Although more than $32 million was pumped into this kaleidoscopic portrait of American life in 1906, RAGTIME is too long, too splintered in its characterizations, and too much of a good thing squeezed dry. The most impressive aspect of the film is the return, after a 20-year hiatus, of
top-billed Cagney, at age 81, to play a feisty NYC police commissioner.
Based on Doctorow's novel, the film balances several themes and four families--one factual, three fictional. The most compelling story is that of the infamous Thaw-White murder case, in which mad millionaire Harry K. Thaw (Robert Joy) kills famed architect Stanford White (Norman Mailer) over the