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  Roseland Dance The Night AwayBuy this film here.
Year: 1977
Director: James Ivory
Stars: Teresa Wright, Lou Jacobi, Geraldine Chaplin, Christopher Walken, Helen Gallagher, Joan Copeland, Lilia Skala, David Thomas, Conrad Janis, Louise Kirtland, Jayne Heller, Annette Rivera, Floyd Chisolm, Don De Natale, Madeline Lee, Stan Rubin, Hetty Galen
Genre: Musical, Drama, Romance
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The Roseland Ballroom in New York City is legendary for its longevity, and many of the patrons tend towards the long-lived as well. Take May (Teresa Wright), for example, she has been coming here for decades, and used to be accompanied by her husband but he has since died. She will never forget him, however, and chats away to her partners on the dancefloor about how great he was, which puts off any of the other men from trying to strike up a deeper friendship with her. But today, while she is waltzing with Stan (Lou Jacobi), she catches sight of herself in the mirror - or does she? For the elegant couple in the reflection are far younger than she is...

Roseland was intended by the producer and director team of Ismael Merchant and James Ivory to be a tribute to the famous ballroom, all at the instigation of their regular screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala who came up with the idea of following the stories of three sets of couples who would go there for the entertainment. Although it was a troubled shoot thanks mainly to union problems - for one thing, the dancers were regulars at the establishment and not paid up extras - and the fact that they were given hardly any time to shoot there, as it plays out the drama glides along as if on castors, and for some reason doesn't feel particularly cinematic at all.

In fact, the impression is more that this script would have been happier as a book of novellas, with the literary bent that informs the unfolding events not really lending itself to the silver screen. This is surprising, as you might expect a film centred around dancing to spring to glittery life as the characters take to the floor, but it's not the case. A lot of this can be down to some pretty average dancing, but as most of the performers were well into middle age and older, then you cannot fault them for that, yet the spectre of death looms over them all in a manner which draws the joy out of their personalities, even the younger ones.

The first tale is of Wright's May finding an attachment with Jacobi's Stan and getting over her obsession with her deceased spouse, even though Stan is far too crude for her, or so she thinks. Yet every time she accompanies him and sees their reflection she can see a younger version of herself with her husband, as if to tell her to move on; it's none too clear if this is supposed to be touching or amusing, but like the other plotlines it's a little flimsy and airily observed. Next up is Christopher Walken and Geraldine Chaplin who meet at the ballroom through a mutual friend (Joan Copeland) who worships Walken's semi-gigolo, but is dying, putting him in a difficult position when Chaplin's lonesome character falls for him.

The drawback here is that Walken now carries so much baggage from his following roles that you keep expecting him to turn out to be planning a murder or something; he isn't, but this kind of dashing leading man wasn't really his suit. Lastly, Lilia Skala wants to dance herself to death at the Peabody contest, and she's picked David Thomas's elderly gent to go with her, whether he wants to or not. Skala is probably the liveliest of the cast here and you believe she has the world weary lust for life, if that isn't a contradiction, which propels her to set her sights on winning the champagne bottle and expiring in a blaze of glory as she twirls her last. But what if her meeker partner is not quite as keen? All the stories are lightweight, but this final one is worth waiting for in light of the opportunities Skala receives and enjoys; overall the film has its charms, but it's hard to get enthusiastic about. Music by Michael Gibson.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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