Ragtime (1981)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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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.
PG (adult situations/language, nudity, violence)
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Written By:
In Theaters:
Paramount Pictures

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

A ruinous adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's extraordinary novel.

Full Review… | December 10, 2012

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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