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Fiddler on the Roof (film)

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

Fiddler on the Roof is a 1971 American period musical film produced and directed by Norman Jewison from a screenplay written by Joseph Stein, based on the 1964 stage musical of the same name by Stein, Jerry Bock, and Sheldon Harnick. Set in early 20th-century Imperial Russia, the film centers on Tevye, played by Topol, a poor Jewish milkman who is faced with the challenge of marrying off his five daughters amidst the growing tension in his shtetl. The cast also features Norma Crane, Leonard Frey, Molly Picon, Paul Mann, Rosalind Harris, Michèle Marsh, Neva Small and Paul Michael Glaser. The musical score, composed by Bock with lyrics by Harnick, was adapted and conducted by John Williams.

Filmed at Pinewood Studios in England and on-location in SR Croatia, Fiddler on the Roof was theatrically released on November 3, 1971, by United Artists to critical and commercial success. Reviewers praised Jewison's direction, the screenplay, and the performances of the cast, while the film grossed $83.3 million worldwide on a $9 million budget, becoming the highest-grossing film of 1971.

The film received a leading eight nominations at the 44th Academy Awards, including for Best Picture and Best Director, and won three: Best Score Adaptation (Williams), Best Cinematography (Oswald Morris) and Best Sound (Gordon K. McCallum, David Hildyard).[3] The film also won two Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy for Topol.

The film has continued to receive acclaim since its release and is often considered to be one of the greatest musical films of all time.[4][5][6][7][8] An independently produced documentary about the making of the film, titled Fiddler's Journey to the Big Screen, was released in 2022.[9][10][11] A remake of the film, directed by Thomas Kail, is currently in development.[12]


The film centers on the family of Tevye, a Jewish milkman in the village of Anatevka in Tsarist Russia. Tevye breaks the fourth wall by talking at times to the audience or to the heavens for the audience's benefit. Tevye is terribly poor despite working hard, as are most of the Jews in Anatevka. He and his wife, Golde, have five daughters, and cannot afford a dowry to marry them off.

Life in the shtetl of Anatevka is very hard and Tevye speaks not only of the difficulties of being poor but also of the Jewish community's constant fear of harassment from their non-Jewish neighbors. Tevye explains to the audience that the lot of the Jews in Russia is as precarious as a fiddler on a roof, trying to eke out a pleasant tune while not breaking their necks—but what keeps them alive is the balance they achieve through obedience to their ancient traditions. The fiddler appears throughout the film as a metaphoric reminder of the Jews' ever-present fears and danger.

While in town, Tevye meets Perchik, a student with modern religious and political ideas. Tevye invites Perchik to live with him and his family in exchange for Perchik tutoring his daughters. Through Yente the matchmaker, Tevye arranges for his oldest daughter, Tzeitel, to marry Lazar Wolf, a wealthy butcher. However, Tzeitel is in love with her childhood sweetheart, Motel the tailor, and begs her father not to make her marry the much older butcher. Tevye reluctantly agrees and, despite the humiliation suffered by Lazar Wolf, Tzeitel and Motel arrange to be married. Tevye persuades Golde to agree to the marriage by claiming that a prophetic dream told him Tzeitel is fated to marry Motel.

At the wedding, an argument breaks out between the guests 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 when he asks Tevye's daughter Hodel to dance with him, crossing the barrier between the men and women. Eventually, the crowd warms up to the idea and the wedding proceeds with great joy. Suddenly, a mob of local peasants arrive and begin a pogrom, attacking the Jews and their property.

Later, as Perchik prepares to leave Anatevka to work for the revolution, he tells Hodel that he loves her, and she agrees to marry him. When they tell Tevye, he is furious that they have decided to marry without his permission, and with Perchik leaving Anatevka, but he eventually relents because they love each other. Weeks later, when Perchik is arrested in Kiev and exiled to Siberia, Hodel decides to travel to join him there.

Meanwhile, Tevye's third daughter, Chava, has fallen in love with a young Russian man, Fyedka, and eventually works up the courage to ask Tevye to allow her to marry him. In a soliloquy, Tevye concludes that while he could accept his older daughters' choosing their own husbands, he cannot countenance Chava marrying a non-Jew, in effect abandoning the Jewish faith, and forbids her to associate with him. Chava elopes with him and marries in a Russian Orthodox Church. Golde learns of Chava's marriage and breaks the news to Tevye, who subsequently rejects Chava when she tries to beg forgiveness and acceptance from him.

