Fiddler on the Roof


Fiddler on the Roof

Based on the “Tevye and his Daughters” by Sholem Aleichem

Screenplay by Joseph Stein

Music by Jerry Bock

Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick

Directed by Norman Jewison



Topol as Tevya

Norma Crane as Golde

Leonard Frey as Motel

Rosaling Harris as Tzeitel

Michèle Marsh as Hodel

Neva Small as Chava

Molly Picon as Yente

Paul Mann as Lazar Wolf

Michael Glaser as Perchik

Zvee Scooler as The Rabbi


Theatrical: A Mirisch - Cartier Production

Video: MGM Home Entertainment


Aspect Ratio: 2.34:1

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC

Disc Size: 47.44 GB

Feature Size: 41.62 GB

Avg. Total Bit Rate: 30.64 Mbps

Avg. Video Bit Rate: 19.99 Mbps

Runtime: 181 minutes

Chapters: 36

Region: All


English DTS-HD MA 7.1 (48 kHz / 4409 kbps / 24-bit)

Spanish, French, German & Italian DTS 5.1

Portuguese & Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0

English Dolby Digital 2.0 (commentary)


English, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese, Swedish & Spanish


•  Audio commentary by Director Jewison and Topol 

•  The Songs of Fiddler on the Roof (14:40)

•  Norman Jewison Looks Back (ca. 9:30)

•  Norman Jewison Filmmaker (49:30)

•  John Williams: Creating A Musical Tradition (11:30)

•  Tevye’s Daughters (16:25)

•  Set In Reality: Production Design (9:50)

•  “Tevye’s Dream” In Full Color (5:55)

•  Storyboard-to-Film Comparison (21:00)

•  Deleted Scene: Deleted Song “Any Day Now” (3:05)

•  Trailers, Teasers & TV spots

•  DVD of feature film + commentary


Amaray Blu-ray case:  BRD x 1 + DVD x 1

Release Date: April 5, 2011


Starting, I’d say, with Astaire/Rogers’ The Gay Divorcee in 1934, the movie musical was assured a place in the hearts of audiences for the next three decades or so.  Studios were quick to embrace the latest technologies, color and widescreen, and huge budgets were often awarded and eventually squandered.  When the screen widened, the text darkened. The King and I (1956) and South Pacific (1958) paved the way for grimmer fare after stopovers for Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady in the mid-1960s.  The following decade, no doubt responding to the general angst and self-examination brought about by U.S. involvement in southeast Asia, began with two masterpieces in the genre that still stand as the most depressing: Fiddler on the Roof and Cabaret from 1971 and 1972 respectively.


It is not surprising that both stories dealt with the plight of European Jews in the last century: They hid from the Nazis in Cabaret; they were forced to leave their homeland in Fiddler.  How does one make musicals about such things?  How does one dare!  And yet, while they are profoundly affecting, they are also deliriously engaging at times.  These are not films one can come to just any old time for entertainment’s sake, like Singin’ in the Rain or Daddy Long Legs.  It was at least twenty years before I was able to watch Fiddler a second time.  Clearly, this story has an affecting power that is only made more so by its music - and, in this case, by the images Norman Jewison put up on the screen for us.  “Not a Jew” he insists in the accompanying commentary.  “Never was, neither myself nor my family.”  Ha!


I remember when the movie came out that there was a great deal of hand wringing and wagging of the head that Zero Mostel, the original Tevye, was to be passed over for a handsomer, much younger actor.  I hated Topol for stealing Zero’s glory.  Not fair.  Another Jew sacked.  I had thought the Blacklist was behind us by then.  The truth was that Topol had already played Tevye on the London stage from 1967 to rave reviews.  in any case, I was disinclined to respond warmly to Fiddler.  But I have to admit the movie got to me, even if Topol didn’t.

In the commentary we learn that Jewison struggled with casting the role of Tevye. "Zero created the role and was very popular, and he so dominated the stage that he turned it into a one-man show. Film, however, was not his medium of expression.  Topol's performance in London knocked me out. He had warmth and a virility that I knew would translate to the screen. I wanted intense ethnic pride and strength. Topol was Israeli, and was not in any way ghettoized or insecure about his Jewishness.”


That was then.  In the meantime, in what I took to be gesture of justice, Zero Mostel was cast as blacklisted actor Hecky Brown in the Walter Bernstein/Martin Ritt/Woody Allen 1975 film The Front.  The following year Mostel appeared as Tevye in the first Broadway revival at the Winter Garden.  I felt vindicated. 

Now is a different story.  Now, Topol is perfect, so is Michèle Marsh who didn’t look ethnic enough for me in 1971; and now, especially in her farewell scene at the train station, is as Jewish as Hodel needs to be. As for Hodel, I still can’t see what she sees in Paul Glazer’s Perchik that would make her want to leave her home, let alone follow him to Siberia.  And not that it makes the slightest difference, but I still have trouble swallowing Molly Picon’s Yente, though she is exactly what I’ve seen on stage in Jewish Theatre. This I can’t figure.


