- Directors: Norman Jewison
- Producers: Norman Jewison
- Writers: Sholem Aleichem, Joseph Stein
- Genres: Drama, Family, Musical
- Actors: Chaim Topol, Norma Crane, Leonard Frey, Molly Picon, Paul Mann, Rosalind Harris, Neva Small
The film centers on the family of Tevye (Topol), a Jewish milkman in the village of Anatevka (probably in the Pale of Settlement) in Tsarist Russia. Tevye breaks the fourth wall by talking at times directly to the audience or to the heavens (to God) for the audience’s benefit. Much of the story is also told in musical form.
Tevye is terribly poor despite working hard, as are most of the Jews in Anatevka. He and his wife, Golde (Norma Crane), have five daughters, which is another burden for Tevye to shoulder (as he cannot afford a dowry to marry them off). Life in the shtetl of Anatevka is very hard and Tevye speaks not only of the difficulties of being poor but also of the Jewish community’s constant fear of harassment from their non-Jewish neighbors.
The film begins with Tevye explaining to the audience that what keeps the Jews of Anatevka going is the balance they achieve through obedience to their ancient traditions. He also explains that the lot of the Jews in Russia is as precarious as a fiddler on a roof: trying to eke out a pleasant tune while not breaking their necks. The fiddler appears throughout the film as a metaphoric reminder of the Jews’ ever-present fears and danger. While in town, Tevye meets Perchik (Michael Glaser), a student with modern religious and political ideas (he is clearly a Marxist). Tevye invites Perchik to live with him and his family in exchange for Perchik tutoring his daughters.
Finally, the Jews of Anatevka are notified that the Russian government will force the Jews to leave the village; they have three days to pack up and leave. Tevye and his family and friends begin packing up to leave, heading variously for New York, Chicago, Palestine, and other places they know nothing about. Just before the credits, Tevye spots the fiddler and motions to him to come along, and the film ends with the fiddler following Tevye down the road, playing the “Tradition” theme.