Fiddler on the Roof was once the longest-running Broadway musical and certainly deserves its esteemed reputation. While Zero Mostel immortalized the role of Tevye in the original Broadway production, Topol makes the role his own in this film version, having played it in the London production as well. His monologues to the audience and to God, going on and on about what’s “on the other hand,” are absolutely masterful, and the other actors imbue their characters with just the right amount of distinctive charm. Tevye himself is an outstanding character, understanding and willing to concede for the sake of his daughters, yet, though he should certainly draw the line somewhere, it’s unfortunate that his unyielding stand involves forsaking his daughter. It’s a role of a lifetime, and, not having seen Mostel’s version, I can’t envision anyone else in the role.
The film is a first-rate snapshot of an extinct way of life, a time of poor milk men, flighty matchmakers, and rigid traditions that outlaw men dancing with women. In its details, it is also an insightful view of how Scripture can be twisted to mean whatever the interpreter may want and a touching look at how difficult relationships can still be grounded in love. I’ve never understood many people’s hatred of Jews, whether in Czarist Russia or Nazi Germany or even in the present day, and the film doesn’t try to explain the sudden pogrom forced upon the peaceful villagers; it remains as mystifying to the characters as to the audience and just as heartbreaking. This, coupled with Tevye’s rejection of his third daughter, makes the second half of the film a real downer, detracting from its entertainment value.
The best part of a musical is, of course, the music, and Fiddler on the Roof has a very unique sound. Most songs are very Yiddish and Jewish-sounding without becoming repetitive, while others are typical Broadway-style tunes. The opener “Tradition” and “Matchmaker” start the film off with the right mood, and the celebratory “To Life” is a show-stopping number that was much better than I remembered. Some songs carry a special emotional punch to them, particularly “Sunrise, Sunset,” which reflects the feelings of two parents realizing how much their children have grown. While “Tevye’s Dream” leans a bit too far in a surreal direction, the best tune of them all is the aforementioned “If I Were a Rich Man,” which is made all the more memorable by Topol’s energetic performance and rich, deep voice. The film overall has some slow parts and goes on a bit too long, but it’s a grand and humorous musical that extols tradition and its role in keeping us stable in a hectic world.
Best line: (Tevye, explaining the title with the film’s first lines) “A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. You may ask ‘Why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous?’ Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: tradition!”Artistry: 9 Characters/Actors: 9 Entertainment: 7 Visual Effects: 3 Originality: 8 Watchability: 6 Other (slow and depressing ending): -3 TOTAL: 39 out of 60
Next: #222 – Steel Magnolias
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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