Ragtime


2h 35m 1981

Brief Synopsis

A proud black musician rebels against racism in turn-of-the-century New York.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Historical
Musical
Music
Period
Release Date
1981
Location
Connecticut, USA

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 35m

Synopsis

A proud black musician rebels against racism in turn-of-the-century New York.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Historical
Musical
Music
Period
Release Date
1981
Location
Connecticut, USA

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 35m

Award Nominations

Best Adapted Screenplay

1981

Best Art Direction

1981
John Graysmark

Best Cinematography

1981

Best Costume Design

1981
Anna Hill Johnstone

Best Score

1981

Best Song

1981

Best Supporting Actor

1981

Best Supporting Actress

1981
Elizabeth Mcgovern

Articles

Ragtime


Ragtime, the most eagerly anticipated film of 1981 due to the popularity of the E.L. Doctorow novel, is a complex story involving real and fictitious characters in New York City in the early twentieth century. The plot centers around a ragtime piano player, Coalhouse Walker, who demands justice after his car is damaged in a racially motivated act of vandalism. In addition to Walker's plight, the narrative also weaves in numerous subplots featuring such historically prominent characters as Stanford White, Evelyn Nesbit, Houdini and Booker T. Washington.

Ragtime is perhaps best remembered today as the film that brought James Cagney back to the big screen after a twenty-year absence. But a closer examination of the cast reveals not only a number of legendary actors at the end of their careers, but another generation just entering the acting profession. The huge cast includes Mandy Patinkin, Howard Rollins, Debbie Allen, Jeff Daniels (in his screen debut) and a young Elizabeth McGovern delivering an Oscar-nominated performance as the scandalous Evelyn Nesbit, the girl in the "red-velvet swing." Samuel L. Jackson and Fran Drescher also play minor supporting roles and there are some offbeat cameo appearances like author Norman Mailer in the small role of doomed architect Stanford White.

As for the seasoned veterans, Donald O'Connor, best known as Gene Kelly's sidekick in Singin' in the Rain (1952), appears as Evelyn Nesbit's dance instructor. Even more significant is the casting of Pat O'Brien (it was his final film role), a former contract player for Warner Brothers who co-starred with his pal Jimmy Cagney in several films. Their best-known pairing is probably Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), but O'Brien and Cagney's working relationship and personal friendship dates back to Here Comes the Navy (1934), in which Cagney played a street tough who gets into a fistfight with a Naval officer (O'Brien) who later becomes his superior. Playing the small part of a lawyer in Ragtime, O'Brien was elated to be acting with his old friend again, but it took some convincing to lure Cagney to the set.

Although O'Brien's old pal had long eschewed the hard-drinking, nightclubbing lifestyle that his acting cronies often enjoyed, undiagnosed diabetes had left Cagney inactive and unhappy. However, his doctor encouraged him to accept the role in Ragtime of the hard-edged police commissioner, created specifically for him by director Milos Forman. For his part, Cagney was intrigued by the original novel - he had actually known Evelyn Nesbit in his younger days.

The prospect of working with O'Brien eventually enticed the ailing star, and Cagney embarked for the film set in England by boat, only to be greeted at the dock by hundreds of fans. Yet, some of Cagney's co-stars were intimidated by the prospect of working with the legendary actor. Rollins, playing the lead character Coalhouse Walker, commented, "I was frightened to meet Mr. Cagney. I asked him how to die in front of the camera. He said, 'Just die!' It worked."

Ragtime was originally slated to be directed by Robert Altman but executive producer Dino de Laurentiis later replaced him with Milos Forman, a native Czechoslovakian, who was well known at the time for such contemporary American films as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and Hair (1979). He eventually turned his attention to period films with Ragtime, followed by Amadeus in 1984. Although the ailing Cagney reserved his energy until the cameras were rolling, Forman found his own services superfluous, remarking, "His instincts...(are) unbelievable. You don't have to talk to him. I could stay home." Of his role in the film, Cagney later remarked, "Twenty years of laying off and it's no different really. Only this time I'm on the right side of the law."

During the nine-week location shoot at Shepperton Studios outside of London, Cagney enjoyed the attention of hundreds of fans, including the queen mother, who, after Cagney made an unscheduled appearance during a command-performance birthday party in her honor, visited the actor backstage.

