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FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (director: Norman Jewison; screenwriter: Joseph Stein; cinematographer: Oswald Morris; editors: Antony Gibbs/Robert Lawrence; music: Jerry Bock; cast: Topol (Tevye), Norma Crane (Golde), Leonard Frey (Motel), Molly Picon (Yente), Paul Mann (Lazar Wolf), Rosalind Harris (Tzeitel), Stella Courtney (Shandel), Stanley Fleet (Farcel), Jacob Kalich (Yankel), Paul Michael Glaser (Perchik); Runtime: 181; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Norman Jewison; United Artists; 1971)
“Oy, what schmaltz!”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Oy, what schmaltz! At least the music is lively in this crudely staged ethnic story that goes on for too long in its celebration of a way of life that disappeared. Norman Jewison (“Moonstruck”/”Agnes of God”/”Jesus Christ Superstar”) helms this adaptation of the long-running Broadway musical (the most popular theatrical musical of the day) that is set in 1905 (pre-Revolutionary days) in the impoverished Ukranian ghetto village of Anatevka (filmed in Yugoslavia) as if it can please everyone with its cuteness. Jewison fills it with just so much nostalgia, sentimentality and folk humor that you can choke a peddler’s horse on it. Writer Joseph Stein adapts it for the screen from his own stage adaptation of the Sholem Aleichem stories.

The film was a box-office hit (grossed over thirty-eight million). It won Oscars for Best Cinematography, Best Sound, and Best Scoring.

It’s the story of an old-fashioned elderly man, Tevye (Topol), a poor Jewish milkman, his God, his shrewish wife Golde (Norma Crane), his problems with his five daughters who have more modern ideas than him and, finally, his having to deal with Old World anti-Semitism in the form of a pogrom before deciding to flee to the New World. Most of Tevye’s struggles are between the traditions of his Jewish faith and the wills of his headstrong daughters, three of whom are of marrying age and about to do something about it.

Israeli actor Topol, who played the role on the London stage, was chosen for the part over the star of the Broadway show Zero Mostel. His understated performance sharply contrasted with Mostel’s over the top performance. Topol’s performance was mostly satisfactory, and in a barn he easily sings the film’s show-stopper number of ‘If I Were a Rich Man’ as Isaac Stern plays the fiddle.

Another performer worth noting is the Yiddish stage actress Molly Picon, who cheerfully plays Yente the village matchmaker.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”