In pre-revolutionary Russia, one's existence is as precarious as a fiddler on the roof. While trying to scratch out some sort of melody in his life, Tevye (Topol), a poor dairy farmer keeps his balance by clinging to his Jewish traditions while providing for the five daughters he has been blessed with. Genially he converses with God, wondering if it would "spoil some vast eternal plan, if he were a wealthy man."
When the financially secure Lazar Wolf (Paul Mann) asks to marry his eldest daughter Tzeitel (Rosalind Harris), Tevye eagerly accepts the proposal, believing the arrangement will insure she always has the comforts of life. Unfortunately the bride-to-be does not take the announcement with the same rejoicing as does her mother (Norma Crane). Contrary to convention and with no regard for riches, Tzeitel wishes to choose her own husband.
Placing his daughter's happiness before honoring his promise will require Tevye to sidestep custom, and devise an elaborate lie to excuse breaking off the engagement. Although his compromise is a small departure from the old ways, it reflects the revolutionary spirit that is marching across Russia, tiptoeing into even the obscure village of Anatevka where his family resides. But efforts to regain his familiar foothold become more difficult with the romantic interests of his second and third daughters (Michele Marsh, Neva Small) , and the acceleration of religious persecution threatening to stomp out the Jews.
Based on the short stories of Sholom Aleichem, and receiving recognition first as a stage play, Fiddler on the Roof chronicles the flood of change that pours into this humble milkman's life, eroding much of what he took for granted, and reshaping his future. Forced to reevaluate everything from his understanding of love and marriage, to his religious commitment, Tevye's abundance of good humor, long standing relationship with God, and moments of profound insight (despite his lack of education), help him rise to each new challenge.
Enhanced by musical numbers that move the story from light-hearted to heart wrenching, Fiddler on the Roof captures the universal struggle to preserve faith, family, and friendship. While these complex themes, some violence connected with the political conflict, and the fantastical depiction of a nightmare may be too much for very young viewers, for the rest of the family this film's inspiring celebration of the tenacity of the human spirit is sure to appeal to Jew and Gentile alike.
Content Details: Beyond the Movie Ratings...
Overall: A This 1971 three Academy Awards winner follows the fate of a Jewish family whose traditional way of life, family ties, and religious commitment are challenged by the pre-revolutionary environment of Russia. It beautifully illustrates the power of love and humor in the face of unwanted change.
Violence: B Squabbling and raised voices between villagers, and spouses. Comedic mention of abusive husband in song lyrics. Nightmare sequence includes depiction of ghosts in a graveyard, ghostly hands come out of grave and a jealous spirit demonstrates a threat to choke someone. Mobsters destroy property, set buildings and cart on fire, and smash windows. Men scuffle, one is hit on head with candlestick. Soldiers draw swords and attack crowd-people flee and some bodies fall.
Sexual Content: A- Concern briefly mentioned over young couple spending time together. Young women shown in slips (underclothes). Men tease and touch the face of a young woman. Men and women break convention and dance together. Engaged couples hug and brush cheeks.
Language: A- Man falsely accused of calling a woman a cow. Jews called Christ killers. Terms of Deity used as proper nouns.
Alcohol / Drug Use: C Wine drunk in religious observances. Two main characters become intoxicated. Bar scene depicting celebrating men drinking to excess. Drinking at a wedding. One depiction of a minor character smoking.
Discussion Ideas: Talk About the Movie...
During a conversation one character pronounces money to be the world’s curse. Tevye retorts, "If riches are a curse, may God smite me with it, and may I never recover!" Considering all that transpires during the course of the story, would riches have improved Tevye’s situation? Were things any easier for the wealthy Lazar Wolf?
Wirily Tevye makes reference to being God’s chosen people, and asks him "Once in a while can’t you choose someone else?" Although the circumstances the Jews have to face appear harsh, knowing the eventual fate of religious freedom in Russia, is it possible that God was being mindful of the residents of Anatevka?
Life is Beautiful also looks at Jewish persecution, but parents should be forewarned that some of the portrayals contained in the film may be disturbing for viewers. The documentary Paper Clips follows the experiences of a group of middle school students in a small town in Tennessee as they study the holocaust in order to understand prejudice and tolerance.
Home Video Notes
Home Video Notes: Fiddler on the Roof
Release Date: 7 January 2014
As part of its 90th Anniversary Celebration, MGM is releasing Fiddler on the Roof on Blu-ray.
Blu-ray Notes: Fiddler on the Roof
Release Date: April 5, 2011
Fiddler on the Roof releases to Blu-ray with the following special features:
- Audio commentary by Director Norman Jewison and star Topol
- Deleted Song
- Historical background
DVD Notes: Fiddler on the Roof: 2-Disc Collectors Edition
Release Date: January 23, 2007
Get to know Anatevka even better than Yente the matchmaking gossip, with this 2-Disc Collector’s Edition of Fiddler on the Roof. Disc one presents the feature film plus an informative audio commentary by producer/director Norman Jewison and actor Topol (who plays Tevye). As they explain each scene fans will learn everything from why Topol’s Jewish Russian grandfather was responsible for landing him this part to the fate of Tevye’s lame horse. Disc two provides numerous bonus materials such as: deleted scenes and the deleted song Any Day Now, a documentary about the filmmaker Norman Jewison, the Easter Egg The Tale of the Beggar, an interview with John Williams called Creating a Musical Tradition, interviews with the cast members who played Tevye’s daughters, photo galleries, and the movie’s trailer. The following featurettes are also included: Historical Background with Photographs by Ann Weiss, Norman Jewison Looks Back, Set In Reality, Tevye’s Dream in Full Color, The Songs of Fiddler on the Roof, and The Songs of Sholam Aleichem. Audio tracks are available in English (Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono), French (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround) and Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono), with subtitles in English and Spanish.