Ragtime

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EL Doctorow's overrated bestseller, a panoramic epic of the melting-pot America of 1906, made its way to the screen shorn of Doctorow's central conceit, that his 'Ordinary People' warrant equal time alongside major historical figures: Henry Ford, J Pierpont Morgan, Emma Goldman, Harry Houdini, all are written out of the script. It's also clear that the dementia which animates each of the important fictional characters in the novel simply doesn't work when rendered in flesh-and-blood. Forman nevertheless handles the diverse strands of the complicated plot well enough to suggest that the film's central weakness - black pianist Coalhouse Walker's attempt to obtain satisfaction for the racially-motivated vandalism of his shining new car - is inherent in the novel. The siege of the Pierpont Morgan Library which ensues is protracted and boring. Good performances, though, from Cagney as the persuasively authoritative police chief Waldo, and (especially) James Olson, a pillar of quiet Waspish dignity as the self-appointed conscience interceding between the massing police and the militant Coalhouse.

Release details

Duration: 155 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Milos Forman
Screenwriter: Michael Weller
Cast: James Cagney
Brad Dourif
Moses Gunn
Elizabeth McGovern
Kenneth McMillan
Pat O'Brien
Donald O'Connor
James Olson
Mandy Patinkin
Howard E Rollins
Mary Steenburgen
Samuel L Jackson
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