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Ragtime (1981)

PG  |   |  Drama  |  8 January 1982 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.3/10 from 6,227 users   Metascore: 57/100
Reviews: 51 user | 28 critic | 8 from

A young black pianist becomes embroiled in the lives of an upper-class white family set among the racial tensions, infidelity, violence, and other nostalgic events in early 1900s New York City.



(based on the novel by), (screenplay), 1 more credit »
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Nominated for 8 Oscars. Another 2 wins & 13 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Willie Conklin
Houdini (as Jeff Demunn)


The story runs in the 1910's New York. Coalhouse Walker Jr. is a black piano player. He has won fame and fortune playing with a jazz band. Some white men do not like this situation, and one day they assault him and spoil his brand new car. Walker tries by all means to get justice, without an answer... Written by Michel Rudoy <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The passion, the violence, the birth of America's Gilded Age. See more »




PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

8 January 1982 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Bir Zamanlar  »

Box Office


SEK 3,022,477 (Sweden)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Milos Forman hired Donald O'Connor at the request of James Cagney. O'Connor had been having personal and professional problems, and Cagney wanted to help him. See more »


In the scene where Sarah is in the back of the crowd at the train station, trying to listen to Vice President Fairbanks, a small 50-star American flag can be seen to the right of her. The 50-star flag was not official until 4 July 1960. See more »


Rheinlander Waldo: Where is J. P. Morgan?
Vernon Elliott: Oh, he's on an expedition down the Nile... in Egypt.
Rheinlander Waldo: Hmmm... Lucky him!
[Looks at the Captain]
Police Captain #1: Yes, sir!
Rheinlander Waldo: And contact some colored big shots to talk to us in case we need to negotiate.
Police Captain #1: Very good, sir. Anything else?
Rheinlander Waldo: Yeah, he said something about a car and a fire chief.
Police Captain #1: Conklin. Willie Conklin.
Rheinlander Waldo: Get him. I want to meet him.
See more »


Referenced in Le bourreau des coeurs (1983) See more »


Words & Music by Randy Newman
Sung by Jennifer Warnes
See more »

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User Reviews

Great To See Cagney But Don't Overlook Olson
10 November 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

I never saw this film until 2005 and after I had become a big James Cagney fan and wanted to see the movies of his I had missed. Thus, I had to check this out, especially since it was his first film he had made in over 20 years.

En route to getting a glimpse at the 80-year-old star, I found out (1) he wasn't on screen until 45 minutes were left in this 155-minute movie; (2) his absence didn't upset me that much because I was absorbed in this interesting story (plus, to be fair, I was told in advance he didn't appear until the last part!), (3) the sets, clothing, etc. of this "period piece" were fantastic to view.

Anyway, in my opinion, the star of the film was a guy who hardly got any billing: James Olson. He is the key figure in this story and very interesting to watch. Actually, just about everyone is interesting which makes for good storytelling. Nonetheless, Olson's fine performance is unfairly overlooked.

Howard Rollins was good as the black "victim" of the profane slob Kenneth McMillian and Elizabeth McGovern certainly kept ones attention although I wasn't quite sure how her character tied into the story.

By the way, to rate this movie "PG" is ludicrous since McGovern is seen in a 3- to-4-minute scene casually talking away with bare breasts for all to see. And - contrary to a popular rumor - nothing of her was cut out of the DVD.

Meanwhile, Cagney showed he hadn't forgotten how to act. It was a pleasure to see him again, just a few years before he would pass away. It's a cliché, but I doubt if anyone was in his class as an actor and a dancer, a tough guy or a comedian. He was the best and went out in style here, too, although he did do one last made-for-TV film a short time after this.

37 of 46 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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