Cast & Crew
Chavah, a Jewish farm girl living in the Ukraine around the turn of the century, is secretly in love with Fedya Galagan, a Russian who gives her books to read by Maxim Gorky, which she is delighted to receive. Zeitel, Chavah's sister, who has married and moved away, returns for a visit with her two young children. During the family meal, the village priest, Father Aleksei, visits and tells Tevya the dairyman, Chavah's father, that one of the daughters of Tevya's friend Mendel has fallen in love with a Gentile and is marrying into the Christian faith. When Tevya, a simple man who usually comments with philosophic humor on his life and that of his people, says that he would rather die or see his child dead than to see his daughter betray their faith, Chavah falls faint from crying. At night, on the porch of Tevya's home, Fedya tells Chavah that their love is above all faiths and brings her another book by Gorky. When he hears Tevya approach, Fedya kisses Chavah and dashes off. Tevya, who has seen Fedya leave, warns Chavah that should a pogrom occur, their supposed friends from the village wouldn't hesitate to join in. When she says she doesn't believe that they would, Tevya, suspicious of her, asks would she ever do anything to drive him and his wife Goldie to their graves, and Chavah, in tears, answers no. She marries Fedya, however, and on the day of the wedding, Tevya and Goldie go to the priest's house to try to get her back, but they are turned away. Chavah hears her parents from inside and cries out to them. At home, Tevya proclaims that Chavah is dead and questions where is God. In a town council meeting, when Fedya's brutish father Mikita argues to drive Tevya out of town, the mayor stands up for Tevya, and the discussion turns into a brawl. Sometime later, Chavah learns that Goldie is ill. Although Fedya offers to drive her home, she worries that her presence would only hasten her mother's death. As Goldie lies on her sickbed with the family gathered around, Chavah, outside in the rain, peers in through a window. Goldie then says she remembers everything and dies as she looks at Chavah. When Tevya travels to the nearby town of Boyberik, Chavah, who has been reduced to a servant by Fedya's mother, sees him through the window and runs out to him. Tevya acts horrified when he sees her and whips his old horse to race away as she calls "Father." When the council members visit Tevya to tell him that he and his family must leave town within twenty-four hours because the Czar has decreed that Jews must be driven from all the villages, Tevya asks was there ever a time or place when the Jews were not driven out and signs their edict in resignation. Planning to go to the land of Israel, Tevya sells the belongings that he cannot keep, and he is about to sell his horse, to whom he has often talked during his journeys, but he decides that he cannot do it. When Chavah sees that a man has bought Goldie's Sabbath dress, she takes it and returns to her home. She tells Zeitel that she never gave up her faith, and when Fedya arrives to take her back, she says that she will always think kindly of him, but that she cannot leave her father's house again. Tevya tries to run when he sees Chavah and then orders her out. Chavah protests that she did not betray the faith and pleads to be allowed to make their plight hers. Tevya sobs and considers whether he should forgive her. He expresses worry about her sin against God, but reasons that God doesn't need his help and, seeing Goldie's dress, embraces his daughter. The family then sadly leaves their home and village.
This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1991.
The title card in the opening credits reads, "Sholom Aleichem's Tevya." According to Variety, the Yiddish play on which this film was based had been one of Maurice Schwartz's greatest successes. New York Times commented concerning the production, "To the purely professional mind, the most amazing technical feature about Tevya is the fact that all of its exteriors were filmed around Jericho, L.I. [Long Island], for nobody has ever seen a more typically Russian locale, even in Soviet pictures, than Tevya boasts." According to a news item, the film, which cost $70,000, was financed by Maurice Schwartz and a group of friends. The news item states that the film was rehearsed by Schwartz and his Yiddish Art Theatre for three weeks on the Theatre's stage before production began and had a twenty-two day shooting schedule. Variety called the film "one of the best Yiddish films made to date." The Yiddish papers Forward, which praised the film highly, and Morgn Frayhayt contended that the film diverged greatly from the Sholom Aleichem original. The Morgn Frayhayt reviewer was particularly critical of the film's portrayal of its non-Jewish characters. According to modern sources, in 1936, Schwartz proposed the production of a film based on the play to Joseph Green, who was planning to produce a series of Yiddish films in Poland; however, Green was reluctant to deal with the subject of intermarriage in the anti-Semitic climate in Poland at the time. In 1919, Zion Films, Inc. produced Broken Blossoms (also known as Khavah), which was based on the Sholom Aleichem story "Khavah." That film was directed by Charles E. Davenport and starred Alice Hastings, Alexander Tenenholtz and Giacomo Masuroff (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.0499). An Israeli film based on the Aleichem stories, entitled Tuvya Hakholev, was produced in 1968 by Menachem Golan. The stage musical Fiddler on the Roof, based on the Aleichem stories, opened in New York on September 22, 1964; it had music and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock, and was written by Joseph Stein, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins and starred Zero Mostel as "Tevya." The film version of the musical, which was produced in 1971, was directed by Norman Jewison and starred Topol.