Finally, the Jews of Anatevka are notified that the Russian government will force the Jews to leave the village; they have three days to pack up and leave. Tevye and his family and friends begin packing up to leave, heading variously for New York, Chicago, Jerusalem, and other places they know nothing about. Just before the credits, Tevye spots the fiddler and motions to him to come along, and the film ends with the fiddler following Tevye down the road.


Musical numbers[edit]

All songs by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, arranged by John Williams.

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

Differences from the Broadway musical[edit]

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)".[14][13] Lyrical portions of "Tevye's Dream (tailor Motel Kamzoil)" were omitted to avoid repetition. The film's soundtrack release notably contained some of these omissions, indicating they were removed from the film during the editing process. 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, seems unable to speak, at least clearly) 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 retained their names, Yitzhak and Avram, however this was also omitted in the film's release. Instead, an on-set, improvised take of Topol (saying "he sold him"), rather than the recorded dubbing, was used.

Six 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 Kyiv.
  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. The rabbi and his students inside the synagogue receive news of the arrival of Motel's new sewing machine.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.[14][15] 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.[14] 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.[14]


Principal photography was done at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, England. Most of the exterior shots were done in 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.[16] Additional scenes were shot at the Jadran Film studios.[13] 300 extras conversant in various foreign languages were used, as were flocks of geese and pigs and their handlers.[17] Isaac Stern performed the violin solos.[16]


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.[18] Before Topol was cast, Orson Welles, Anthony Quinn and Marlon Brando were all considered.

Rosalind Harris, who played Tzeitel, was previously Bette Midler's understudy in the role during the original Broadway production.[13]

Assi Dayan, a well-known Israeli actor and filmmaker, was originally cast as Perchik, but couldn't handle the English dialogue and was replaced by Paul Michael Glaser.[19] Rob Reiner auditioned for the role of Motel.[20] Richard Thomas was Jewison's choice to play Fyedka, but ultimately Italian actor Ray Lovelock was cast in the part. Talia Shire and Katey Sagal both auditioned to play Topol's daughters.

Norman Jewison has an uncredited voiceover cameo as the Rabbi in the "Tevye's Dream" number.

Fiddler on the Roof was the final film of Norma Crane, who died of breast cancer two years after its release.


The music for the film was conducted and adapted by John Williams from the original score by Jerry Bock. Williams also composed additional music and an original cadenza for Isaac Stern. The score was orchestrated by Williams and Alexander Courage.


Roadshow presentation[edit]

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.[21]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an 81% rating based on 77 reviews, with an average of 7.90/10. 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."[22]

Roger Ebert thought the storyline 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.[23] 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".[24] 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."[25] 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."[26] 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."[27] 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."[28]

Retrospective reception[edit]

The film continues to receive acclaim since its original release and it is often seen as one of the best musical films ever made. When the film celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2021, The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship collaborated on a retrospective celebrating the film and its legacy, including a virtual roundtable discussion with film critics, scholars and historians regarding the film's relevance in modern times and how it would be remembered in years time. One of the participants, Matthew Kennedy, called it "a very fine and enduring work of popular entertainment. Of all the big musicals at the end of the roadshow era, this one ages the best. If anything, it looks and sounds better today than it did fifty years ago. The music, the visuals, the story that's so specific yet moves people throughout the world. Humor, heartbreak, memorable songs, big themes, and moral lessons - Fiddler has it all."[4] In his 2021 retrospective, Devin McGrath-Conwell of Cinema Scholars wrote "This film may take place in 1905, but you can easily compare the themes of family, faith, and rebellion with more contemporary films like Rebel Without a Cause or Splendor in the Grass and find that they synch up." In conclusion, he wrote that it "remains beloved," and that "As Tevye told us, we are all fiddlers on the roof, fighting to maintain balance in a tumultuous and unpredictable world. And so, we must always seek to treat ourselves and our neighbors with the love and care of the citizens of Anatevka, and make that our "tradition."[29]

