Fiddler on the Roof,
directed by Norman Jewison
(MGM, 1971)

Yeah, it holds up.

I can remember seeing Fiddler on the Roof as a child, in the theater, intermission and all. I grew up hearing my mother play the soundtrack for many years thereafter (and I recall being very surprised to discover her soundtrack was from Zero Mostel's Broadway version, not the film version I knew). And I remember discovering it again as an adult, when I picked up a copy of the DVD on a whim and was astonished at how much I still enjoyed.

This week, I watched it again. And it's every bit as good as it was that first time I saw it.

The music is exquisite. The performers, magnificent. And there's no denying the power of the story, which focuses on a poor, hard-working, devoted Jewish man struggling to hold onto his traditions while raising five daughters and coping with changing times in czarist Russia. The tale is both humorous and heartbreaking, brutal at times when dealing with a population of people beset by prejudice.

I am among those who prefer the film to the stage production, in part because it deals with its topics more seriously. And Topol, who is brilliant as the warm, witty, long-suffering Tevye, is sufficient to make me forget Mostel ever even played the part. And he's not alone; the cast of this movie musical is amazing, from Norma Crane (who died shortly after filming from breast cancer, an illness she concealed from most of the cast and crew) as Tevye's sharp-tongued wife Golde to the couple's headstrong elder daughters, Tzeitel (Rosalind Harris), Hodel (Michele Marsh) and Chava (Neva Small). Their home, the hardscrabble village of Anatevka, is a character in its own right, peopled with colorful personalities.

I'm not here to tell you the plot of the film, I'm here to remind you it exists. If you don't know it already, you need to see it. For those of you who have seen it, see it again. Dust it off and lose yourself in one of the most enduring movie musicals ever crafted.

review by
Tom Knapp

20 February 2016

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