Sunrise, sunset, it’s hard to believe it, but this month, the “Fiddler on the Roof” movie turned 50(!) years old. The movie, which was based on the Broadway play that opened just half a decade earlier, came out on November 3, 1971, and quickly earned its place as an American and Jewish cultural staple.
The tale of Tevye, played by the winning Israeli actor Chaim Topol, and his daughters, based on a Sholem Aleichem tale set in Czarist Russia, captured the imaginations of generation after generation, with its humor, impossibly catchy tunes and emotional storytelling.
In honor of the anniversary of the release, IMDB created a super adorable, short sing-a-long featuring some highlights of the film, including the movie’s most iconic songs. There’s the obvious “Tradition;” the fan favorite “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” — which inspired a great COVID time parody and also became a great matchmaking rallying cry for Mandy Patinkin recently; “To Life!,” which you may or may not know as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s wedding song; the iconic and wistful “Sunrise, Sunset;” and, of course, “If I Were a Rich Man” — which recently started an antisemitic controversy on TikTok (because of course). Missing from the medley is “Shabbath Prayer,” which recently received an incredible multilingual rendition — and which is so mesmerizing in the film.
Unlike the original musical, which took a while to get the attention of audiences and critics, the “Fiddler” movie received instant critical acclaim. It was nominated for eight Academy Award nominations, and won three — for best cinematography, best original score and best sound. It also earned two Golden Globes, including one for Topol, who played Tevye.
The film features a cast of incredible Jewish actors, from Topol to Paul Michael Glaser, who four years later was cast as Starsky in “Starsky and Hutch” (you can also see him in season five of “Grace & Frankie”). Though, fun fact, director Norman Jewison was not, in fact, Jewish (in fact, he did go on to direct another iconic musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” with Barry Dennen, who played Mendel, in the role of Pontius Pilate).
Another fun fact? Louis Zorich, who is not Jewish, and who played the constable in the film, wound up playing an iconic Jewish dad — Burt Bachmann, Paul Bachman’s father in “Mad About You.”
The movie kept pretty faithful to the 1964 musical, bringing the amazing music of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick to the screen,. But it did make some small changes from the play. For example, it made the character of Yente a little bit more old country and meek. In the Broadway play, the role was originated by Golden Girl Bea Arthur, a performance we would have loved to see immortalized in the film (no disrespect to the wonderful and brilliant Molly Picon).
The movie is currently streamable on Amazon Prime, which means you can celebrate the 50th anniversary with a movie night and full-length sing-a-long in your own home.
“Fiddler” was a history-making film, and the popularity of it also led to many, many productions (my cousin recently starred in one in the Israeli city of Be’er Sheva).
Now, Jewish dad Thomas Kail (of “Dear Evan Hansen” fame) is about to direct a new adaptation of the musical. While some may be excited, many think that greatness shouldn’t be messed with and have asked to Leave “Fiddler on the Roof” alone.
Whatever happens with this new adaptation, one thing is for sure: The 1971 “Fiddler” is an iconic film that will always have a special place in our hearts. Mazel tov, happy birthday, “Fiddler,” and l’chaim!