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Still of Donald O'Connor in RagtimeStill of Brad Dourif in RagtimeStill of Mary Steenburgen in RagtimeRagtimeStill of Moses Gunn in RagtimeStill of Howard E. Rollins Jr. in Ragtime


A young black pianist becomes embroiled in the lives of an upper-class white family set among the racial tensions, infidelity, violence, and other nostalgic events in early 1900s New York City.

Release Year: 1981

Rating: 7.2/10 (4,456 voted)

Critic's Score: 57/100

Milos Forman

Stars: James Cagney, Elizabeth McGovern, Howard E. Rollins Jr.

The story runs in the 1910's New York. Coalhouse Walker Jr. is a black piano player. He has won fame and fortune playing with a jazz band. Some white men do not like this situation, and one day they assault him and spoil his brand new car. Walker tries by all means to get justice, without an answer…

Writers: E.L. Doctorow, Heinrich von Kleist


James Cagney

Police Commissioner Rhinelander Waldo

Brad Dourif

Younger Brother

Moses Gunn

Booker T. Washington

Elizabeth McGovern

Evelyn Nesbit

Kenneth McMillan

Willie Conklin

Pat O'Brien

Mr. Delphin Delmas

Donald O'Connor

Evelyn's Dance Instructor

James Olson


Mandy Patinkin


Howard E. Rollins Jr.

Coalhouse Walker Jr.

Mary Steenburgen


Debbie Allen


Jeffrey DeMunn

Harry Houdini

(as Jeff Demunn)

Robert Joy

Henry 'Harry' Kendall Thaw

Norman Mailer

Stanford White

Good Time … Bad Time … Ragtime

Release Date: 6 January 1982

Filming Locations: 81 West Main Street, Mt. Kisco, New York, USA

Opening Weekend: $151,351
(22 November 1981)
(5 Screens)

Gross: $21,015,710

Technical Specs


Did You Know?


James Cagney's powers of memorization were failing him and cue cards had to be used for the 81-year-old actor.


Factual errors:
Charles W. Fairbanks was not the Vice President of the United States when he was running with Theodore Roosevelt in 1904. He was a Senator from Indiana and was chosen as Roosevelt's running mate that year. Roosevelt was Vice President when he succeeded to the presidency upon William McKinley's assassination and he had no Vice President for his first term of office.


Coalhouse Walker Jr.:
Lord, I'd hoped I'd have the courage to know what I should do now. You must see how sick at heart I've been… and how I've performed this thing with little appetite.

Coalhouse Walker Jr.:
I'd hoped… you'd reveal to me along the way why you put such a rage in my heart.
[a brief pause]

Coalhouse Walker Jr.:
Tell me what to do now!
[another beat]

Coalhouse Walker Jr.:

Coalhouse Walker Jr.:
God, tell me what to do.

User Review

Now clearly a classic

Rating: 9/10

Ragtime has emerged as a classic film. Its astonishing array of great
performances–literally a score of them, from Howard Rollins's truly tragic
stand for human dignity at the film's center to James Cagney's historic
return to film at the end of his life and the end of this motion
picture–would almost alone qualify this as a great motion picture. But
Michael Weller's breathtakingly complex and complete dramatization of
Doctorow's sprawling novel, the gorgeous production and costume designs and
the superb direction of Milos Forman seal the deal. This is a magnificent
tapestry of American life at the beginning of the American century.

Lavishly entertaining, genuinely heartbreaking and a dandy history lesson to
boot, Ragtime has joined the pantheon of great, epic movies.