Fiddler on the Roof (film)

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 and based on stories by Sholem Aleichem. Starring Topol, Norma Crane, Leonard Frey, Molly Picon, and Paul Mann, the film centers on Tevye, the father of five daughters, and his attempts to maintain his Jewish religious and cultural traditions as outside influences encroach upon the family's lives. He must cope both with the strong-willed actions of his three older daughters, who wish to marry for love – each one's choice of a husband moves further away from the customs of his faith – and with the edict of the Tsar who evicts the Jews from the town of Anatevka.

Fiddler on the Roof
Theatrical release poster by Ted Coconis
Directed byNorman Jewison
Produced by
Screenplay byJoseph Stein
Based onTevye and His Daughters
by Sholem Aleichem
Music by
CinematographyOswald Morris
Edited by
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • November 3, 1971 (1971-11-03)
Running time
179 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
  • English
  • Hebrew
  • Russian
Budget$9 million
Box office$83.3 million[2]

Throughout the film, Tevye talks to God and directly to the audience, breaking the fourth wall. In these monologues, Tevye ponders tradition, the difficulties of being poor, the Jewish community's constant fear of harassment from their non-Jewish neighbors, and important family decisions.

The film was released to critical acclaim and won three Academy Awards, including Best Music, Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score for arranger-conductor John Williams. It was nominated for several more, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Topol as Tevye, and Best Supporting Actor for Frey, who played Motel Kamzoil the Tailor. Topol and Frey had performed in stage productions of the musical; Topol as Tevye in the London production and Frey in a minor part as Mendel, the rabbi's son, on Broadway.[3]


The film's plot largely follows that of the musical from which it is adapted.

Act 1

In 1905, Tevye, a poor Jewish milkman living in the Ukrainian village of Anatevka, a typical shtetl in the Pale of Settlement of Imperial Russia, compares the lives of the Jews of Anatevka to a fiddler on the roof (who appears throughout the film in this metaphorical role), using tradition to "scratch out a pleasant, simple tune" without breaking their necks.

In town, Tevye meets Perchik, a radical Marxist from Kiev, who admonishes them for talking but doing nothing about news of Jews being banished from their villages by the tsar. Tevye invites Perchik to stay with his family, offering him room and board in exchange for Perchik tutoring his daughters.

Tevye arranges for his oldest daughter, Tzeitel, to marry Lazar Wolf, an older, and widowed, wealthy butcher. Tzeitel is in love with her childhood sweetheart, Motel Kamzoil, and begs her father not to make her marry Lazar. Although he is initially angry, Tevye realizes that Tzeitel loves Motel and yields to his daughter's demands.

In order to convince his wife Golde that Tzeitel should not be married to Lazar, Tevye claims to have had a nightmare. He says that Golde's deceased grandmother told him Tzeitel is supposed to marry Motel, and that Lazar’s late wife, Fruma-Sarah, threatened to kill Tzeitel if the two are married. Golde concludes that the dream was a message from their ancestors, and Tzeitel and Motel arrange to be married.

Meanwhile, Tevye's second daughter, Hodel, begins to fall in love with Perchik. They argue over the story of Leah and the place of old religious traditions in a changing world. The two dance together, which is considered forbidden by Orthodox Jewish tradition. Perchik tells Hodel that they just changed an old tradition.

At Tzeitel and Motel's wedding, an argument breaks out after Lazar presents the newlyweds with gifts. When Tevye tries to speak to Lazar about the Torah, Lazar refuses to listen, arguing that the wedding should have been his all along. Minutes later, another 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. He creates further controversy by asking Hodel to dance with him.

The crowd gradually warms to the idea and Tevye and Golde, then Motel and Tzeitel, join in dancing. The wedding proceeds with great joy. Suddenly, the military presence in the town, along with the constable, arrive and begin a pogrom, the "demonstration" which he had earlier warned Tevye was coming. The constable stops the attack on the wedding celebration after Perchik is wounded in the scuffle with the tsar's men; however, he allows the men to continue destroying property in the village. Tevye and the immediate family stand still, until Tevye angrily orders them to clean up instead of standing around. Tevye silently asks why God allowed this to happen to them.


