The Joy Of Ragtime

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Directed byMiloš Forman
Produced byDino De Laurentiis
Screenplay byMichael Weller
Bo Goldman (uncredited)
Based onRagtime
by E.L. Doctorow
Music byRandy Newman
CinematographyMiroslav Ondříček
Edited byAnne V. Coates
Antony Gibbs
Stanley Warnow
Distributed byParamount Pictures
  • November 20, 1981
155 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$28.3 million[1]
Box office$21.2 million[1]

The novel opens in the year 1902, in the town of New Rochelle, New York, at the house of an upper class family comprised of Mother, Father, and the little boy.

Ragtime is a 1981 American drama film directed by Miloš Forman, based on the 1975 historical novelRagtime by E.L. Doctorow. The film is set in and around turn-of-the-century New York City, New Rochelle, and Atlantic City, and includes fictionalized references to actual people and events of the time. The film stars James Olson, Mary Steenburgen, Howard Rollins, Brad Dourif, and Elizabeth McGovern, features the final film appearances of James Cagney and Pat O'Brien, and features early appearances, in small parts, by Jeff Daniels, Fran Drescher, Samuel L. Jackson, Ethan Phillips, and John Ratzenberger.


A newsreel montage depicts turn-of-the-20th-century celebrities including Harry Houdini, Theodore Roosevelt, architect Stanford White (Norman Mailer), and life in New York City, accompanied by ragtime pianist Coalhouse Walker, Jr. (Howard E. Rollins, Jr.). Millionaire industrialist Harry Kendall Thaw (Robert Joy) makes a scene when White unveils a nude statue atop Madison Square Garden, modeled after former chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit (Elizabeth McGovern), Thaw's wife. Convinced White has corrupted Evelyn, Thaw publicly shoots him dead.

An upper-class family resides in New Rochelle, New York, where Father (James Olson) owns a factory where his wife's Younger Brother (Brad Dourif) makes fireworks. An African American baby is abandoned in their garden, and upon learning the police intend to charge the child's mother, Sarah (Debbie Allen), with child abandonment and attempted murder, Mother (Mary Steenburgen) takes Sarah and her child into the home despite Father's objections. Coalhouse arrives in search of Sarah, driving a new Ford Model T, and realizing he is the baby's father, announces his intention to marry Sarah.

Younger Brother witnesses White's murder and becomes obsessed with Evelyn. Thaw's lawyer Delmas (Pat O'Brien) bribes Evelyn with a million-dollar divorce settlement to keep silent about Thaw's mental instability and to testify that White abused her. Passing through the Lower East Side, Evelyn encounters street artist Tateh (Mandy Patinkin), who throws out his unfaithful wife (Fran Drescher). He leaves New York with their daughter and sells the flip book he created. Evelyn and Younger Brother begin an affair as she prepares her return to the stage, while he assumes they will eventually marry. After Thaw is found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity, his lawyers inform Evelyn that Thaw will sue her for divorce on the grounds of infidelity and she accepts a smaller settlement. The affair ends, leaving Younger Brother adrift.

In New Rochelle, Coalhouse is targeted by bigoted volunteer firemen led by Willie Conklin (Kenneth McMillan), who refuse to allow his automobile to pass by. Coalhouse finds a policeman (Jeff Daniels) and returns to find his car soiled with horse manure. Coalhouse attempts to force the policeman to intervene, but the policeman insists that Colehouse should clean the manure off his car and move on, giving him the choice to do so or be arrested. Colehouse refuses, and is hauled in to the local precinct. After Father arranges for Coalhouse's release, they discover his car has been further vandalized. Coalhouse pursues legal action, but can find no lawyer willing to represent him. Father and Younger Brother argue over Coalhouse's legal recourse. At a presidential rally, Sarah attempts to tell President Roosevelt about Coalhouse's case but is beaten by guards and dies.

