• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:April 18, 2021



In the early 1900s, a well-to-do family in New Rochelle, New York agrees to care for an abandoned Black baby that, it turns out, belongs to a washwoman; later, the stubbornly proud father (Howard E. Rollins, Jr.) makes himself known. Adapting E.L. Doctorow’s sprawling novel would always be a challenge and the filmmakers have made tough decisions as to what to cut out. The film may not rise to the level of the author’s ambitions, but its focus on social injustice nevertheless makes for a very dramatic story. The lavish period details are convincing and Randy Newman’s score helps recreate the era. A dignified final appearance by James Cagney; Rollins, Jr. gives a strong performance.

1981-U.S. 155 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced byĀ Dino De Laurentiis. Directed byĀ Milos Forman. Screenplay: Michael Weller. Novel: E.L. Doctorow. Cinematography: Miroslav Ondricek. Music: Randy Newman. Song: “One More Hour” (Randy Newman). Cast: James Cagney (Rhinelander Waldo), Elizabeth McGovern (Evelyn Nesbit), Howard E. Rollins, Jr. (Coalhouse Walker, Jr.), Mary Steenburgen, James Olson, Brad Dourifā€¦ Mandy Patinkin, Donald O’Connor, Pat O’Brien, Debbie Allen, Jeff Daniels, Samuel L. Jackson, Fran Drescher.

Trivia: Later a Broadway musical. Daniels’s first film. Robert Altman was allegedly first hired as director.

Last word: “‘Ragtime’ is one of only two films I’ve made that wasn’t exactly the way I wanted it. When I showed the producer, Dino De Laurentiis, my cut, which was, I think, two hours and forty minutes long, he said, ‘Twenty minutes have to come out.’ And what he wanted me to cut were sequences about the radical Emma Goldman, which I didn’t want to do because they were the only scenes where I hoped to get some belly laughs. I thought in this long drama it was important to give the audience some relief. Finally I said to Dino, ‘Let’s show this to the author of the novel.’ I thought I was being clever. But I was stupid. E.L. Doctorow sided with Dino.” (Forman, DGA)



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