Ragtime captured eight Academy Award nominations, facing competition from On Golden Pond, Atlantic City and Chariots of Fire, the film that swept the awards that year. Although Cagney was not honored with a nomination, he was the focus of most of the film's positive reviews. Randy Newman garnered the first of his thirteen Oscar nods for Best Original Score, and Elizabeth McGovern and Howard E. Rollins, Jr. earned nominations for Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor, respectively.

Producer: Dino de Laurentiis, Michael Hausman, Bernard Williams
Director: Milos Forman
Screenplay: E.L. Doctorow, Bo Goldman, Michael Weller
Production Design: John Graysmark, Tony Reading, Patrizia Von Brandenstein
Cinematography: Miroslav Ondricek
Costume Design: Anna Hill Johnstone
Film Editing: Anne V. Coates, Antony Gibbs
Original Music: Randy Newman
Principal Cast: James Cagney (Rheinlander Waldo), Howard E. Rollins Jr. (Coalhouse Walker Jr.), Moses Gunn (Booker T. Washington), Elizabeth McGovern (Evelyn Nesbit Thaw), Kenneth McMillan (Willie Conklin), Pat O'Brien (Delmas), Mandy Patinkin (Tateh), James Olson (Father), Mary Steenburgen (Mother), Brad Dourif (Younger Brother), Jeff Daniels (Sgt. Frankie O'Donnell), Debbie Allen (Sarah).
C-155m.

By Genevieve McGillicuddy

Ragtime

Ragtime

Ragtime, the most eagerly anticipated film of 1981 due to the popularity of the E.L. Doctorow novel, is a complex story involving real and fictitious characters in New York City in the early twentieth century. The plot centers around a ragtime piano player, Coalhouse Walker, who demands justice after his car is damaged in a racially motivated act of vandalism. In addition to Walker's plight, the narrative also weaves in numerous subplots featuring such historically prominent characters as Stanford White, Evelyn Nesbit, Houdini and Booker T. Washington. Ragtime is perhaps best remembered today as the film that brought James Cagney back to the big screen after a twenty-year absence. But a closer examination of the cast reveals not only a number of legendary actors at the end of their careers, but another generation just entering the acting profession. The huge cast includes Mandy Patinkin, Howard Rollins, Debbie Allen, Jeff Daniels (in his screen debut) and a young Elizabeth McGovern delivering an Oscar-nominated performance as the scandalous Evelyn Nesbit, the girl in the "red-velvet swing." Samuel L. Jackson and Fran Drescher also play minor supporting roles and there are some offbeat cameo appearances like author Norman Mailer in the small role of doomed architect Stanford White. As for the seasoned veterans, Donald O'Connor, best known as Gene Kelly's sidekick in Singin' in the Rain (1952), appears as Evelyn Nesbit's dance instructor. Even more significant is the casting of Pat O'Brien (it was his final film role), a former contract player for Warner Brothers who co-starred with his pal Jimmy Cagney in several films. Their best-known pairing is probably Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), but O'Brien and Cagney's working relationship and personal friendship dates back to Here Comes the Navy (1934), in which Cagney played a street tough who gets into a fistfight with a Naval officer (O'Brien) who later becomes his superior. Playing the small part of a lawyer in Ragtime, O'Brien was elated to be acting with his old friend again, but it took some convincing to lure Cagney to the set. Although O'Brien's old pal had long eschewed the hard-drinking, nightclubbing lifestyle that his acting cronies often enjoyed, undiagnosed diabetes had left Cagney inactive and unhappy. However, his doctor encouraged him to accept the role in Ragtime of the hard-edged police commissioner, created specifically for him by director Milos Forman. For his part, Cagney was intrigued by the original novel - he had actually known Evelyn Nesbit in his younger days. The prospect of working with O'Brien eventually enticed the ailing star, and Cagney embarked for the film set in England by boat, only to be greeted at the dock by hundreds of fans. Yet, some of Cagney's co-stars were intimidated by the prospect of working with the legendary actor. Rollins, playing the lead character Coalhouse Walker, commented, "I was frightened to meet Mr. Cagney. I asked him how to die in front of the camera. He said, 'Just die!' It worked." Ragtime was originally slated to be directed by Robert Altman but executive producer Dino de Laurentiis later replaced him with Milos Forman, a native Czechoslovakian, who was well known at the time for such contemporary American films as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and Hair (1979). He eventually turned his attention to period films with Ragtime, followed by Amadeus in 1984. Although the ailing Cagney reserved his energy until the cameras were rolling, Forman found his own services superfluous, remarking, "His instincts...(are) unbelievable. You don't have to talk to him. I could stay home." Of his role in the film, Cagney later remarked, "Twenty years of laying off and it's no different really. Only this time I'm on the right side of the law." During the nine-week location shoot at Shepperton Studios outside of London, Cagney enjoyed the attention of hundreds of fans, including the queen mother, who, after Cagney made an unscheduled appearance during a command-performance birthday party in her honor, visited the actor backstage. Ragtime captured eight Academy Award nominations, facing competition from On Golden Pond, Atlantic City and Chariots of Fire, the film that swept the awards that year. Although Cagney was not honored with a nomination, he was the focus of most of the film's positive reviews. Randy Newman garnered the first of his thirteen Oscar nods for Best Original Score, and Elizabeth McGovern and Howard E. Rollins, Jr. earned nominations for Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor, respectively. Producer: Dino de Laurentiis, Michael Hausman, Bernard Williams Director: Milos Forman Screenplay: E.L. Doctorow, Bo Goldman, Michael Weller Production Design: John Graysmark, Tony Reading, Patrizia Von Brandenstein Cinematography: Miroslav Ondricek Costume Design: Anna Hill Johnstone Film Editing: Anne V. Coates, Antony Gibbs Original Music: Randy Newman Principal Cast: James Cagney (Rheinlander Waldo), Howard E. Rollins Jr. (Coalhouse Walker Jr.), Moses Gunn (Booker T. Washington), Elizabeth McGovern (Evelyn Nesbit Thaw), Kenneth McMillan (Willie Conklin), Pat O'Brien (Delmas), Mandy Patinkin (Tateh), James Olson (Father), Mary Steenburgen (Mother), Brad Dourif (Younger Brother), Jeff Daniels (Sgt. Frankie O'Donnell), Debbie Allen (Sarah). C-155m. By Genevieve McGillicuddy

