Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

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By Scott Ross

One of the most beautiful movie musicals ever made. The staggeringly successful Broadway original received splendid screen transference from the director, Norman Jewison (who, despite his name, and the content of this movie, is Gentile). Most of the great Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick score was retained although, of necessity, the show’s vividly theatrical, Chagal-inspired Jerome Robbins direction and Boris Aronson sets were not. (Robbins’ original choreography was recreated for by his long-time assistant Tom Abbott.) The movie is simply a different animal, a vibrant re-creation of Russian stetl life before the Revolution, and the Eastern European locations, shot by Oswald Morris, are ravishing.

Casting the Israeli actor Topol as Tevye the milkman was inspired; he’s so virile and appealing, so utterly right, you become aware of how disastrous the role’s originator, the great but oversized Zero Mostel, would have been in the movie. (Topol played the lead in the West End production.) Norma Crane is the steel-backed yet palpably warm Golde; Molly Picon brings a bit of classic Yiddish theatre to the meddlesome matchmaker Yenta; the late Leonard Frey is the sweetly timid Motel Zamzoil; and the wonderful Rosalind Harris plays the family’s eldest daughter. Curiously, while the source material had for many years the longest run of any Broadway show, the movie was not as correspondingly successful.

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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