» » Yidl mitn fidl (1936)

Short summary

Director Green returned to his native Poland from America to produce this film, the most commercially successful musical in the history of the Yiddish cinema, starring Molly Picon, consummate comedienne of Yiddish theater, vaudeville, and film. This is the classic folk comedy about a man and his daughter who, penniless, decide to become traveling musicians. The daughter disguises herself as a boy to relieve her father's anxiety about unforeseeable problems that could befall a young woman "out in the world." They then join together with "another" father-son duo for music, comedy and romance. Green's original screenplay was enhanced by the folksy lyrics of Yiddish poet Itzik Manger and the memorable musical score of Abraham Ellstein, as well as the talents of Leon Leibold, the romantic lead who later starred in The Dybbuk and Tevye, and Max Bozyk, a character actor par excellence. Breaking away from the studio-bound cinematography of the early Yiddish talkies, the film was shot on ...

Yidl Mitn Fidl is the most commercially successful Yiddish film of all time.

Yidl Mitn Fidl was remastered and released with full English dubbing in 1956 under the title "Castles in the Sky".

User reviews

  • comment
    • Author: Stan
    I'm writing mainly as a corrective to the appallingly ignorant review that complains about Molly Picon being too unattractive, the bad teeth of some of the extras, and the fact that this movie is too much like a musical -- that's because it IS a musical.

    Let's be honest -- anyone who seeks out this movie isn't looking for stunning cinematography, a witty plot, or world-class acting. If it wasn't for the uniqueness of the time and place in which it was made, it wouldn't be worth remembering. The plot is creaky, the acting a bit hammy, and the dialogue forgettable. But that's not why you watch this movie. You watch it because it is, to the modern eye, not so much an entertainment as a fascinating and tragic historical document of a culture and a people that was, at the time of filming, about to be obliterated. You watch it because you want to see what an actual shtetl looked like, to get a real life glimpse of a community that had its own language and music and traditions, and because you know that that community is about to be wiped out. There is an eerie quality in watching the film, because you know that most of the people flickering before you, singing and laughing and going about their daily business, would in a short time most likely be rounded up and sent to the death camps.

    You don't have to be specifically interested in Yiddish culture to appreciate that aspect of the movie -- you just have to be interested in the ways people used to live, especially when those ways have disappeared for one reason or another. (People who enjoy this movie may also enjoy "Nanook of the North," a documentary about the traditional ways of the Inuit -- you can see how an actual igloo was made.) Perhaps the movie will appeal more to historians or ethnographers rather than the casual movie-goer just looking for an entertaining way to spend 90 minutes. So please, don't complain about bad teeth and unattractive leading ladies, because if that's all you're looking for, there are plenty of better places to look.
  • comment
    • Author: Mave
    A young girl and her father are on their uppers in pre WWII Eastern Europe.

    She plays the fiddle and he the double bass so they set off on their travels as wandering klezmorim (musicians). He's worried that she will attract the wrong kind of attention, so she dresses as a boy. (It wouldn't fool anyone, but suspend that disbelief.) They catch a lift from a passing haycart and sing and play their theme tune, Yidl mitn Fidl. "Life is a song!" (fortunately lidl rhymes with fidl), "Life is a joke!". They fall in with two other musicians: Froym, on violin, and Isaac, on clarinet. The band is a hit. Yidl falls in love with the goodlooking Froym and is particularly sent by his fiddle-playing (I know how she feels). She pours out her heart in a plaintive song (all music written by Abe Ellstein). They get booked to play at a wedding. Yidl finds out the bride doesn't want to marry her elderly fiance, so they kidnap her. "Life is a joke!" they tell her, and her voice adds something to their "philharmonie". In fact she's talent spotted in Warsaw and given a gig at a theatre, but at that moment her old love Yossl turns up and she runs off with him. I won't spoil the ending. It ends happily, but ... See it.

    Yes, it's creaky and naive, and Yidl's impersonation of a boy can get a bit trying at times. The music, even through a scratchy soundtrack, is heart-stopping. In Yiddish with English subtitles. xxxxx
  • comment
    • Author: Jox
    Fascinating film. A sly comedy with terrific music has Molly Picon posing as a boy (for safety) and traveling the countryside with her father after they have been dispossessed. As musicians, they meet up with a pair of wanderers and the four strike up some merry music and get involved in various situations, including a wedding and a theater.

