Run time: 104 min | Drama, Music, Romance
Director: James Ivory
Writers: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Stars: Teresa Wright, Lou Jacobi, Don De Natale
A trilogy set in New York’s venerable Roseland Ballroom, near Times Square, and the bitter-sweet lives of people who gravitate there. Absorbing, and beautifully performed.
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Maybe I wouldn’t have bought the movie if I’d seen the low voting-rate here. But I read the three bones in the Videohounds and got curious for Roseland, New Yorks famous old ballroom, filled up with mostly older dance-lovers, often looking for some company. Two bitter-sweet stories in the Ginger y Fred-style open and end. The middle part "Hustle" has Christopher Walken – who in his youth was dreaming of becoming a dancer – as the young darling gigolo for the older ladies. Walken plays a brilliant part here (just before his Deer Hunter-fame), you believe him right away. As the younger Geraldine Chaplin offers her love, house and help, he gratefully accept it,but when she tries to force things and make him think of him and her alone she loses easily from a golden watch. We’ve seen a lot of dancing-movies alright, but especially the genuine atmosphere with regular customers as the extra’s, gives Roseland some unforgettable moments. 9 out of 10 is rather high, but boy, you have to fight against these poor ratings!
This is one of those movies that is sentimental, without being cloying. AI is another that comes to mind. As a result, it has great emotional depth, even though there are no dramatically emotional scenes. In fact, each ministory involves an important connection and separation that is made, each without fanfare. Each segment has a riveting performance by an actor so deep in character that you wonder how they ever got out! Walken gives what might be his best performance. He makes you feel like you can almost see his soul, but he always just hides it from you.
Roseland is also a wonderful tribute to the joys and despairs that addict people to clubbing, whatever their age and era and talent level. Most dance movies bend over backwards to lend significance to some dancer or pair of dancers, often improbably. Roseland is interested in the way even the most indifferent and untalented of dancers can express themselves somehow wholeheartedly on a dance floor.
'Roseland' is a film made up of three separate stories set in the legendary Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan. The first, entitled 'The Waltz' features the wonderful Teresa Wright as a widow who comes to Roseland in order to sustain the memory of her late husband. She meets Stan (Lou Jacobi), who offers her an opportunity for happiness in the present. 'The Hustle' concerns Christopher Walken as a gigolo with three women in his life, all of whom depend on him for different degrees of romance and companionship. In the final story, 'The Peabody,' an older woman (Lilia Skala) sets out to win a dance competition despite warnings that it could endanger her health.
All three segments are sensitive portrayals of different kinds of lonely people seeking some sort companionship and/or fulfillment. Out of the three, only 'The Waltz' is truly memorable, thanks to the great performances from Wright and Jacobi. The performances in the other two are good, but don't top those in the first.
The cinematography captures the dance floor activities wonderfully, and the entire film has an eerie, otherworldly quality to it. It's as if when these people step off the cruel New York streets, they are transported into another world. A world that is full of music, romance, and possibilities.
The Roseland Ballroom on 52nd Street in New York just west of Broadway is the setting for this slice-of-bigger-than-life happenings. While the real ballroom closed some time ago, the sign is still there, keeping its memory alive. Then, in 1977, "Annie" was playing across the street at the Alvin (now Neil Simon) Theatre, while today, the Neil Simon is hopefully just briefly vacant and the big hit "Jersey Boys" is next door at the August Wilson. But in 1977, Times Square was in squalor. While two blocks away, the sounds of disco were being heard at Studio 54, older folks could escape back to their younger years by dancing the night away to the standards that today are still more popular than a lot of the music heard in 1977.
"Roseland" is a trio of stories, with the characters being seen over the opening credits with the actor's names attached to identify who they are and who is playing them. This is the only time you will see the entire cast together. After that, each story is told as if they were occurring on nights when the other characters were not there. First up are lovely widow Teresa Wright and goash widower Lou Jacobi who seem to have nothing in common but the love for the waltz. Wright discovers that when she dances with Jacobi, she can see the reflection of her younger self and her late husband in the mirror, so before long, she is consumed with dancing only with Jacobi. She finds him tactless and crude but ends up understanding a bit more about him before their sequence is up, creating a sweet friendship.
Next up is the longest sequence. Attractive socialite Joan Copeland is overly dependent on dancer Christopher Walken, the prize pupil of ballroom instructor Helen Gallagher. When Walken begins to date young Geraldine Chaplin, both Copeland and Gallagher are jealous for different reasons. It appears that they each have their eye on Walken for one reason or another, and Chaplin is standing in their way. This is the most realistic of the three stories and consistently the best acted.
Finally up is elderly Austrian widow Lilia Skala, a blue eye shadowed senior who desperately wants to win the ballroom contest but has a weak partner (David Thomas). They loose several times, and when she thinks they really have a shot at winning, he ruins it for her by being in the hospital. Skala has to deal with her own mortality now and begins to wonder if she actually has what it takes to be the dancer she hoped she was. In the background at the bar, Teresa Wright of the first sequence appears to be sitting there, but the camera is too blurry to make her out for real. This is the only probable moment when one character from one story overlaps to be seen in another.
The cast is superb throughout; It reminded me of a homage to Stephen Sondheim's musical triumph "Follies" with its pastiche look at days gone by in a world far from what the characters hoped it would be. The first and final sequences are definitely devoted to senior characters, while in the middle, both Copeland and Gallagher are seemingly in their mid-late 50's, looking glamorous and beautiful, if not mispaired with the possible gigolo Walken. Copeland, a stage and TV veteran, is extremely glamorous, playing an Anne Baxter type role (one that Baxter would do several years later in a Merchant Ivory follow-up called "Jane Austen in Manhattan"). She was best known at this time for playing a memorable villainess on "Search For Tomorrow" (Andrea Whiting) as well as character roles on stage, while Gallagher, after years of appearing in musical comedy, moved from the Tony Award (which she had two of) to the Emmy Award (also having two) for her oh-so-different role of Maeve Ryan on "Ryan's Hope". One could see Maeve and hubby Johnny popping into the Ballroom down the street from their Riverside bar and grill, but no one could ever confuse devoted wife and mom Maeve and Gallagher's character here, a gypsy like woman with a lust for life and men. Walken and Chaplin, then facing a promising future, do well too, but with Gallagher's showy role winning every moment she's on, she comes off with the acting honors not only for the sequence, but for the whole film as well.
Finally, Skala's performance is also straight out of "Follies", being close to the Heidi ("One More Kiss") character, and beautifully layered. She is both funny and moving as an earth mother with excess eye shadow. For being supposedly one of the most dangerous places on earth in 1977, New York sure seemed to be a lot of fun, where the older characters didn't hesitate to walk down to 8th Avenue to catch the train after they were finished dancing. I'd risk it just to have the memories of an era that may have been past Broadway's golden age, but can still be re-captured again. This film isn't perfect, but has an undeniable charm. Every year has award worthy films that somehow fell through the cracks, and for 1977, "Roseland" was one of them.