If I Were a Rich Man

Fiddler on the Roof gave the long-running Broadway musical new life on the big screen. I’ve known about the 1964 stage production for years, but I never really knew the story. Fiddler on the Roof is extremely faithful to its source material. Speaking of faith, Fiddler on the Roof is also very Jewish. Although the writers are both Jewish, the aptly named director Norman Jewison is not. Which didn’t stop him from being nominated for Best Director a second time after In the Heat of the Night. The French Connection ended up winning Best Picture since grittier movies were starting to take over, but there’s still plenty of room for the old fashioned G rated musical. Fiddler on the Roof is all about an old fashioned fiercely devoted Jewish milkman who sticks to tradition. Israeli actor Topol replaces Zero Mostel, but delivers an Oscar nominated performance.

Tevye lives a poor man’s life with his family in the village Anatevka. His dreams of becoming rich are heard in the most iconic song “If I Were a Rich Man.” Tevye may obtain his wish by marrying his five daughters off to wealthy suitors. Their village has the titular fiddler on the roof, the local beggar, wise rabbi, and the matchmaker. Molly Picon doesn’t have a large role, but she does have her own song when the girls sing “Matchmaker, Matchmaker.” Tevye’s views are tested when his three older daughters choose their own husbands. He first promises his oldest daughter Tzeitel to the much older butcher Lazar Wolf. This was actually Paul Mann and Norma Crane who plays Tevye’s wife Golde’s final film performance before their deaths.

Tzeitel instead chooses her childhood friend Motel. Leonard Frey was also nominated for playing the timid Jewish tailor. Motel tests Tevye for not being wealthy. When he does approve, they get married in a beautiful ceremony accompanied by the song “Sunrise, Sunset.” His second daughter Hodel falls for aspiring Russian revolutionary Perchik. Their village is turned upside down by the conflict, but it’s not as intense as Doctor Zhivago. Perchik tests Tevye for having several radical viewpoints. His third daughter Chava is the only one disowned by her father for marrying the Christian Fyedka. Tevye comes around in a subtle way as they’re forced to leave their home. Fiddler on the Roof is beautifully shot with Oscar winning Best Cinematography. It also won Best Sound and John Williams won his first Academy Award for Best Original Score. Fiddler on the Roof is rich with music and deep themes.

Fiddler on the Roof

Fiddler on the roof

4 thoughts on “If I Were a Rich Man

  1. I’ve seen some of the film, and to be honest it didn’t do much for me. Topol’s rendition of “If I Were a Rich Man” is really good I have to say. Zero Mostel really wanted to do the film and held a long grudge against Jewison for not casting him as he originated the role of Tevye on Broadway and I believe won a Tony for it. A funny story is that not too long before Mostel passed away, Jewison’s agent called him about Jewison wanting to cast Mostel’s son in a part for his next film and Mostel famously shouted “Tell him to get Topol’s son!”.

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