 Nov 1971
p. 84.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Village band members:
Jewish male dancers:
Jewish female dancers:
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Norman Jewison Film
A Mirisch-Cartier Production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Key grip
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Const mgr
Prop master
COSTUMES
Cost des
Ward supv
MUSIC
Mus adpt and cond
Soloist
Mus mixer
SOUND
Sd mixer
Sd re-rec
Sd ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
DANCE
Orig choreography
Asst choreographer
Adpt for the screen
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting
Casting consultant
Prod supv
Post prod supv
Prod mgr
Loc mgr
Prod secy
Post prod secy
Asst to prod
Prod accountant
Scr supv
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the musical Fiddler on the Roof , book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick (New York, 22 Sep 1964), which was based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem.
MUSIC
"Prologue," "Wedding Celebration and Bottle Dance" and "Chava Ballet" by Jerry Bock.
SONGS
"Tradition," "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," "If I Were A Rich Man," "Sabbath Prayer," "To Life," "Miracle of Miracles," "Tevye's Dream," "Sunrise, Sunset," "Do You Love Me," "Far from the Home I Love," "Little Bird, Little Chavela" and "Anatevka," music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick.
DETAILS
Release Date:
November 1971
Premiere Information:
Amsterdam opening: 21 October 1971
New York opening: 3 November 1971
Los Angeles opening: 5 November 1971
Production Date:
early August 1970--early February 1971at Jadran Film Studios, Zagreb, Yugoslavia and Pinewood Studios, London
Copyright Claimant:
Mirisch Productions, Inc., & Cartier Productions, Inc.
Copyright Date:
3 November 1971
Copyright Number:
LP40902
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Lenses/Prints
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
180 or 187
MPAA Rating:
G
Countries:
United Kingdom, Yugoslavia, United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1905, poor Jewish milkman Tevye struggles to feed his family in the impoverished Russian village of Anatevka. Despite political unrest and anti-Semitism, Tevye maintains his religious traditions and devotion to God, with whom he carries on a constant dialogue. One day, Yente, the village matchmaker, informs Tevye’s wife Golde that widower Lazar Wolf, a middle-aged, wealthy butcher, has asked to marry Tzeitel, the oldest of their five daughters. Quick-witted Hodel and bookish Chava, Tevye’s second and third daughters, long to be matched, but Tzeitel explains that without a dowry or family connections, they will probably be married to older, unattractive men. Meanwhile, Tevye fantasizes about being rich and, good-humoredly, asks God if being wealthy “would spoil some vast, eternal plan.” Later, Tevye learns from his neighbors that Jews living in other areas are being evicted from their homes. As the men spout ineffective curses at the authorities, Perchik, a student from Kiev, approaches, chides them for their inaction and predicts that the rich must soon share their wealth. Upon learning that Perchik teaches for a living, Tevye, who appreciates learned men, offers to pay him food in exchange for lessons for his daughters. At home, Tzeitel urges the timid tailor Motel, the childhood friend with whom she is in love, to ask Tevye for permission to marry her, but he is waiting until he can afford to buy a sewing machine to prove to Tevye that he is worthy. During the Sabbath prayers, Tevye and Golde pray that their daughters will become good wives and mothers. Afterward, sent by Golde, Tevye visits Lazar and their conversation becomes increasingly confused, until Tevye realizes that ... +


In 1905, poor Jewish milkman Tevye struggles to feed his family in the impoverished Russian village of Anatevka. Despite political unrest and anti-Semitism, Tevye maintains his religious traditions and devotion to God, with whom he carries on a constant dialogue. One day, Yente, the village matchmaker, informs Tevye’s wife Golde that widower Lazar Wolf, a middle-aged, wealthy butcher, has asked to marry Tzeitel, the oldest of their five daughters. Quick-witted Hodel and bookish Chava, Tevye’s second and third daughters, long to be matched, but Tzeitel explains that without a dowry or family connections, they will probably be married to older, unattractive men. Meanwhile, Tevye fantasizes about being rich and, good-humoredly, asks God if being wealthy “would spoil some vast, eternal plan.” Later, Tevye learns from his neighbors that Jews living in other areas are being evicted from their homes. As the men spout ineffective curses at the authorities, Perchik, a student from Kiev, approaches, chides them for their inaction and predicts that the rich must soon share their wealth. Upon learning that Perchik teaches for a living, Tevye, who appreciates learned men, offers to pay him food in exchange for lessons for his daughters. At home, Tzeitel urges the timid tailor Motel, the childhood friend with whom she is in love, to ask Tevye for permission to marry her, but he is waiting until he can afford to buy a sewing machine to prove to Tevye that he is worthy. During the Sabbath prayers, Tevye and Golde pray that their daughters will become good wives and mothers. Afterward, sent by Golde, Tevye visits Lazar and their conversation becomes increasingly confused, until Tevye realizes that Lazar wants to marry Tzeitel, not buy his cow. Tevye thinks hard about Lazar’s proposal because although Lazar is wealthy, he much older than Tzeitel, but he concludes that Tzeitel would be safe from hunger. After he agrees to the match, the two go out to drink and celebrate with the other Jewish men. Cossacks, moved by their joy, make a toast, and for a short time, Jews and Gentiles dance together. Afterward, as the drunken Tevye heads home, the constable, a bigoted man who