Sentimental in a theatrical way, romantic in the oldfashioned way, nostalgic of immigration days, affirmative of human decency, loyalty, bravery and folk humor, here is the screen version of the long-running Hal Prince-produced, Jerome Robbins-directed stage musical smash [with book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick].
Pictured is the Ukrainian village of pious and tradition-ruled Jews at the point the corrupt Czaristic regime was goading them to move out. A tight-lipped bigot, Vernon Dobtcheff drives into the village in his carriage with an escort of military horsemen and lays down to the reluctant constable (Louis Zorich) the obligatory political line, namely there must be a ‘distractive’ demonstration of the local peasants against ‘those Christ-killers’.
Attention naturally falls on the Tevye. Norman Jewison chose the Israeli actor, Topol, who played the role on the London stage. An enormous man with sparkling (not melting) brown eyes, Topol has the necessary combination of bombast and compassion, vitality and doubts. His dialogs with God (and/or the audience) are more cautious and less in the chutzpah style of, say, Zero Mostel. Topol sings passably, but ‘If I Were a Rich Man’ is too serious, losing the fun.
1971: Best Cinematography, Sound, Adapted Score.
Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Chaim Topol), Supp. Actor (Leonard Frey), Art Direction