In its original theatrical release, the film was shown with an intermission and entr'acte music.[4].

Act 2

Months later, Perchik prepares to leave Anatevka 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, but he again relents because they love each other. Tevye tells Golde his reasons for consenting to their daughter's marriage, which leads them to re-evaluate their own arranged marriage. Tevye and Golde ultimately realize that, despite having been paired by a matchmaker, they do love each other.

Weeks later, 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. Meanwhile, Tzeitel and Motel become parents, and the latter finally buys the sewing machine for which he has long scrimped and saved.

Tevye's third daughter Chava falls in love with a Russian Orthodox Christian named Fyedka. Tevye tells Chava to be distant friends with Fyedka, because of the difference in their religions. When Chava eventually works up the courage to ask Tevye's permission to marry Fyedka, Tevye tells her that marrying outside the family's faith is against tradition. He forbids her from having any contact with Fyedka or from even mentioning his name. The next morning, Fyedka and Chava elope and are married in a Russian Orthodox church.

Golde learns of the marriage when she meets up with the priest. When a grief-stricken Golde tells Tevye about the marriage, he tells her that Chava is dead to the family and that they shall forget her altogether. Chava asks Tevye to accept her marriage. In a soliloquy, Tevye concludes that he cannot accept Chava marrying a non-Jew. He accuses her of abandoning the Jewish faith and disowns her.

One winter day, the Jews of Anatevka are notified that they have three days to leave the village or be forced out by the government. Tevye, his family and friends begin packing up to leave, heading for various parts of Europe, Palestine, and the United States.

Yente, the Matchmaker, plans to emigrate to Jerusalem, and says goodbye to Golde with an embrace before departing. Lazar plans to emigrate to Chicago, to live with his former brother in law, whom he detests, but "a relative is a relative". Lazar and Tevye share one last embrace before departing.

Tevye receives letters from Hodel mentioning that she is working hard while Perchik stays in the Siberian prison. It is hoped that when Perchik is released, they will join the others in the United States. Chava and her husband Fyedka come to Tevye's house and tell the family that they are leaving for Kraków in Russian Poland, being unable to stay in a place that would force innocent people out. 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 with a relative.

The Constable silently watches as the mass evacuation of Anatevka takes place. The community forms their circle at a crossroad one last time before scattering in different directions. 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.


Musical numbers

  1. "Prologue / Tradition" – Tevye and Company
  2. "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" – Tzeitel, Hodel, Chava, Shprintze, and Bielke
  3. "If I Were a Rich Man" – Tevye
  4. "Sabbath Prayer" – Tevye, Golde, and Chorus
  5. "To Life" – Tevye, Lazar Wolf, and Male Company
  6. "Tevye's Monologue (Tzeitel and Motel)" – Tevye
  7. "Miracle of Miracles" – Motel
  8. "Tevye's Dream" – Tevye, Golde, Grandmother Tzeitel, Rabbi, Fruma-Sarah, and Chorus
  9. "Sunrise, Sunset" – Tevye, Golde, Perchik, Hodel, and Chorus
  10. "Wedding Celebration / The Bottle Dance"
  11. "Entr'acte" – Orchestra
  12. "Tevye's Monologue (Hodel and Perchik)" – Tevye
  13. "Do You Love Me?" – Tevye and Golde
  14. "Far from the Home I Love" – Hodel
  15. "Chava Ballet Sequence (Little Bird, Little Chavaleh)" – Tevye
  16. "Tevye's Monologue (Chava and Fyedka)" – Tevye
  17. "Anatevka" – Tevye, Golde, Lazar Wolf, Yente, Mendel, Mordcha, and Company


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 said he felt Mostel's larger-than-life personality, while fine on stage, would cause film audiences to see him as Mostel, rather than the character of Tevye.[6]

Principal photography was done at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, England. Most of the exterior shots were done in SFR Yugoslavia—specifically in Mala Gorica, Lekenik, and Zagreb within the Yugoslav constituent republic of Croatia. Though the area was under heavy snow during location scouting in 1969, during the filming the producers had to ship in marble dust to stand in for snow.[7] Three hundred extras conversant in various foreign languages were used, as were flocks of geese and pigs and their handlers.[8] Isaac Stern performed the violin solos.[7]

Director Jewison has a cameo as a rabbi (voice only) during Tevye's dream sequence.