    Picon is no more convincing as a boy than were Marion Davies or Barbra Streisand in various films, but you suspend your disbelief and go with the flow. Picon is a major comic talent and also had a nice singing voice. Also good in the cast as Simche Fostel as her father, Max Bozyk as Izak, and Leon Liebgold as Froim. Dora Fakiel is funny as the widow Trauba.

    Joseph Green wrote, produced, and directed this film, shooting in Poland in 1935/36. The film has almost a documentary feel at times, capturing the look and sounds of rural Poland before the German invasion in 1939. It's a world long gone. Green filmed three more movies up through 1938 and escaped Poland with his films and returned to America.

    YIDDLE WITH HIS FIDDLE was certainly a low-budget affair, but it was a worldwide hit in its day, especially in New York City where its box office clout rivaled that of any Hollywood film of the day.

    Highlights of the film are the wedding party scene and Picon's musical turn on a theater stage after she has ditched the boy's disguise. The film is available from several sources and has English subs.

    In a final and sad note, Green never made another film after 1938. He said he gave up filmmaking because his audience was gone. He was referring to the Holocaust and the extermination of 6 million Jews.
  • comment
    • Author: Lanadrta
    Yidl Mitn Fiddl ("Little Jew With Fiddle", 1936. Directors, Joseph Green and Nowina Przybylski. Starring Molly Picon, the megastar of Second Avenue Jewish theater in New York. On multiple viewings of "Yidl Mitn Fidl", Green's undisputed masterpiece of the four films he made, one's attention is drawn to its wealth of visual and compositional treasures, while admiration for the novice filmmaker Green (and his professional collaborator, Nowina-Przybylski to be sure!) can only grow. - A field of Monet haystacks followed a few moments later by a shot of Monet-like water lilies on the Moon-lit river, incredible shots of wind swept leaves and back-lit clouds, punctuated by a bolt of lighting - the visualization of Picon's stormy discovery of her budding love for Froyml as she sings "Oh Mama, Am I in Love"; pictorial countryside compositions worthy of a landscape painter a montage of Kazimierz rooftops reminiscent of Ozu's evocation of a Japanese shtetl in "Tokyo Story" - group compositions of the four shabbily clad singers that could have come from Flemish genre painters, an extended wedding dance sequence that is a small film in itself, and the memorable first collaboration of the competing buskers, or street singers, where the courtyard dwellers first close their windows one after another to shut out the cacophony, while even a stray dog howls his disapproval, segueing into the harmonious coming together of their music as Picon strikes up a haunting melody on solo violin -- and then the reopening of the windows, one by one, with a montage of knowing nods and approving smiles -- "Aha, this is more like it", followed by a hail of coins from the upper stories. This scene alone, depicting the first public success of the new little "Filharmonia", is one of the most eloquent, purely cinematic sequences in the entire Yiddish cannon. brilliant! Another amazing section of this unique film, is the freudian, or perhaps, Jungian dream sequence (although it was probably not intended to be psychoanalytic as such) in which we see the Itke's dilemma, in love with a man but committed to maintaining her masquerade as a boy. The lapse-time photography fading her alternately in an out of boyish garb and frilly feminine attire, all set to exhilarating music, is state of the art for the time. The conception of these scenes, so lyrically conveying her frustration, from which she awakens clutching a cat, predates by a decade serious postwar Hollywood films with Freudian iconography. The entire film is, in fact, modernist to the hilt for an ethnic musical comedy made on a relatively modest budget. Even the musical numbers are not typical klezmer fare but seem to owe more to jazz-age influences than Second Avenue schmaltz, and the overall musical soundtrack with its clever commentary on the action is quite exceptional. From this single film it is clear that Green had a vision, albeit one that formed as he went along, of a type of Jewish film that would eventually transcend the bounds of ethnicity.

    An interesting documentary aspect of the film, the first Yiddish talkie to be shot completely on location in Poland, is the portrait it provides of the traditional Jewish country town of Kazimierz on the Vistula as it looked in 1936 - not to be confused with the Jewish district of the city of Cracow, which is also called Kazimierz. There was no need at the time to paint phony street signs in Yiddish - they were already there. Kazimirez is also seen in a number of other Yiddish films where shtetl atmosphere is needed but Green and Przybylski's poetic evocation of the town from the opening shots of the hilltop castle, the tiled rooftops, and the central market place, stand apart. Today "Kazimierz na Wisle" is still a popular summer resort - minus the Jews. In present day Polish films, the Kazimierz locale is still used to evoke the ghost of lost Polish Jewry as, for example, in Wojciech Has' 1975 masterpiece "Sanitarium Under the Hourglass" or in the more recent "Two Moons" (Dwa Ksiezice),1992.

