Fiddler on the Roof is the 1971 American film adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name. It was directed by Norman Jewison. The film won three Academy Awards, including one for arranger-conductor John Williams. It was nominated for several more, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Chaim Topol as Tevye, and Best Supporting Actor for Leonard Frey, who played Motel the Tailor (both had originally acted in the musical; Topol as Tevye in the London production and Frey in a minor part as Mendel, the rabbi's son). The decision to cast Topol, instead of Zero Mostel, as Tevye was a somewhat controversial one, as the role had originated with Mostel and he had made it famous. Recording was done at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, England. Most of the exterior shots were done in Croatia: in Mala Gorica, Lekenik, and Zagreb. The film follows the plot of the stage play very closely, retaining nearly all of the play's dialogue and even adding a new scene showing Perchik being arrested, although it omits the songs "Now I Have Everything" and "The Rumor (I Just Heard)". It takes place in the Jewish village of Anatevka, within the Pale of Settlement in westernmost Tsarist Russia in 1905 and centers on the character of Tevye, a poor milkman, and his daughters' marriages. As Tevye says in the introductory narration, the Jews have relied upon their traditions to maintain the stability of their way of life for centuries; but as times change, that stability is threatened on the small scale by Tevye's daughters' wishes to marry men not chosen in the traditional way by the matchmaker, and on the large scale by pogroms and revolution in Russia. A new song intended to be sung by Perchik was recorded, however, it was omitted from the final print. When the film was re-released in the late 1970s, several minutes were omitted from the film, including the songs "Far from the Home I Love," and "Anatevka."
The film centers on the family of Tevye (Topol), a Jewish family living in the town of Anatevka, in Tsarist Russia, in 1905. Anatevka is broken into two sections: a small Orthodox Jewish section; and a larger Orthodox Christian section. Tevye notes that, "We don't bother them, and so far, they don't bother us." Throughout the film, Tevye breaks the fourth wall by talking at times, directly to the audience or to the heavens (to God), for the audience's benefit. Much of the story is also told in musical form. Tevye is very poor, despite working hard, like most Jews in Anatevka. He and his wife, Golde (Norma Crane), have five daughters and cannot afford to give them dowries so they have to rely on the village matchmaker, Yente (Molly Picon), to find them husbands. Life in the shtetl of Anatevka is very hard and Tevye speaks not only of the difficulties of being poor but also of the Jewish community's constant fear of harassment from their non-Jewish neighbors. The film begins with Tevye explaining to the audience that what keeps the Jews of Anatevka going is the balance they achieve through following their ancient traditions. He also explains that the lot of the Jews in Russia is as precarious as a fiddler on a roof: trying to eke out a pleasant tune, while not breaking their necks. The fiddler appears throughout the film as a metaphoric reminder of the Jews' ever-present fears and danger. While in town, Tevye meets Perchik (Michael Glaser), a student with modern political ideas (clearly a Marxist). Tevye invites Perchik to stay with him and his family, in exchange for Perchik tutoring his daughters. Through Yente, Tevye arranges a marriage for his oldest daughter, Tzeitel (Rosalind Harris), to Lazar Wolf (Paul Mann), a wealthy butcher. However, Tzeitel is in love with her childhood sweetheart, Motel (pronounced "mottle") (Leonard Frey) the tailor, and begs her father not to make her marry the much older butcher. Tevye reluctantly agrees. To get Tzeitel and Tevye out of the agreement with Lazar, Tevye claims to have a nightmare, which he repeats to Golde. In the nightmare, he says that Golde's deceased Grandmother Tzeitel (Patience Collier) told him that Tzeitel is supposed to marry Motel, as it was decided in heaven. Also in the nightmare, Lazar Wolf's late wife, Fruma-Sarah (Ruth Madoc), warns Tevye that if Tzeitel marries Lazar, she will kill Tzeitel after three weeks of marriage. Golde concludes that dream was a message to be followed from their ancestors, and Tzeitel and Motel arrange to be married. Meanwhile, after one of Perchik's lessons with Bielke and Shprintze (the youngest of Tevye's daughters), Tevye's second daughter, Hodel (Michèle Marsh) mocks Perchik's interpretation of the Bible story he told her sisters. He, in turn, criticizes her for hanging on to the old traditions of her religion and tells her that the world is changing. To illustrate this, he dances with her, because the opposite sexes dancing together is considered forbidden to Orthodox Jews. The two are shown to be falling in love, and Perchik tells Hodel that they just changed an old tradition. Later, at Tzeitel and Motel's wedding, an argument breaks out over whether a girl should be able to choose her own husband. Perchik addresses the crowd and says that, since they love each other, it should be left for the couple to decide and creates further controversy by asking Hodel to dance with him. The two begin to dance, and gradually, the crowd warms to the idea with Tevye and Golde joining, then Motel and Tzeitel. The wedding then proceeds with great joy. Suddenly, the military presence in the town and the constable arrive and begin a pogrom, attacking the Jews and their property. A few months later, as Perchik prepares to leave Anatevka to work for the revolution, he proposes to Hodel and she accepts him. When they tell Tevye, he is furious that they have decided to marry without his permission, and with Perchik leaving Anatevka, but he relents because they love each other. This time, Tevye tells Golde the truthand as a side effect, is prompted to re-evaluate their own arranged marriage and relationship. Weeks later, when Perchik is arrested in Kiev and is exiled to Siberia, Hodel decides to join him there. She promises Tevye that she and Perchik will be married under a canopy there. Not long after that, Tzeitel and Motel become parents, and Motel finally buys the sewing machine for which he has long scrimped and saved. By now they are becoming, in their own right, respected members of the community, and a close, almost father-son relationship is developing between Motel and Tevye who, not so long ago, had scorned Motel as a nobody. Meanwhile, Tevye's third daughter, Chava (Neva Small), has fallen in love with a young Russian and Orthodox Christian man, Fyedka (Raymond Lovelock). She eventually works up the courage to ask Tevye to allow her to marry him. Horrified, Tevye forbids her to see him again, but they elope and are married in a Russian Orthodox church. In a soliloquy, Tevye concludes that he cannot accept Chava marrying a non-Jew, in effect abandoning the Jewish faith, and he disowns her. Finally, the Jews of Anatevka are notified that they have to leave the village or be forced out by the government; they have three days. Tevye, his family and friends begin packing up to leave, heading for various parts of America and other places. Chava and her husband, Fyedka, come to Tevye's house and tell her family that they are leaving toounable to stay in a place that would force innocent people out. Tevye shows signs of forgiving Chava for marrying outside her faith by telling Tzeitel to tell them, "God be with them," pleasing his wife and daughters, who also tell them where they will be living in New York, America. Just before the closing credits, Tevye spots the fiddler and motions to him to come along, and the film ends with the fiddler following Tevye down the road, playing the "Tradition" theme.