Experience the pleasure and satisfaction of some of the finest and bounciest piano tunes with the Joy Of Ragtime! Here are 29 classic piano rags by Scott Joplin; Joseph Lamb; Tom Turpin; and other ragtime composers. Pieces include: Black and White Rag. Cakewalk Parade. Calico Rag. The St.Louis Rag. Maple Leaf Rag. The Chrysanthemum. The Entertainer. and more. Ragtime is a novel by E. Doctorow that was first published in 1975. Summary Read a Plot Overview of the entire book or a chapter by chapter Summary and Analysis.

After Sarah's funeral, Coalhouse and his supporters kill several firemen. He threatens to attack other firehouses, demanding his car be restored and Conklin be turned over to him. Father is disgusted at the violence but Younger Brother joins Coalhouse's gang with his knowledge of explosives. Ostracized by their own white community and hounded by reporters, Father and Mother leave for Atlantic City. They encounter Tateh, now a film director on a photoplay with Evelyn. Mother is attracted to Tateh and she and Father quarrel. Coalhouse's gang hold the Pierpont Morgan Library's collection hostage. Police Commissioner Rhinelander Waldo (James Cagney) sends for Walker's child as a bargaining chip but Mother refuses to give him up. Father demands she turn the child over and returns to New York to assist Waldo and Mother leaves.

Booker T. Washington (Moses Gunn) fails to persuade Walker to surrender, as does Father. Conklin is captured by police and forced to apologize to Coalhouse. Waldo is disgusted by Conklin's bigotry but cannot submit to terrorist demands and has him arrested. Coalhouse agrees to surrender if Waldo permits his supporters to depart in his restored car and Waldo agrees after Father volunteers to stay as a hostage. Coalhouse's supporters escape and he drives Father out of the library. Ready to blow himself up, Coalhouse instead surrenders but is shot dead on Waldo's orders. The film ends with another newsreel: Evelyn dances in vaudeville and Thaw is released from an asylum. Houdini escapes from a straitjacket several stories above the ground, while newspapers announce that the First World War has begun. Younger Brother returns to his fireworks job and Father watches from the house in New Rochelle as Mother departs with Tateh and Coalhouse's son.[2]


The film is notable for introducing numerous actors for whom this was one of their first appearances in an American film: Samuel L. Jackson, Debbie Allen, Jeff Daniels, Andreas Katsulas, Ethan Phillips, Stuart Milligan, and John Ratzenberger. Additionally, it was the final film of James Cagney and Pat O'Brien. Cagney had not acted in a film for 20 years before his appearance in Ragtime.

  • James Cagney as CommissionerRhinelander Waldo
  • Brad Dourif as Younger Brother
  • Moses Gunn as Booker T. Washington
  • Elizabeth McGovern as Evelyn Nesbit
  • Kenneth McMillan as Fire Chief Willie Conklin
  • Pat O'Brien as Delmas
  • Donald O'Connor as Evelyn's Dance Instructor
  • James Olson as Father
  • Mandy Patinkin as Tateh
  • Howard E. Rollins, Jr. as Coalhouse Walker Jr.
  • Mary Steenburgen as Mother
  • Debbie Allen as Sarah
  • Jeffrey DeMunn as Harry Houdini
  • Robert Joy as Harry Kendall Thaw
  • Norman Mailer as Stanford White
  • Edwin Cooper as Grandfather
  • Jeff Daniels as P.C. O'Donnell
  • Fran Drescher as Mameh
  • Frankie Faison as Gang Member
  • Alan Gifford as Judge
  • Richard Oldfield as Stock Reporter
  • Richard Griffiths as Delmas' Assistant
  • George Harris as Clef Club Bandleader
  • Samuel L. Jackson as Gang Member
  • Michael Jeter as Special Reporter
  • Andreas Katsulas as Policeman No.3
  • Joe Praml as Policeman No.8
  • Calvin Levels as Gang Member
  • Bessie Love as Old Lady (T.O.C.)
  • Christopher Malcolm as Police Captain
  • Stuart Milligan as The Marksman
  • Zack Norman as Manager
  • Ethan Phillips as Guard at Family House
  • Barry Dennen as Stage Manager
  • Jan Tríska as Special Reporter
  • Jack Nicholson as Pirate on Beach (uncredited)


