Cinema: Last of the Dinosaurs

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Fiddler on fhe Roof now joins the company of Star!, Hello, Dolly!, Paint Your Wagon and Dr. Dolittle—the last, lumbering dinosaurs from the era of big-budget musicals. The qualities that have kept the Broadway Fiddler running these seven years are in scant supply onscreen. Gone with barely a trace are warmth, joy, insight and even the most elementary kind of entertainment. The story of Tevye, the milkman of a small village in czarist Russia around the time of the pogroms, his nagging wife and his nubile daughters, is a modest affair requiring intimate treatment. Instead, it gets a full-scale Hollywood production. There is a Panavision screen that does not enlarge the proceedings so much as bloat them, color photography that seems poured over the film like a thickening gravy, and a stereophonic sound system that blares the music at high volume and low impact.

The tunes (which rate pretty high by Broadway standards) are more or less intact. The talent is not. The dances—including an endless wedding celebration—are seemingly performed by one of those middle-European troupes Ed Sullivan used for cultural filler. Most sorely missed is the magisterial Zero Mostel in the role of Tevye, which he created on the stage. He has been replaced for unfathomable reasons by the Israeli star Topol, who labors under the handicap of having to project great amounts of charm and personality when he has none to spare. The credits for Fiddler list Norman Jewison as producer and director. On the basis of this and past efforts (The Thomas Crown Affair, Gaily Gaily), he might better be called an anaesthetist.