Back to the story, which despite its ethnic roots, has profound omnicultural resonance.  Fiddler’s screenwriter Joseph Stein noted: “It's a story about parents and children, a story about struggling in a strange world, conflict of cultures, immigrants."  "We never anticipated worldwide acclaim," Stein said. "People all over the world accept it as a personal statement. The Japanese producer asked me if they understood the play in America, because he thought it was such a Japanese story."

Asked about the work's ultimate message, Jewison emotionally responded: "'Fiddler is about a man who has consummate faith in his own destiny, and will go on, and nothing is going to defeat him or his family. The fiddler will keep playing. When I think of Tevye going on, pulling the cart, with his two youngest daughters, headed for the United States, I get this strong unshakable belief in our continuity and our survival. It doesn't matter how many buildings people blow up or how many threats are made."


The Movie: 9

The time is pre-revolutionary Russia in a shtetl called Anatevka somewhere in Ukraine.  The Jews live over here, the gentiles over there in the more modern town.  Life is hard, but somehow rich.  Tevye, the local dairyman, tells us that it is “Tradition!” that holds this community in place and gives life meaning.  “Because of our traditions... Every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”  And so it has been for countless generations.  The times, however, are changing, as several younger people point out. 

Tevye has five daughters, three of them of marrying age, just about.  One by one each of them tests their wishes for an untraditional marriage against their father’s respect for and commitment to his tradition - to God’s commandment, as he sees it.  The first seems harmless enough: the object of Tzeitel’s affections is Motel, a tailor so poor he doesn’t even own a sewing machine.  Most of the film’s first half responds to this conflict clearly and powerfully so that when Hodel and Chava, in turn, find their hearts belong to outsiders, we understand how Tevye’s entire being and his unique way of rationalizing are stretched to the breaking point.


As if all this were not enough, the villagers are told that the czar would prefer it if the Jews were to leave Russia and their homes altogether. And it is in this political and social climate that the second half of the movie finds its way - or loses it - and finds it again.

Oh, yes, did I mention this is a musical?


Image: 8/8

I have every reason to believe that Fiddler looks as good or (if the projectionist wasn’t asleep or drunk) better that it did 40 years ago, which is to say: gauzy.  Some sequences are sharper than others: “Miracle of Miracles” and “Tevye’s Dream” and the scene where Tevye and Lazar Wolf negotiate for Tzeitel (below) especially; while others: the bottle dance, “To Life” and “Anatevka” look like no amount of restoration will ever bring them back from the dead - but I think they always looked like that.  The print is in very good shape with only the occasional minor blemish.  Edge enhancement is much suppressed, especially when you consider that a movie with this level of contrast invites such treachery as those that get more do.



Audio & Music: 7/10

If I were as paranoid as my friends think I am, I would conclude that MGM’s 7.1 audio mix is their way of telling me where I can stick my technophobic ideas as to the inappropriateness of converting original stereo and mono tracks to 5.1 surround without also including the original as an option - preferably in a lossless, uncompressed format.  7.1! Does Fiddler on the Roof leap to your mind as a movie that really needs this degree of saturated audio bombing?  Not mine.

Fiddler on the Roof won three Oscars: one of them for Best Sound.  And where is the evidence?  There is no way I’m going to assert a memory now some forty years, but I did find myself missing one thing (and, curiously, only one thing).  When Tevye does his “If I Were a Rich Man” stomp on the  upper deck of his barn, it seemed that the timbers shook with every deliberate footfall.  Nor here.  Aside from this absence, we find the dialogue clear and properly oversized, as it was back then.  We do hear all to easily, perhaps, the difference in size and shape of voices as we move from dialogue to song, but this was common with American studio musicals for several decades.


The music, especially, is given a new lease on life as compared with any previous video incarnation, and this may be the audio track’s strong suit.  Don’t expect anything exquisite here.  The orchestra never sounded as full and luscious, but not Isaac Stern’s violin, which is a shame. I’m certain the theatrical experience never sounded nearly as sweet and pliant as he would be in concert.  This much I can attest to.  The score, drawn largely from Jerry Bock’s music, was John Williams’ first foray into the medium, by the way.

Effects and ambiance are more hinted at than immersive: note the subtle sunrise at the beginning, the whispers of encouragement by the audience in the famous bottle dance, and the rustling of the grass behind Chava as she is approached by the local boys.


Extras: 8

Nearly all of the Extra Features found on the dual-sided Special Edition DVD are ported over to the new Blu-ray.  There are no new features and all the extras are presented as they were previously: in 4:3 or a non-anamorphic letterbox.  The bits that didn’t make it over to the Blu-ray release include the useful “Historical Background” and the obvious “The Stories of Sholom Aleichem” (very curious omissions, indeed) as well as the galleries of sketches, storyboards and production photographs. Though the items aren’t exactly critical to the release, collectors will likely balk at the incompleteness of the package.


Recommendation: 8

Fox’s new Blu-ray of Fiddler on the Roof is not an image that shows off the advantages of high-definition, but instead one that remains faithful to the original - and that took courage on Fox’s part.  The music hasn’t sounded this good since it left the theater almost 40 years ago.  In other respects the audio is not all that well served by a 7.1 mix, as dynamics almost always suffer.  We do miss two important historical features from the SE DVD.  On the other hand, I welcome any solution that takes the place of a double-sided disc.  Warmly recommended.


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

April 12, 2011

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