Of course the difference between Czarist Russia for Jews and being part of the landed gentry in early Victorian England is cultural light years. Still fathers, mothers, daughters and prospective sons-in-law are the same wherever you go.
Filling some very big shoes in the lead was Topol who to this day is still appearing in stage productions of Fiddler On The Roof. But in 1971 people still remembered Zero Mostel on Broadway. Mostel was no longer in it, but Fiddler On The Roof was coming to the end of its then record run of 3242 performances. Topol had done the London production though so he was no novice in the part.
Topol justified Norman Jewison's faith in him by garnering an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Leonard Frey who was Motel the tailor who was the only one from the original Broadway cast and not in the role he did on Broadway got a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. In fact I liked him best in the film, a Yiddish version of Willie Mossop, the worm that turned from another English source, Hobson's Choice.
The cultural divide is the thing about Fiddler On The Roof that does separate it from a Victorian novel to a story of a perennially persecuted people. The thing that got me was the people's utter resignation to their fate come what may. Paul Michael Glaser, later Starsky on Starsky&Hutch, is the only one who's mad as hell and not taking it any more. For his pains he winds up in Siberia. Many have wondered why the Jews just marched off to the concentration camps two generations later. The answer in many ways is to be found in the characters Sholem Aleichem created from what he observed during his life.
Norman Jewison as a director filled the screen with this stage production. Small wonder among the Oscars that Fiddler On The Roof did win was for cinematography. The film also won for sound and best adapted musical score. The original songs were done by the Broadway team of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. Bock in writing the music had as keen an ear for the folk music of the culture as Richard Rodgers did in writing an Oriental score for The King And I.
If the role of Yente the matchmaker, a name as well as an occupation in Jewish tradition, wasn't in the original play, they'd have to have invented something to get Molly Picon in the film. The movie going public might only know her from such mainstream films like Come Blow Your Horn, but this woman who started as a child entertaining newly arrived folks from places like Anatevka became the First Lady of the Yiddish Theater. It wouldn't have been right to do Sholem Aleichem on the big screen without her in the film in some way.
Fiddler On The Roof is one of the best adapted Broadway musicals to the big screen ever done. And this review is dedicated to my late grandfather Isidore Kogan who came from Kamenets-Podolsk, a place just like Anatevka and settled here along with eight brothers and sisters in a watch repair business. I never knew Isidore, he died a week before I made my earthly debut, but he would have so loved Fiddler On The Roof.