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Home Video Reviews

Roseland (1977), one of the earliest Merchant-Ivory pictures, is an anthology film connected by a location, with three separate stories all set in New York's famed Roseland Ballroom. The first, "The Waltz," concerns an elderly widow, played by Teresa Wright, who finds that when she dances with course ladies' man Lou Jacobi, she can see in a mirror a magical reflection of herself as a young woman dancing with her late husband. She becomes obsessed with the mirror and constantly seeks out Jacobi to dance. Jacobi, annoyed by her constant chattering about her husband, eventually tries to bring her mind and heart out of the past and make her realize that she can find happiness in the present. Wright is luminous in this sweet little story, and it's charming to see how gracefully she aged from the beautiful young woman we all remember from Shadow of a Doubt (1943).

The second story, "The Hustle," is the longest of the three. Christopher Walken plays a gigolo who juggles three ladies in his life: a rich older woman (Joan Copeland), an older dance instructor (Helen Gallagher), and a young, pretty divorcee (Geraldine Chaplin). It starts off ponderously but becomes more intriguing as the characters' motivations become deeper and clearer. While the entire cast is good, it's Walken who is of greatest interest here (and in the entire movie). This early role, one year before The Deer Hunter, is unusually mellow and romantic for the actor as well as one of his most subtle.

The third story, "The Peabody," centers on an elderly Viennese woman (Lilia Skala) determined to win a dance competition despite warnings that it would be too physically strenuous. It's a slight and talky story, but as with the others, it becomes absorbing because the characters are richly developed.

Walken and Chaplin notwithstanding, Roseland as a whole is really about the various types of desperation felt by its middle-aged and older characters, and how they try and resolve those feelings on the dancefloor. The simple fact that it is about older people is itself a reason it pulls you in; watching it, you realize how rare such movies are.

Roseland was the third film to come from the team of director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, and it shows the developing Merchant-Ivory style of deep character rather than fast plot. At the same time, it's a different kind of film for the trio because of its modern setting. It was shot entirely in and around the actual Roseland Ballroom in New York.

The DVD comes with zero extras, but the transfer is quite beautiful, with the warm colors of the Roseland interiors practically glowing. This makes sense when one realizes the disc is the result of a partnership between Criterion and Merchant-Ivory - put those two companies together and one would expect, at the very least, a gorgeous-looking movie.

For more information about Roseland, visit Home Vision Entertainment. To order Roseland, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jeremy Arnold