Ragtime (1981) - Rotten Tomatoes

Ragtime (1981)




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Milos Foreman's cinematic adaptation of E.L. Doctrow's sprawling pop-culture epic Ragtime follows a variety of characters whose lives intertwine during the earliest years of the 20th century. Brad Dourif plays the meek young brother in a wealthy family who ends up helping Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Howard E. Rollins) when the proud black man stands up to the racism that surrounds him with a criminal act that leads to a standoff with a police commissioner (James Cagney - making his return to the big screen after fifteen years away). Secondary characters include a street artist (Mandy Patinkin) who gets his foot in the door of the nascent film business, and a flighty young woman (Elizabeth McGovern) who inspires men who desire her to violence. Randy Newman composed the score, which included a song that earned him his first Oscar nomination.
  • Rating:
    PG (adult situations/language, nudity, violence)
  • Genre:
  • Directed By:
  • Written By:
  • In Theaters:
  • On DVD:
  • Runtime:
  • Studio:
    Paramount Pictures

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James Cagney
as Rheinlander Waldo
Howard E. Rollins Jr.
as Coalhouse Walker Jr.
Elizabeth McGovern
as Evelyn Nesbit Thaw
Brad Dourif
as Younger Brother
Moses Gunn
as Booker T. Washington
Kenneth McMillan
as Willie Conklin
Donald O'Connor
as Evelyn's Dance Teacher
Jeffrey DeMunn
as Harry Houdini
Robert Joy
as Harry K. Thaw
Norman Mailer
as Stanford White
Bruce Boa
as Jerome
Edwin Cooper
as Grandfather
Jeff Daniels
as O'Donnell
Frankie Faison
as Gang Member No. 1
Hal Galili
as Police Captain No. 1
Eloise O'Brien
as Mrs. Thaw
Richard Griffiths
as Delmas Assistant No. 1
Samuel L. Jackson
as Gang Member No. 2
Michael Jeter
as Special reporter
Calvin Levels
as Gang Member No. 3
Bessie Love
as Old Lady
Christopher Malcolm
as Police Captain No. 2
Herman Meckler
as Vernon Elliott
Billy J. Mitchell
as Delmas Assistant No. 2
Jenny Nichols
as Little Girl
Max Nichols
as Little Boy
Zack Norman
as Gent No. 2 - Manager
Don Plumley
as Inspector McNeil
Billy Mitchell
as Delmas's Assistant
Ted Ross
as Black Lawyer
Dorsey Wright
as Gang Member No. 4
Robert Arden
as Foreman of the Jury
Robert Boyd
as President Theodore Roosevelt
Thomas A. Carlin
as Vice President Charles Warren Fairbanks
John Clarkson
as Plainclothes Detective No. 1
Norris Mailer
as Woman with Stanford White
Harry Ditson
as County Clerk
Robert Dorning
as Gent with Stanford White
Douglas Lambert
as Police Sergeant
Geoffrey Greenhill
as Police Guard
Ray Hassett
as Policeman No. 12
Robert Hitt
as Plainclothes Detective No. 2
Joel Cutrara
as Policeman
Jeff Harding
as Policeman
Rodney James
as Sleek Male Dancer
George Harris
as Band Leader, Clef Club
George J. Manos
as Novely Shop Storeman
Val Pringle
as Clef Club Manager
Anthony Powell
as Policeman
Joe Praml
as Policeman
Ron Weyand
as Doctor Muller
Bill Reimbold
as Gent No. 3 - Lawyer
Bob Sherman
as Policeman
Josh Clark
as Fireman
Jake Dengel
as Fireman
Sonny Abagnale
as Evelyn's Driver
Donald Bisset
as J.P. Morgan
John Alderson
as Waldo's Aide
Patrick Connor
as Waldo's Aide
Derek Martin
as Waldo's Aide
Robert Coffin
as Desk Clerk
Guy Gregory
as Black Butler
Britt Walker
as Black Butler
Barry Dennen
as Stage Manager
Tony Sibbald
as Stock Reporter
Peter Witman
as Stock Reporter
Daniel Foley
as Stock Reporter
Richard Oldfield
as Stock Reporter
Gretchen Franklin
as Elderly Woman
Robert Henderson
as Elderly Man
Pavel Landovsky
as Solomon Peretz
Al Matthews
as maitre d'
Colette Hiller
as Lawyer's Female Companion
Elaine Ives-Cameron
as Ina, Lawyer's Female Companion
Nelly Polissky
as Woman in Window
Ethan Phillips
as Guard at Family House
John Sterland
as Library guard
Jan Triska
as Special reporter
Ed Wiley
as Conductor
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Critic Reviews for Ragtime

All Critics (10) | Top Critics (1)

Sporadically engaging, Milos Forman's chronicle of American society and culture in the beginning of the twentieth century is too sprawling and dramatically diffuse, though some of the acting is excellent.

Full Review… | July 10, 2011

Great to see very late Cagney in solid Milos Forman film.

March 22, 2008

a jumbled and largely uninteresting mess

November 15, 2004

A robust screen adaptation of Doctorow's novel about class warfare, social change, and the gap between the rich and the poor

Full Review… | July 1, 2004
Spirituality and Practice

Fine, sprawling period piece. A great swan song for Cagney.

May 12, 2003
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

Audience Reviews for Ragtime

The problem with most of the reviews I've read about this film is they worry too much about the source material and what was left out. They lament how the film varies from the book, omitting details that, had they been included, would have pushed Ragtime to miniseries length, not a stand alone movie. Taking the movie on its own merits, it is a masterfully coordinated collection of many characters (mostly fictional) whose lives intertwine in multiple ways. Where other movies beat you over the head pointing out such coincidences, Ragtime presents them with a subtlety you don't often experience in American cinema. All actors in the film deliver -- from legends like James Cagney to bit part players like Fran Drescher (of all people) -- and none quite so brilliantly as Howard Rollins who shines brightly here at the height of his short career. I've always thought Ragtime is one of those special films -- underrated upon its release and a thing popular movie audiences don't quite know what to do with -- that will one day be considered a masterpiece. After recently watching it again after many years, I have no reason to think otherwise.

Mark Feggeler
Mark Feggeler

i saw this movie when i was a kid and watch it briefly tonight on TV, its still a great movie even today. The quality of film is amazing and this movie really made everything look original for its time. Fantastic movie

Scott Marc
Scott Marc

Milos Foreman's opus about early 1900's America works on a few different levels. It is a great costume and detailed film, good score, powerful acting, and a great cast (Steenburgen is a little iffy at times though). It was great to see some of the old school cats like James Cagney, in his final role, get screen time. Cagney and Brad Dourif definitely make this pretty great. Hey and there was a youngish Samuel L as part of Howard Rollin's gang. Ragtime was a movie that I always wanted to see based off me liking One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus, and Man on the Moon. Sometimes the movies you want to see for years wind up sucking or disappointing but Ragtime was good.

Rodney Eckrich
Rodney Eckrich

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