Donald O'Connor, 1925-2003


Donald O'Connor, the sprightly, acrobatic dancer-comedian who was unforgettable in his exhilarating "Make 'em Laugh" number in the classic musical Singin' in the Rain, died of heart failure at the Motion Picture Country Home and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California on September 27. He was 78.

Born Donald David Dixon O' Connor in Chicago on August 28, 1925, he was raised in an atmosphere of show business. His parents were circus trapeze artists and later vaudeville entertainers, and as soon as young Donald was old enough to walk, he was performing in a variety of dance and stunt routines all across the country. Discovered by a film scout at age 11, he made his film debut with two of his brothers in Melody for Two (1937), and was singled out for a contract by Paramount Pictures. He co-starred with Bing Crosby and Fred MacMurray in Sing, You Sinners (1938) and played juvenile roles in several films, including Huckleberry Finn in Tom Sawyer - Detective (1938) and the title character as a child in Beau Geste (1939).

As O'Connor grew into adolescence, he fared pretty well as a youthful hoofer, dancing up a storm in a string of low-budget, but engaging musicals for Universal Studios (often teamed with the equally vigorous Peggy Ryan) during World War II. Titles like What's Cookin', Get Hep to Love (both 1942), Chip Off the Old Block and Strictly in the Groove (both 1943) made for some fairly innocuous entertainment, but they went a long way in displaying O'Connor's athletic dancing and boyish charm. As an adult, O'Connor struck paydirt again when he starred opposite a talking mule (with a voice supplied by Chill Wills) in the enormously popular Francis (1949). The story about an Army private who discovers that only he can communicate with a talking army mule, proved to be a very profitable hit with kids, and Universal went on to star him in several sequels.

Yet if O'Connor had to stake his claim to cinematic greatness, it would unquestionably be his daringly acrobatic, brazenly funny turn as Cosmo Brown, Gene Kelly's sidekick in the brilliant Singin' in the Rain (1952). Although his self-choreographed routine of "Make "Em Laugh" (which includes a mind-bending series of backflips off the walls) is often singled out as the highlight, in truth, his whole performance is one of the highlights of the film. His deft comic delivery of one-liners, crazy facial expressions (just watch him lampoon the diction teacher in the glorious "Moses Supposes" bit) and exhilarating dance moves (the opening "Fit As a Fiddle" number with Kelly to name just one) throughout the film are just sheer film treats in any critic's book.

After the success of Singin' in the Rain, O'Connor proved that he had enough charisma to command his first starring vehicle, opposite Debbie Reynolds, in the cute musical I Love Melvin (1953). He also found good parts in Call Me Madam (1953), There's No Business Like Show Business (1954), and Anything Goes (1956). Unfortunately, his one attempt at a strong dramatic role, the lead in the weak biopic The Buster Keaton Story (1957) proved to be misstep, and he was panned by the critics.

