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.

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Nominated for 8 Oscars. Another 2 wins & 13 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

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

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 <mdrc@hp9000a1.uam.mx>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

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Young, beautiful, passionate, and scandalous. She was America in the time of "Ragtime." See more »

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Drama

Certificate:

PG | See all certifications »

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Release Date:

25 December 1981 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Bir Zamanlar  »

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Color:

(Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Of the movie's 155 minute running time, 49:18 minutes feature music. On the soundtrack album, a good 13 minutes of music unheard in the movie can be heard. This implies that composer Randy Newman wrote over an hour worth of music for the movie, only to have it cut down. One song, "Change Your Way", was supposed to be for the opening credits sung by Scatman Crothers, but the scene was never shot. The song can be heard on the soundtrack album as sung by Randy Newman himself. One song that suffers a good portion of cuts is the "Denouement" cue, which clocks on the soundtrack at 5:43 - only one minute and 43 seconds of which ended up in the final cut. See more »

Goofs

During the 11th Street scene when Mandy Patinkin learns of his wife's infidelity, the same mustachioed actor with a bowler hat, vest, and cigar walks past him twice in a period of a couple of seconds. See more »

Quotes

Coalhouse Walker Jr.: [praying] Lord, I'd hoped I'd have the courage to know what I should do now. You must see how sick at heart I've been... and how I've performed this thing with little appetite.
[sobbing]
Coalhouse Walker Jr.: I'd hoped... you'd reveal to me along the way why you put such a rage in my heart.
[a brief pause]
Coalhouse Walker Jr.: Tell me what to do now!
[another beat]
Coalhouse Walker Jr.: Please.
[sighs]
Coalhouse Walker Jr.: God, tell me what to do.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Matthew Blackheart: Monster Smasher (2002) See more »

Soundtracks

ONE MORE HOUR
(1981)
Words & Music by Randy Newman
Sung by Jennifer Warnes
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Ragtime Era Tragedy
23 October 2006 | by (Buffalo, New York) – See all my reviews

Back in the day when Hollywood was grinding out B westerns it wasn't unusual at all to see famous folks of the west in stories that had absolutely nothing to do with their own lives or to see many famous people interacting when they never even met in real life.

Ragtime revives some of that dubious tradition in filming E.L. Doctorow's novel about the Teddy Roosevelt years of the first decade of the last century. Teddy figures into this briefly as does his Vice President Charles Fairbanks. Booker T. Washington is here too, as are the principals of the Stanford White murder, and New York City Police Commissioner Rhinelander Waldo.

It's quite a blend because Roosevelt and Fairbanks ran for re-election in 1904 as Fairbanks is shown delivering a campaign speech. He wasn't even Vice President then, just a Senator from Indiana. Fairbanks was running for Vice President because Roosevelt had no Vice President in his first term. He succeeded to the presidency when Willima McKinley was assassinated.

The Stanford White murder took place in 1906 and was then called the crime of the century. Many such murders right up to O.J. Simpson were given that dubious distinction. And Rhinelander Waldo was not NYPD Police Commissioner until 1910 and he was much younger than James Cagney.

Still and all E.L. Doctorow's book is made into a fine film which got a whole bunch of Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director for Milos Forman and Supporting player nominations for Howard Rollins, Jr. and Elizabeth McGovern.

The main story is about Coalhouse Walker, Jr. a black ragtime pianist and his Sarah. She has his baby and they'd like to get married. But a whole lot of things, some of them peripherally connected to the true events and people previously mentioned that lead him and a gang to take possession of the Morgan Library and threaten to blow it up.

Howard Rollins was a real tragedy. This was a great start to a short, but brilliant career that included his long running role as Virgil Tibbs in the TV series In the Heat of the Night and the film A Soldier's Story. He died way too young from AIDS contracted from a lot of intravenous drug use.

Elizabeth McGovern is the famous Evelyn Nisbet, the girl on the red velvet swing which was the title of another film that dealt with the Stanford White murder. McGovern's performance is probably closer to the real Evelyn than Joan Collins was in that earlier film. She's basically a goldigger who juggled two men, her husband Harry K. Thaw and her upscale lover, society architect Stanford White. Her circus act led to White's death, Thaw's commitment to an insane asylum and a vaudeville career for her.

Ragtime was eagerly awaited because of the anticipated return of James Cagney to the screen after being off for 19 years. Cagney is clearly aged, but he gets through the role because unlike that television film Terrible Joe Moran, he's not the center of the film, though he's first billed. Note that he's sitting down during most of his performance and when he has to stand the camera is a discreet distance. It's nothing like the bouncing Cagney of old, but light years better than Terrible Joe Moran.

This was also the final joint appearance as it turned for the team that invented the buddy film, James Cagney and Pat O'Brien even though they have no scenes together. O'Brien is Harry K. Thaw's attorney and Mrs. O'Brien plays Thaw's mother under her maiden name of Eloise Taylor. She was an actress before she married Pat, but gave up her career to raise their four children.

Author Norman Mailer plays Stanford White, fulltime architect and hedonist and Robert Joy plays the demented millionaire Harry K. Thaw and both fit the parts perfectly. Maybe one day we will have a definitive film version just concentrating on the murder and it's aftermath for the three principals.

Milos Forman gave us a remarkable evocation of an exciting time in American history. It seemed that America had limitless possibilities then. I doubt they'll be saying that about the first decade of this century.


26 of 30 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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