“I won’t be late. I won’t be late! If you ever stop talking I won’t be late!”
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, with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and screenplay by Joseph Stein. The film stars Chaim Topol as Tevye, Norma Crane as Golde, Leonard Frey, Molly Picon, and Paul Mann. The story is set n prerevolutionary Russia, following a Jewish peasant who contends with marrying off three of his daughters while growing antisemitic sentiment threatens his village. (Rated G)(Running Time: 179 minutes)
There are very few Broadway productions adapted to film that convey the power and pure energy of the original. This 1971 musical is one of those select few. It holds a rank on my list of favorite musicals and favorite movies of all time.
The story closely follows a Jewish family in Russia before the revolution, with our leading man a milkman who longs to be rich and choosing the best husbands for his three oldest daughters. The film conveys a loyal and realistic sense on the culture and the time, a thorough purpose the filmmakers wished to make. I have not had the pleasure, as of yet, to see an off-Broadway or on-Broadway performance, but from everything I read and hear, it is an unfilmable production. This will probably be the only movie adaption we will ever see.
Ah, but so satisfying…
The actors, especially Topol, come from a background on stage. And it shows quite spectacularly on screen. At times, they spring from the screen and fill our space with amazing songs and choreography. Even though his voice can carry well enough on its own, especially during “If I Were A Rich Man” number, Tevye is accompanied in the background by a supportive London Symphony.
I cannot find where this film…lacks! I want to list the few elements it accomplishes correctly, but it does nearly all of them so nicely!
Running close to three hours long, there obviously has to be a lot of vigor and interesting ingredients into the mix that make one want to sit through it all and ask for it again in one sitting. The movie is split into two acts, and the first one is the best, but we can still respect the second half just as much (even when it differs from the stage musical the most).
This movie marks one of the greatest actor snubs in Academy Award history, not giving Topol a well-deserved Oscar. His performance is brilliantly entertaining, well-timed, and humor that flows out of him so naturally. It also marks one of the greatest narrations on the big screen. His fourth-wall breaks are honest, cheeky, and fashioned with–you guessed it–tradition! But Topol is joined with a stunning cast that share a lot of his presence with an equal strength. I tip my hat to them all.
I would elaborate on the musical numbers and score (conducted by none-other than the talented John Williams), but you have to listen to it yourself to understand the stellar magnificence it has on a careful listener.
It was made on a budget of $9 million and grossed over $60 million domestically, during its initial run. At the Oscars, it was nominated for eight including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. Unfortunately, it only gained three: Best Song Score Adaption, Best Cinematography, and Best Sound. I don’t understand how this lost to The French Connection (1971) all those years ago, but alas, we can still think pretend this one flew through and nabbed all the big awards.
Fiddler on the Roof is a Hollywood gem that should be treasured forever. Stunning, moving, fun, and for all ages. 6 out of 7 stars, most definitely.