In 2023, the film ranked number 15 on IndieWire's list of "The 60 Best Movie Musicals of All Time," with Jude Dry writing "It's hard to go wrong with such great material, yet many have failed in their attempts to translate the epic nature of a live Broadway show to the comparatively flat screen. Led by Israeli actor Chaim Topol as the indefatigable narrator Tevye (though the decision not to cast Zero Mostel was controversial at the time), the movie delivers all of the laughs, tears, and chills of the musical ... From its rousing opening to its plaintive final notes, Fiddler on the Roof is nothing less than a cinematic tradition."[5] It also ranked number 9 on Screen Rant's list of "The 35 Best Musicals of All Time" and number 22 on Parade's list of the "67 Best Movie Musicals of All Time."[6] In a 2021 piece for Collider, Gregory Lawrence believed modern filmmakers looking to make their own musical films should look to this film for inspiration, mainly for Norman Jewison's direction, the cinematography and the staging and handling of the musical numbers, writing "By examining the traditional filmmaking of Fiddler on the Roof and carrying the most useful techniques with them, perhaps our future musical movies can sing even brighter."[30]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result
1971 Academy Awards Best Picture Norman Jewison Nominated
Best Director Nominated
Best Actor Topol Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Leonard Frey Nominated
Best Art Direction Art Direction: Robert F. Boyle and Michael Stringer;
Set Decoration: Peter Lamont
Best Cinematography Oswald Morris Won
Best Music: Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score John Williams Won
Best Sound Gordon K. McCallum and David Hildyard Won
American Cinema Editors Awards Best Edited Feature Film Antony Gibbs and Robert Lawrence Nominated
British Academy Film Awards Best Cinematography Oswald Morris Nominated
Best Editing Antony Gibbs, Robert Lawrence Nominated
Best Sound Track Les Wiggins, David Hildyard, and Gordon K. McCallum Nominated
British Society of Cinematographers Awards Best Cinematography in a Theatrical Feature Film Oswald Morris Won
David di Donatello Awards Best Foreign Actor Topol 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 – Motion Picture Paul Mann Nominated
Best Director – Motion Picture Norman Jewison Nominated
Golden Reel Awards Best Sound Editing – Dialogue Won
Sant Jordi Awards Best Performance in a Foreign Film Topol Won
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium Joseph Stein Nominated
2007 Satellite Awards Best DVD Extras Fiddler on the Roof (Collector's Edition) Nominated

American Film Institute recognition


A 2-LP soundtrack album was issued by United Artists Records in 1971. A cassette release shortly followed which featured two instrumental tracks not on the original LP release: "Entr'acte" and "The Pogrom" (tracked as "First Act Finale" on later CD releases).

In 2001, EMI Records released a remastered soundtrack CD to commemorate the film's 30th anniversary. This was the first time the "First Act Finale" and "Entr'acte" were featured on CD. This release also included the previously unreleased "Wedding Procession" track. It also featured the demo of "Any Day Now", a song that was cut from the final film.

On December 7, 2021, La-La Land Records released a 3-disc limited edition soundtrack which featured alternate versions of songs, as well as unreleased instrumental score composed by Williams.

In February 2022, the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, & Dance presented a concert version of Fiddler using the arrangements written by John Williams for the film. Broadway performers Chuck Cooper and Loretta Ables Sayre played the roles of Tevye and Golde with The Grand Rapids Symphony as the backing orchestra. The event was the first live performance of Williams' orchestrations for the film.


An independently produced documentary about the making of the film, Fiddler's Journey to the Big Screen, was made by Adama Films in 2021. Produced, directed and edited by Daniel Raim and featuring interviews with the surviving cast and crew members, as well as behind-the-scenes footage, it premiered at the Miami Jewish Film Festival on January 26, 2022, and was released theatrically by Kino Lorber and Zeitgeist Films that Spring. It was later made available to stream on Paramount+.[9][10][11]


On May 28, 2020, it was announced that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and producers Dan Jinks and Aaron Harnick will oversee a remake, with Thomas Kail (known for his work on Hamilton and Grease Live!) directing and co-producing, and Dear Evan Hansen librettist Steven Levenson penning the screenplay.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Credited as 'Michael Glaser'.


