Recommended by Ralph Mellon
Very unlucky to win no Oscars from eight nominations, ‘Ragtime’ is a long, lavish, stylishly detailed ensemble piece from 1981, based on an expansive but simply-told novel by E. L. Doctorow. The lives of numerous characters, real and fictional, intertwine in early 20th century New York and the various plot threads are pulled together to focus on one main episode – the gradual descent of a proud black jazz pianist, Coalhouse Walker Jnr (Howard E. Rollins) from impeccable politeness into criminal acts and terrorism, after he endures racism, injustice and personal tragedy.
There’s a lot more besides, with fine work by Brad Dourif, Elizabeth McGovern, Mandy Patinkin, Kenneth McMillan, Robert Joy, and others.
Director Milos Forman brought in an ailing James Cagney in for a headline-making bit part as a police commissioner, who didn’t appear in the book. There’s a delicious score by Randy Newman – and you might recognise Samuel L. Jackson among Walker’s gang.