nonetheless likes Tevye, warns that his superior has ordered “a little unofficial demonstration” against the Jews in the village. Continuing on his way, Tevye is approached by the Fiddler, a figment of his imagination, who begins to play for him and the two dance, despite Tevye’s fears of the impending pogram. The next day, Tevye suffers a hangover and sleeps late, while Perchik teaches Tevye’s youngest daughters, Bielke and Schprintze, an unorthodox interpretation of the story of Jacob. When Hodel later confronts him about his “advanced” thinking, Perchik belittles her blind adherence to tradition. He shows her how boys and girls now dance together, but they become tongue-tied upon realizing their mutual attraction. When Tevye revives, he announces Tzeitel’s engagement and is surprised when she tearfully begs him to call off the match. Motel and Tzeitel tell Tevye that they have pledged to marry each other, an “unheard of” break with tradition, which insults Tevye, as tradition dictates that the father arrange the marriage. He accuses Motel of being poor, but Motel summons the courage to say that “even a poor tailor deserves some happiness.” Impressed, Tevye reconsiders and gives them permission to wed and then wonders how to explain his illogical decision to Golde. Chava is walking alone in the countryside when she is taunted by four Russian boys, until a fifth one, Fyedka, orders them to stop. Like Chava, Fyedka loves books and offers to lend her one of his, so that they can discuss it together. That night, Tevye pretends to awaken from a nightmare, which he then describes vividly to Golde: In his dream, Grandmother Tzeitel tells him that her namesake should marry the tailor. Then Fruma Sarah, Lazar’s shrewish deceased wife, emerges from the grave and jealously threatens to strangle Tzeitel in her sleep if she marries Lazar. Disturbed by Tevye’s dream, Golde agrees that Tzeitel should marry Motel. Later, the constable is ordered by his superior to carry out the pogroms. During the wedding ceremony of Motel and Tzeitel, Tevye and Golde note how fast the time has gone by. During the following celebration, the villagers start to quarrel over Tzeitel marrying Motel rather than Lazar, but Perchik interrupts and points out that Motel and Tzeitel were in love. Then, taking down the cord separating men from women and thus breaking with tradition, he calls to Hodel to dance with him. Soon, Tevye orders Golde to dance with him and many startled villagers are lured by the joyfulness of the dancing, which is abruptly halted when the constable and his men break up the wedding, and then continue to vandalize other Jewish homes. Tevye orders his distraught family to clean up, but wonders why God has allowed this to happen. However, he does not lose his faith and later reports to Him that Motel and Tzeitel are too happy to “know how miserable they are.” Perchik tells Hodel that he must leave for Kiev, where Jews and Gentiles are working together to fight the restrictions of the Tsarist government. Before leaving, he asks her a “political question,” which she discovers is his way of proposing to her. She agrees to marry him, but when they announce their intention to Tevye, he refuses his permission. They explain that Perchik plans to send for her when he can, and that they wish his blessing, not his permission. Aghast, Tevye worries that his allowing Tzeitel’s unarranged marriage has had bigger consequences. Although to him love is just “a new style,” he ponders that once their old ways were new, and realizes that Hodel and Perchik were “matched” by God. He gives both his permission and blessing, but later must try to explain himself to Golde. Remembering back to his own wedding day, when his and Golde’s parents said that they would learn to love each other, Tevye asks Golde if she loves him. Although embarrassed, they admit to loving each other and find comfort in the realization. In Kiev, Perchik is arrested for his activism and sent to a Siberian workcamp. When Hodel decides to go to him, Tevye reluctantly walks her to the train stop. There she explains her sadness at leaving home, but feels she must be with Perchik, whose work she compares to that of Abraham, Joseph and Moses. She promises to be married according to their faith and Tevye dryly concedes that probably “a rabbi or two was also arrested.” When Motel, now a father, buys his sewing machine, the neighbors come to admire it. Chava tries to broach the subject of Fyedka with Tevye, but he forbids her to speak of the Gentile. Later, Golde learns from the priest that Chava and Fyedka eloped. Stunned, Tevye orders Golde, as tradition demands, to consider Chava dead to them. Alone, he remembers Chava as a child and, in his imagination, sees his three daughters dancing together before they are enticed away by their suitors. He imagines that Chava pauses as the Fiddler plays for her, but then leaves with Fyedka. Coming out of his reverie, he realizes she is standing before him, asking for acceptance. Although he tries, he realizes that to do so requires that he deny everything he believes in and, his heart breaking, sends her away. An edict from St. Petersburg evicting the Jews from Anatevka allows them three days to sell their belongings and leave. Despite the hardships there, the Jews are devastated, but begin packing, some unsure of their destination. Chava and Fyedka are also leaving, as they refuse to stay where neighbors mistreat one another. When Chava visits, Tevye refuses to talk to her, but when Tzeitel rebels and bids her goodbye, he tells her, under his breath, to say, “God be with you,” allowing the family to reclaim her. Pulling the cart loaded with their possessions, Tevye and his family join the march of exiled Jews. At a crossroad, the rabbi performs a last service before the neighbors disperse. Teyve and his family plod onward, but, when he hears the Fiddler playing a tune, Tevye motions for him to follow. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.