  1. ^ "Fiddler on the Roof (U)". British Board of Film Classification. August 19, 1971. Archived from the original on April 21, 2014. Retrieved April 21, 2013.
  2. ^ Movie Box Office Figures. Archived October 22, 2013, at the Wayback Machine 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. Archived from the original on May 6, 2017. Retrieved February 7, 2017.
  4. ^ a b Coate, Michael (March 4, 2023). "To Life! Remembering "Fiddler on the Roof" on its 50th Anniversary". thedigitalbits.com. Retrieved December 19, 2023.
  5. ^ a b Foreman, Christian Zilko,Wilson Chapman,Alison; Zilko, Christian; Chapman, Wilson; Foreman, Alison (December 12, 2023). "The 61 Best Movie Musicals of All Time, Ranked". IndieWire. Retrieved December 19, 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ a b Lealos, Shawn S.; Bajgrowicz, Brooke (February 3, 2020). "The 35 Best Musicals Of All Time". ScreenRant. Retrieved December 19, 2023.
  7. ^ Komonibo, Ineye; Knappenberger, Amanda Mitchell last updated Contributions from Brooke (January 10, 2023). "Show-Stopping Musical Movies For When You Just Want To Sing". Marie Claire Magazine. Retrieved December 19, 2023.
  8. ^ Murrian, Samuel R. (October 6, 2023). "The 67 Best Movie Musicals of All Time, Ranked". Parade. Retrieved December 19, 2023.
  9. ^ a b Films, Adama. "Daniel Raim". Daniel Raim. Retrieved December 19, 2023.
  10. ^ a b Winkelman, Natalia (April 28, 2022). "'Fiddler's Journey to the Big Screen' Review: Making a New Tradition". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 19, 2023.
  11. ^ a b https://film-forward.com/film-history/fiddlers-journey-to-the-big-screen [bare URL]
  12. ^ a b Fleming, Mike Jr. (May 28, 2020). "MGM Taps 'Hamilton' Director Thomas Kail for Movie Adaptation of Iconic 'Fiddler on the Roof'". Deadline. Archived from the original on May 28, 2020. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  13. ^ a b c d "Fiddler on the Roof (1971)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Archived from the original on September 5, 2015. Retrieved April 29, 2018.
  14. ^ a b c d Huttner, Jan Lisa. "Fiddler: Stage versus Screen" , JUF.org, November 14, 2011, accessed September 7, 2015
  15. ^ "My Kinda Town". Second Avenue Tzivi. September 11, 2014. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  16. ^ a b Isenberg 2014, p. ix.
  17. ^ Isenberg 2014, pp. ix, 124.
  18. ^ Bial 2005, pp. 78–79.
  19. ^ "Film director, actor Assi Dayan dead at 68". The Jerusalem Post | Jpost.com. Retrieved September 22, 2022.
  20. ^ noah (June 9, 2014). "6 Things About 'Fiddler on the Roof' on 50th Anniversary". The Forward. Retrieved September 22, 2022.
  21. ^ Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987, p. 194.
  22. ^ "Fiddler on the Roof (1971)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. January 1971. Archived from the original on March 14, 2021. Retrieved February 29, 2024.
  23. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Fiddler on the Roof". RogerEbert.com. Archived from the original on December 6, 2018. Retrieved December 5, 2018.
  24. ^ Siskel, Gene (November 12, 1971). "Wide-screen 'Fiddler': the gamble pays off". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 13.
  25. ^ Canby, Vincent (November 28, 1971). "Is 'Fiddler' More DeMille Than Sholem Aleichem?". The New York Times. 36.
  26. ^ Champlin, Charles (November 5, 1971). "'Fiddler on Roof' a Labor of Love". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
  27. ^ Arnold, Gary (November 11, 1971). "Fiddler: 'Big, Beautiful Surprise". The Washington Post. C1.
  28. ^ Kael, Pauline (November 13, 1971). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker p. 133.
  29. ^ McGrath-Conwell, Devin (November 10, 2021). "FIDDLER ON THE ROOF - A Retrospective Review At 50". Cinema Scholars. Retrieved December 19, 2023.
  30. ^ Lawrence, Gregory (November 3, 2021). "What Modern Musical Movie Directors Can Learn From Norman Jewison's 'Fiddler on the Roof'". Collider. Retrieved December 19, 2023.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]