By the '60s, the popularity of musicals had faded, and O'Connor spent the next several years supporting himself with many dinner theater and nightclub appearances; but just when it looked like we wouldn't see O'Connor's talent shine again on the small or big screen, he found himself in demand at the dawn of the '90s in a string of TV appearances: Murder She Wrote, Tales From the Crypt, Fraser, The Nanny; and movies: Robin Williams' toy-manufacturer father in Toys (1992), a fellow passenger in the Lemmon-Matthau comedy, Out to Sea (1997), that were as welcoming as they were heartening. Survivors include his wife, Gloria; four children, Alicia, Donna, Fred and Kevin; and four grandchildren.

by Michael T. Toole

Donald O'Connor, 1925-2003

Donald O'Connor, the sprightly, acrobatic dancer-comedian who was unforgettable in his exhilarating "Make 'em Laugh" number in the classic musical Singin' in the Rain, died of heart failure at the Motion Picture Country Home and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California on September 27. He was 78. Born Donald David Dixon O' Connor in Chicago on August 28, 1925, he was raised in an atmosphere of show business. His parents were circus trapeze artists and later vaudeville entertainers, and as soon as young Donald was old enough to walk, he was performing in a variety of dance and stunt routines all across the country. Discovered by a film scout at age 11, he made his film debut with two of his brothers in Melody for Two (1937), and was singled out for a contract by Paramount Pictures. He co-starred with Bing Crosby and Fred MacMurray in Sing, You Sinners (1938) and played juvenile roles in several films, including Huckleberry Finn in Tom Sawyer - Detective (1938) and the title character as a child in Beau Geste (1939). As O'Connor grew into adolescence, he fared pretty well as a youthful hoofer, dancing up a storm in a string of low-budget, but engaging musicals for Universal Studios (often teamed with the equally vigorous Peggy Ryan) during World War II. Titles like What's Cookin', Get Hep to Love (both 1942), Chip Off the Old Block and Strictly in the Groove (both 1943) made for some fairly innocuous entertainment, but they went a long way in displaying O'Connor's athletic dancing and boyish charm. As an adult, O'Connor struck paydirt again when he starred opposite a talking mule (with a voice supplied by Chill Wills) in the enormously popular Francis (1949). The story about an Army private who discovers that only he can communicate with a talking army mule, proved to be a very profitable hit with kids, and Universal went on to star him in several sequels. Yet if O'Connor had to stake his claim to cinematic greatness, it would unquestionably be his daringly acrobatic, brazenly funny turn as Cosmo Brown, Gene Kelly's sidekick in the brilliant Singin' in the Rain (1952). Although his self-choreographed routine of "Make "Em Laugh" (which includes a mind-bending series of backflips off the walls) is often singled out as the highlight, in truth, his whole performance is one of the highlights of the film. His deft comic delivery of one-liners, crazy facial expressions (just watch him lampoon the diction teacher in the glorious "Moses Supposes" bit) and exhilarating dance moves (the opening "Fit As a Fiddle" number with Kelly to name just one) throughout the film are just sheer film treats in any critic's book. After the success of Singin' in the Rain, O'Connor proved that he had enough charisma to command his first starring vehicle, opposite Debbie Reynolds, in the cute musical I Love Melvin (1953). He also found good parts in Call Me Madam (1953), There's No Business Like Show Business (1954), and Anything Goes (1956). Unfortunately, his one attempt at a strong dramatic role, the lead in the weak biopic The Buster Keaton Story (1957) proved to be misstep, and he was panned by the critics. By the '60s, the popularity of musicals had faded, and O'Connor spent the next several years supporting himself with many dinner theater and nightclub appearances; but just when it looked like we wouldn't see O'Connor's talent shine again on the small or big screen, he found himself in demand at the dawn of the '90s in a string of TV appearances: Murder She Wrote, Tales From the Crypt, Fraser, The Nanny; and movies: Robin Williams' toy-manufacturer father in Toys (1992), a fellow passenger in the Lemmon-Matthau comedy, Out to Sea (1997), that were as welcoming as they were heartening. Survivors include his wife, Gloria; four children, Alicia, Donna, Fred and Kevin; and four grandchildren. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Winter December 1, 1981

Todd-AO

Released in United States Winter December 1, 1981