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)".[9][4] Lyrical portions of "Tevye's Dream (tailor Motel Kemzoil)" were omitted to avoid repetition. The film's soundtrack release notably contained some of these omissions, indicating they were removed during filming. These include Golde blessing herself, before going back to sleep.

Changes were also made in the song "Tradition," with the film omitting the dialogue between Reb Nachum the beggar (who, in the film, cannot speak) and Lazar Wolf as well as dialogue spoken by Yente and Avram. In addition, in the film, two men argue about whether a horse claimed to be six years old was actually twelve, rather than whether the horse was actually a mule. The LP film soundtrack notably retained their names; Yitzhak and Avram, however this was also omitted the film's release. Instead, an on-set, improvised take of Topol (saying 'he sold him'), rather than the recorded dubbing, was used.

Seven additional scenes were added to the film:

  1. The Constable gets orders from his superior for a "demonstration" against the Jews (referred to by the superior as "Christ-killers") in Anatevka.
  2. Perchik is arrested at a workers' rally in Kiev.
  3. Golde goes to the priest to look for Chava (described by her in the stage production). She is confronted there with Christian images (of historically Jewish individuals) in a juxtaposition with the synagogue montage at the start of the film.
  4. Motel gets dressed for his upcoming wedding to Tzeitel.
  5. The rabbi and his students inside the synagogue receive news of the arrival of Motel's new sewing machine.
  6. The rabbi takes the Torah out of the ark inside the synagogue for the last time. He weeps and chants quietly about having to abandon the synagogue.
  7. Tevye feeds his animals in the barn for the final time. He tells his lame horse to take care of his leg and to treat his new owner and master well.

The scene with Hodel and Perchik, where he plans to leave to start a revolution, was extended in the film. A new song sung by Perchik was recorded ("Any Day Now"), but was omitted from the final print; however, it was included in the 2004 reissue of the soundtrack. The song was later implemented in the 2018 Yiddish production as a song sung by Perchik to Shprintze and Bielke. When the film was re-released to theaters in 1979, 32 minutes were cut, including the songs "Far from the Home I Love" and "Anatevka".

In the film, Tevye and Lazar Wolf discuss Wolf's proposed marriage to Tzeitel in Wolf's home, then go to the tavern for a celebration drink. In the stage version, the two meet directly in the tavern. The film shows Wolf's home as filled with golden artifacts. Prior to Lazar Wolf entering the scene, Tevye speaks to a female servant, who tells him not to touch anything.

Although a faithful adaptation of the original stage version, Fiddler scholar Jan Lisa Huttner has noted several differences between stage and screen.[9][10] She argues that changes in American culture and politics and developments in Israel led the filmmakers to portray certain characters differently and to offer a different version of Anatevka.[9] For example, the Broadway production cast Bea Arthur as a tall, booming Yente, while the film portrays Yente as tiny and timid. Huttner also notes that the "Chagall color palette" of the original Broadway production was exchanged for a grittier, more realistic depiction of the village of Anatevka.[9]


Roadshow presentation

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 a solo by the Fiddler played over the opening credits (after the conclusion of "Tradition"), an intermission featuring entr'acte music, and exit music played at the end after the closing credits.