The film was shot on location in New York City; Mount Kisco, New York; New Jersey; and at Shepperton Studios, UK. Robert Altman initially signed to direct the film, but was replaced by Forman.[2]


The film holds an aggregated score of 92% from Rotten Tomatoes, but a 57/100 from Metacritic indicating mixed or average reviews. Roger Ebert gave the film three-and-a-half out of four stars, writing that 'Ragtime' is a loving, beautifully mounted, graceful film that creates its characters with great clarity. We understand where everyone stands, and most of the time we even know why.'[2]Vincent Canby gave the film a more mixed review, praising the performances and cinematography but criticizing Forman's narrative choices that created an unclear sense of time and prioritized certain storylines at the cost of others: '[Ragtime] is sorrowful, funny and beautiful. It is also, finally, very unsatisfactory.'[3]Christopher Null gave the film a negative review, calling it 'a jumbled and largely uninteresting mess.'[4]

Awards and honors[edit]

AwardDate of ceremonyCategoryRecipients and nomineesResult
Academy AwardsMarch 29, 1982[5]Best Actor in a Supporting RoleHoward E. Rollins Jr.Nominated
Best Actress in a Supporting RoleElizabeth McGovern
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another MediumMichael Weller
Best CinematographyMiroslav Ondříček
Best Art Direction – Set DecorationArt Direction: John Graysmark, Patrizia Von Brandenstein, and Tony Reading
Set Decoration: George DeTitta Sr., George DeTitta Jr., and Peter Howitt
Best Costume DesignAnna Hill Johnstone
Best Music, Original ScoreRandy Newman
Best Music, Original SongRandy Newman
For the song 'One More Hour'
BAFTA Awards1983Best Original SongRandy Newman
For the song 'One More Hour'
Golden Globe AwardsJanuary 20, 1982Best Motion Picture – Drama
Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Motion PictureHoward E. Rollins, Jr.
Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Motion PictureMary Steenburgen
Best Director – Motion PictureMiloš Forman
Best Original Song – Motion PictureRandy Newman
For the song 'One More Hour'
New Star of the Year in a Motion PictureHoward E. Rollins, Jr.
Elizabeth McGovern
Grammy AwardsFebruary 23, 1983Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television SpecialRandy Newman
Los Angeles Film Critics AssociationDecember 14, 1981Best MusicRandy NewmanWon
NAACP Image AwardsDecember 5, 1982Outstanding Motion PictureNominated
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion PictureMoses GunnWon
New York Film Critics CircleJanuary 31, 1982Best Supporting ActorHoward E. Rollins, Jr.4th place
Writers Guild of America AwardsMarch 30, 1982Best Drama Adapted from Another MediumMichael WellerNominated


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

  • 2003: AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains:
    • Coalhouse Walker, Jr. – Nominated[6]
  • 2005: AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores – Nominated[7]

See also[edit]

  • Ragtime – the Tony-winning musical adaptation


  1. ^ abKnoedelseder, William K., Jr. (August 30, 1987). 'De Laurentiis: Producer's Picture Darkens'. Los Angeles Times. p. 1.
  2. ^ abcEbert, Roger (January 1, 1981). 'Ragtime'.
  3. ^Canby, Vincent (November 20, 1981). ''Ragtime' Evokes Real and Fictional Pasts'. The New York Times.
  4. ^Ragtime - Movie Reviews, retrieved December 7, 2020
  5. ^'Ragtime (1981) – Awards'. Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Baseline & All Movie Guide. 2012. Archived from the original on February 18, 2012. Retrieved December 31, 2008.
  6. ^'AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees'(PDF). Retrieved August 6, 2016.
  7. ^'AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees'(PDF). Retrieved August 6, 2016.

