Fiddler on the Roof (1971): Norman Jewison’s Oscar Nominated Musical, Starring Topol

Norman Jewison’s big-screen version of the popular stage musical, Fiddler on the Roof, is an enjoyable if artistically mediocre film due to its excessive running time (three hours), passable production values, lack of energetic rhythm, and good dosage of sentimentality.

The scenario is by Joseph Stein, who adapted his stage musical to the screen, based on the popular tales of Sholem Aleichem about Jewish life at the shtetl at turn of the century Ukraine; previously, the stories served as inspiration for a straight play.

The film’s best element is the acting, particularly by Israeli actor Topol, as Tevye, the worried father of three disparate daughters, and Leonard Frey, as Motel. It was also good to see the vet Jewish-Yiddish actress Molly Picon playing yente.

Despite shortcoming deriving from Jewison’s lack of sensitivity to the musical genre, most of the songs are glorious, even if their execution leaves much to be desired.

Cast

Tevye (Topol)
Golde (Norma Crane)
Motel (Leonard Frey)
Yente (Molly Picon)
Lazar Wolf (Paul Mann)
Tzeitel (Rosalind Harris)
Hodel (Michele Marsh)
Chava (Neva Small)
Perchik (Paul Michael)
Fyedka (Raymond Lovelock)

Oscar Nominations: 8

Picture, produced by Norman Jewison
Director: Norman Jewison
Actor: Topol
Supporting Actor: Leonard Frey
Cinematography: Oswald Morris
Art Direction-Set Decoration: Robert Boyle and Michael Stringer; Peter Lamont
Sound: Gordon K. McCallum and David Hildyard
Scoring: John Williams

Oscar Awards: 3

Cinematography
Sound
Scoring

Oscar Context

In 1971, “The French Connection competed with four other films for the Best Picture Oscar: Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange,” Norman Jewison’s musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” Bogdanovich’s period drama “The Last Picture Show,” and the historical account “Nicholas and Alexandra.”

No one expected William Friedkin’s New York thriller-actioner “The French Connection” to either become such a major critical and commercial hit or to win the 1971 Best Picture Oscar. But it did

Ben Johnson won the Supporting Actor Oscar for “The Last Picture Show,” and the Art Direction Award went to the historical melodrama, “Nicholas and Alexandra.”