The film was a success, earning United Artists profits of $6.1 million, plus distribution profits of $8 million.[11]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an 83% rating based on 40 reviews, with an average of 7.7/10. The consensus summarizes: "A bird may love a fish - and musical fans will love this adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof, even if it is not quite as transcendent as the long-running stage version."[12]

Roger Ebert thought the story line of the musical was "quite simply boring", but still gave the screen version three stars out of four, explaining that Jewison "has made as good a film as can be made" from the material.[13] Gene Siskel awarded three-and-a-half stars out of four, writing that the musical numbers were "better staged and choreographed than in any recent Broadway film adaptation".[14] Vincent Canby of The New York Times thought the film version was inferior, explaining that by "literalizing" the show with real landscapes and houses, Jewison and Stein "have effectively overwhelmed not only Aleichem, but the best things about the stage production ... pushed beyond its limits, the music goes flat and renders banal moments that, on the stage, are immensely moving."[15] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the film "has been done not only with such artistry, but also with such evident love, devotion, integrity and high aspiration that watching it is a kind of duplex pleasure."[16] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post stated, "Jewison's Fiddler is a great film, by which I mean great in the sense that matters most — greatly moving, an extraordinarily powerful, emotional experience."[17] Pauline Kael of The New Yorker called it "an absolutely smashing movie; it is not especially sensitive, it is far from delicate, and it isn't even particularly imaginative, but it seems to me the most powerful movie musical ever made."[18]

Awards and honors

Year Award Category Recipient(s) and nominee(s) Result
1972 Academy Awards Best Picture Norman Jewison Nominated
Best Actor Topol Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Leonard Frey Nominated
Best Director Norman Jewison Nominated
Best Art Direction Art Direction: Robert F. Boyle and Michael Stringer; Set Decoration: Peter Lamont Nominated
Best Music, Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score John Williams Won
Best Cinematography Oswald Morris Won
Best Sound Gordon K. McCallum and David Hildyard Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy Won
Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy Topol Won
Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture Paul Mann Nominated
Best Director Norman Jewison Nominated
BAFTA Awards Best Cinematography Oswald Morris Nominated
Best Editing Antony Gibbs, Robert Lawrence Nominated
Best Sound Track Les Wiggins, David Hildyard, Gordon K. McCallum Nominated
American Cinema Editors Best Edited Feature Film Antony Gibbs, Robert Lawrence Nominated
British Society of Cinematographers Oswald Morris Won
David di Donatello Best Foreign Actor Topol Won
Motion Picture Sound Editors Best Sound Editor - Dialogue Won
Sant Jordi Awards Best Performance in a Foreign Film Topol Won
Writers Guild of America Award Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium Joseph Stein Nominated
2007 Satellite Awards Best DVD Extras (for the collector's edition) Nominated

American Film Institute recognition

See also


  1. "Fiddler on the Roof (U)". British Board of Film Classification. August 19, 1971. Retrieved April 21, 2013.
  2. Movie Box Office Figures. LDS Film. Retrieved April 15, 2013.
  3. Gussow, Mel (August 25, 1988). "Leonard Frey, Actor, Dies at 49; Was in 'Fiddler' and Other Films". The New York Times.
  4. "Fiddler on the Roof (1971)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved April 29, 2018.
  5. Walker, Craig (2011). On the Buses: The Complete Story. Andrews UK Limited. ISBN 978-1908382849.
  6. Bial 2005, pp. 78–79.
  7. Isenberg 2014, p. ix.
  8. Isenberg 2014, pp. ix, 124.
  9. Huttner, Jan Lisa. "Fiddler: Stage versus Screen",, November 14, 2011, accessed September 7, 2015
  10. "My Kinda Town". Second Avenue Tzivi. September 11, 2014.
  11. Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987, p. 194.
  12. "Fiddler on the Roof (1971)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved November 29, 2016.
  13. Ebert, Roger. "Fiddler on the Roof". Retrieved December 5, 2018.
  14. Siskel, Gene (November 12, 1971). "Wide-screen 'Fiddler': the gamble pays off". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 13.
  15. Canby, Vincent (November 28, 1971). "Is 'Fiddler' More DeMille Than Sholem Aleichem?". The New York Times. 36.
  16. Champlin, Charles (November 5, 1971). "'Fiddler on Roof' a Labor of Love". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
  17. Arnold, Gary (November 11, 1971). "Fiddler: 'Big, Beautiful Surprise". The Washington Post. C1.
  18. Kael, Pauline (November 13, 1971). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker p. 133.
  19. "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies" (PDF). Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  20. "AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals" (PDF). Retrieved January 29, 2018.


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