External links[edit]

  • Ragtime at IMDb
  • Ragtime at AllMovie
  • Ragtime at Rotten Tomatoes
  • Ragtime at Box Office Mojo
Retrieved from ''

Underappreciated in life and mythologized in death, Scott Joplin rarely has received a fair assessment of his vast contributions to American music.

Even after Joplin penned such indelibly poetic works as 'The Entertainer,' 'Maple Leaf Rag' and scores more, the ragtime idiom he revered was routinely maligned in the white, mainstream musical press.

'Can it be said that America is falling prey to the collective soul of the negro (sic) through the influence of what is popularly known as `rag time' music?' Walter Winston Kenilworth wrote in 1913, in the Musical Courier. 'If there is any tendency toward such a psychological amalgamation, toward such a national disaster, it should be definitely pointed out and extreme measures taken to inhibit the influence and avert the increasing danger -- if it has not already gone too far.'

By the 1970s, Joplin's ragtime music seemed to be everywhere, thanks largely to the commercial success of the film 'The Sting,' which used Marvin Hamlisch's kitschy orchestrations of Joplin's exquisitely detailed piano pieces. That the Paul Newman-Robert Redford film was set in the 1930s -- roughly two decades removed from Joplin's heyday (he died in 1917) -- only added to the misperception of Joplin's turn-of-the-century masterpieces.

Joplin, however, was neither the devil that contemporary critics branded him nor the Hollywood tunesmith that director Roy Hill made him when 'The Sting' bowdlerized his melodies.

Rather, Joplin -- born the son of a slave father and free-born mother in about 1868 (the exact date has not been determined) -- was a formidable intellect whose work helped set the stage for the evolution of early jazz and for later developments, as well. And that's precisely the point that pianist Marcus Roberts makes on every track of a daring and sure-to-be-controversial new recording, 'The Joy of Joplin' (Sony Classical).

Though it long has been considered standard practice to play Joplin's published compositions note-for-note as he wrote them, Roberts has plunged into uncharted and potentially dangerous territory by offering radical, improvised versions of 'The Entertainer,' 'The Easy Winners,' 'Elite Syncopation' and other Joplin classics. Yet by this action he has done more to point out Joplin's immense influence on the art of jazz in the decades that followed than any number of more literal recordings have done.

Even so, Roberts knows that not everyone will be pleased to hear Joplin's scores (which the composer took pains to notate so meticulously) utterly recast by a modern-day jazz pianist.

'I don't really worry too much about it, though I think even Joplin probably would be upset with this recording, particularly if had it happened during his day,' says Roberts, the most accomplished young pianist in jazz. 'I think Joplin had a very strong view about how he wanted his music played. A lot of pianists of that time used to argue about what to do with these ragtime pieces of his, and Joplin was very emphatic about saying: `You play what I wrote down.'

'But my role and my position as an artist is just to provide different ways of looking at a situation,' adds Roberts. 'That's really all you do in art: You give a different perspective. It doesn't negate any other perspective; it's not assumed to be the only possible perspective. It's my perspective, and I do at least plan to make sure that my view is well-grounded and well-informed.'

Roberts' carefully considered versions of Joplin's pieces indeed evolve naturally from the composer's original thematic material. Even so, there's something startling about hearing Joplin's familiar melodies rhythmically altered and undergirded by distinctly modern chords. This is not so much an updating of beloved ragtime pieces as it is a major overhaul of them, with the pianist adding walking bass lines, melodic details, mid-stream tempo changes and lyric phrases of his own making.

It's a process of reinvention that Roberts applied to another piece of sacred musical Americana, George Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue,' which the pianist reconceived in his historic 'Portraits in Blue' recording of 1996. In both ventures, Roberts has made vividly clear the links between the composer in question and the musical developments that followed, and he did so -- in effect -- by 'recomposing' the original.

