By 1971 the film musical was fading at the box office because of too many over stuffed, overly long entries in the genre. When Norman Jewison took on FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, the musical’s popularity and storyline—about a Jewish milkman in the Russian town of Anatevka trying to maintain his sense of tradition in the face of three rebellious daughters and growing anti-Semitism—demanded a large-scale treatment. He decided to focus on realism, combining interiors shot in London with exteriors shot on location in Yugoslavia (now Croatia), where many of the older buildings could be filmed as they were. Jewison aroused controversy by casting the actor Topol, who had played Tevye in London, over the role’s originator, Zero Mostel, arguing that Mostel’s name recognition would detract from the realism. He used many of the songs as voice-overs rather than have the actors perform them for the cameras. The result was a runaway hit—the highestgrossing film of its year—and a picture praised in its own right as a moving, timeless musical drama.
Dir. Norman Jewison