    Also to be seen are a few glimpses of Warsaw as it looked before the barbaric German destruction of the city in 1944, a montage of the streetcars, the monuments, and the Old City as they appeared just before the war. As an historical document, aside from its primary entertainment value, "Yidl" is, in passing, a portrait of everyday Jewish life in Poland just three years before the German invasion wiped it away. If one were to be limited to a single film in this exceptional series, this is the one not to miss. A combination of pure joy and historical significance.
  • comment
    • Author: Shaktiktilar
    This is a very tough film to review. The DVD I saw had very poor captioning (often it skipped sentences that the actors spoke) and the print was just terrible. It was apparently a copy of a videotape from Ergo Home Video. On top of that, the film had an incredibly antiquated style that might be a bit difficult to watch today.

    The story is about a young lady (Judel) and her father. They are homeless and decide to survive by traveling the countryside playing their music for coins. However, to avoid problems, the lady disguises herself as a young man. Later, they meet two other musicians and become a team--and Judel maintains her disguise. However, problems arise when she falls in love with one of them. And, before she can tell him the truth, he's swayed by another lady. What is poor Judel to do?

    I think that "Yidl Mitn Fidl" is much more an interesting curio than an entertaining film. It was the most popular Yiddish language film ever made--though there is NOT a huge audience for this today. Most people now living in Israel speak Hebrew--which is not the same language. Additionally, by today's standards the film just isn't very good. So, unless you have an interest in Yiddish or Jewish films or just love ANYTHING and EVERYTHING (like me), then you probably will not be particularly enamored with this movie.
  • comment
    • Author: Adoraris
    I must confess that I'm not that much of a fan of Broadway musicals to begin with, and that is what this film most resembles. And as dumbed down and precious as most Broadway musicals are, this movie is ten times more so. I can only imagine just how starved the world must have been for Yiddish entertainment in 1936 in order for this insignificant item to have become a smash hit, both in Poland and in some areas of the US. Beyond the brainless screenplay and childishly simple songs, I found the famous Molly Picon to be very disappointing. I think part of the reason is that she is 38 in this film, well past her prime. I also believe she was never that good looking. But I must admit she did manage to be fairly animated and vivacious. Another strange quality of this film is its almost lunatic defiance shown with respect to some of the marginal character's grotesque appearance, especially those with very bad teeth. I'm 50 myself, and my teeth are yellow from years of cigar smoking, and they have gaps due to gum disease, so I'm not perfect. And I realize that a smile is still a smile, no matter now snaggle-toothed, especially if it's from someone you have affection for. But the scraggily beards and the repellent, bad-toothed grimaces that are thrust into the audience's face here are hard to understand. Frankly they just made me nauseous. I leave it to other, more astute cultural critics than myself to make sense of why this was included in the manner it was. All in all, I guess I'd have to say that this movie is little more than an historical footnote. If you have a soft spot in your heart for Yiddish culture, than maybe you can forgive this movie's many and large faults. I couldn't.
  • Complete credited cast:
    Molly Picon Molly Picon - Itke aka Judel
    Simche Fostel Simche Fostel - Arie - Itke's father
    Leon Liebgold Leon Liebgold - Efraim 'Froim' Kalamutker
    Max Bozyk Max Bozyk - Izak 'Ajzyk' Kalamutker (as Maks Bozyk)
    Maks Brin Maks Brin - Marszelik
    Dora Fakiel Dora Fakiel - Tajbele Lebskierówna (as D. Fakiel)
    Barbara Liebgold Barbara Liebgold - Mrs. Lebskierowa (as Basia Liebgold)
    Samuel Landau Samuel Landau - Zalman Gold
    Chana Lewin Chana Lewin - Madame Flaumbaum - the widow
    Symche Natan Symche Natan - R. Singer, theater manager
    Abraham Kurc Abraham Kurc - Theater co-manager (as A. Kurc)
    Laura Glucksman Laura Glucksman
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