In the case of Joplin's 'The Entertainer,' for instance, Roberts is off and running from the first notes, opening with an ebullient swing riff of his own before so much as hinting at Joplin's theme. From that point forth, Roberts uses unexpected stops and starts, bracingly modern harmonies, unusual chord changes, bebop melodic devices and other musical anomalies unheard of in Joplin's life.


Yet the way Joplin's material lends itself to such modern-day improvisations points not only to the quality of the composer's themes but to the persuasiveness of Roberts' argument that Joplin laid the groundwork for so much jazz history yet to come.

'What makes all of this very interesting is that Joplin's music was written before jazz music ever existed,' says Roberts. 'All I was trying to do with this Joplin project was to show how his music relates to the fundamentals of what became jazz music.

'The question I faced in trying to do that was: How could I personalize his music, or how could I gain inspiration to move it forward, because Joplin's ragtime is very beautiful and simple as it is. There's a real purity in his chords, and the rhythms, in particular, are what you have to make sure that you don't tarnish in any way.'

On the contrary, Roberts builds on Joplin's originals with a recording that not only shatters listeners' expectations but encapsulates the broad sweep of American musical history of approximately the past 100 years. Everything from boogie-woogie piano riffs and Southern blues phrasings to Latin rhythms and New Orleans improvisational styles turn up in Roberts' decidedly unorthodox Joplin.

There may not be another pianist alive who could pull off such a feat while staying so true to the spirit of Joplin's compositions, if only because Roberts has the historical knowledge, creative imagination and technical prowess to sustain the experiment. Yet one ultimately comes away from this recording with new reverence for Joplin, who emerges as the forger of an indestructible ragtime vocabulary and as a pervasive influence on generations of composers yet unborn when he was in his prime.

No less than Jelly Roll Morton, who called himself 'the inventor of jazz,' dubbed Joplin 'the greatest ragtime writer who ever lived,' notes Edward A. Berlin in 'King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era' (Oxford University Press). What Morton may not have realized is that Joplin, too, could be considered an inventor of the music that eventually would be called jazz.

That's the signal contribution of Roberts' recording and that -- more than any controversy likely to swirl around it -- is why 'The Joy of Joplin' will be studied for years to come.

'Joplin knew that he was going to be hard-pressed to be taken seriously if he didn't write that music down,' says Roberts. 'He himself improvised as a pianist, but I think he felt that people would disrespect his music if they thought it was just being `made up' on the spot.'

Alas, Joplin's music was disrespected anyway. The remarkable irony is that, decades later, his music is being given its due -- not through literal readings but through the ephemeral art of improvisation.

The development comes not a moment too soon.


Joy Ratterree

Here's a brief guide to hearing Scott Joplin's music:

Marcus Roberts: 'The Joy of Joplin' (Sony). Here are bold new jazz versions of Joplin's rags, as well as original Roberts compositions embracing a broad range of piano history, from American rhythms to French Impressionism.

Joshua Rifkin: 'Scott Joplin Piano Rags' (Nonesuch). Unfairly criticized by listeners who would not acknowledge the classical influences in Joplin's piano music, Rifkin's landmark recording revealed the subtlety, nuance and sophistication of Joplin's work.

Gunther Schuller: 'Art of Scott Joplin' (GM). Schuller's famous recording with his New England Ragtime Ensemble helped launch the Joplin craze of the 1970s and showed the expressive breadth of this music.

The Joy Of Jazz

Scott Joplin: 'Greatest Hits' (RCA Victor). Jazz pianist Dick Hyman plays 16 Joplin rags felicitously, while classical pianist James Levine glances over two additional ones.

The Joy Of Ragtime Pdf

Reginald R. Robinson: 'Euphonic Sounds' (Delmark). In addition to unearthing a 'Scott Joplin Song Fragment' never before recorded, the brilliant Chicago pianist offers vivid recordings of works by Joplin, Louis Chauvin, Joseph F. Lamb and Robinson himself.