Home Vision Entertainment
1977 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 104 min. / Street Date September 21, 2004 / 19.95
Starring Teresa Wright, Lou Jacobi, Don De Natale, Geraldine Chaplin,
Helen Gallagher, Joan Copeland, Christopher Walken, Conrad Janis, Lilia Skala, David Thomas
Cinematography Ernest Vincze
Film Editor Humphrey Dixon, Richard Schmiechen
Original Music Michael Gibson
Written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Produced by Ismail Merchant, Michael T. Murphy, Ottomar Rudolf
Directed by James Ivory
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
This Merchant Ivory release is a strange tryptych of short stories centered on Roseland, an old-fashioned
dance hall in Manhattan. It's frequented mostly by older people still sufficiently active to enjoy
dancing; many of the customers are widows or widowers looking for a way to
pass the time. But younger people also come in to compete in the dancing contests, which are taken
seriously enough to keep two dance teachers busy with special lessons.
The three stories interconnect only tangentially. A master of ceremonies played by Don De Natale
is quite the opposite of Gig Young's infernal host in
They Shoot Horses Don't They?; he
looks out for his regulars and does his best to make sure everyone has a good time.
Dance instructress Pauline (Joan Copeland) introduces us to the peculiar world
of Roseland, before the three stories play out. The Waltz: Widow May (Teresa Wright)
can't stop talking about her dead husband Eddie, much to the consternation of Stan (Lou Jacobi), a
regular who thinks she's self-centered. Then May discovers that one of the Roseland mirrors
reflects an image of her dancing with Eddie from long ago, when they were young. But it only
appears when she's dancing with Stan. That forces her to become more open with him - everyone
else thinks she's gone senile. The Hustle: Young divorcée Marilyn (Geraldine Chaplin)
becomes enamored of handsome Russel (Christopher Walken), a once-promising dancer who now appears
to be the kept man of the generous Cleo (Helen Gallagher), a woman with health problems. As Marilyn
doesn't see this relationship for what it is, she thinks she can entice Russel away from the older
woman. Meanwhile, instructress Pauline is trying to lure Russel back into serious dancing again, as
her partner. The Peabody: A relationship of convenience grows between Viennese cook
Rosa (Lilia Skala) and the aged Arthur (David Thomas). She refuses to take anything seriously except
winning one of the Roseland dance contests. Even though he really can't keep up with her, Arthur
tries to do better because he needs her company. They both agree that the right way to die is to
be carried out of Roseland on a stretcher, something that happens more often than one might think.
Roseland is somewhat misshapen but never awkard; it's easy to accept the three-story
structure because the actors are so charming. The longest and most involved section is in the
middle, leaving a slightly fantastic story to lead off and a bittersweet one for an ending. All
three tales serve the theme of aging well and hang together as a unit.
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's script treats its elderly characters without undue sentiment, in a framing
story that emphasizes their romantic predicaments. Our faces brighten as soon as we see the beloved
(The Little Foxes,
The Best Years of Our Lives), but
we soon realize that she's playing a realistic widow. May doesn't really accept that her husband
is gone, and only comes to Roseland out of boredom. When she sees visions of her younger self in
a mirror, she lives for little else. The episode is a portrait of the kind of senility that
grants people the sight of what they want to see. Equally charming is Lou Jacobi, the independent
gentleman who puts up with May's demands but finds himself becoming attached to her - if only she'd
take him seriously for a moment.
The middle section sets up a romantic foursome, three women interested in the same man. Geraldine
Chaplin has plans to rebuild her life with the attractive Christopher Walken, but he's just a
gigolo, a pampered bird unwilling to face reality or turn away from his keeper. He has feelings for
many women, mainly to feed his vanity, and his promises are sincere but irresponsible.
Chaplin's illusions have already been experienced by Helen Gallagher, Roseland's dance instructor,
who knows there's no point in trying to dissuade the younger woman. She also harbors an
interest in Russel. The episode shows how people can spend years waiting for the wrong man
to make up his mind.
The third episode is the shortest and the slightest, a simple character study of another pair of
retirees. Needing company and being lonely don't always translate into a willingness to compromise
with the desires of another person, especially at that age; poor David Thomas woos Lilia Skala as
best he can, but all he can extract from her is a song or two. This episode is direct in its dealings
with mortality and has a particularly satisfying, if downbeat finale.
Roseland dance hall welcomes people in fancy evening dress and others almost in street clothes; it appears
sometimes to be a waxworks of older folks not yet ready to kick off, still looking for some lost
romantic dream. There are plenty of graceful dances to old standards before a live orchestra, with
Don De Natale complimenting everyone on the floor, no matter how broken-down they might look (the actor
worked part-time at the Roseland). There's a
slight spookiness to the whole thing, just enough to conjure memories of Carnival of Souls;
for some, the Roseland ballroom is a place to go to die.
This is director Ivory's third film shot in America, and his actors treat us with nuanced,
interesting performances. We expect Lou Jacobi in small character parts, but he gets to play a
rounded lead here. Lilia Skala and Teresa Wright are two older ladies who couldn't be more
different. It's a minor film with a consistently surprising tone.
Home Vision's release of Merchant Ivory Productions' Roseland can boast a handsome enhanced transfer
with nary a flaw. The series is actually produced by Criterion in New York, with Marc Walkow as supervisor.
There's an informative essay by Robert Emmet Long in the liner insert, but no other extras this time out.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Supplements: none; liner essay
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: December 10, 2004
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson