Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)

“This is a land of great opportunity, where all are created equal!”

Synopsis:
Marmaduke Ruggles (Charles Laughton), valet to the Earl of Burnstead (Roland Young), is gambled off to an American couple in Paris, who bring him back to their hometown of Red Gap, Washington. Once there, Ruggles is mistaken for a British colonel, and able to create a new life for himself.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, “you’ve got to appreciate the every-man-is-equal theme [of this film] — it may be a trite message, but few films have delivered it.” Indeed, it’s touching to see how accepted Ruggles is by most of the Americans he encounters, including his down-to-earth employer, Egbert (played by an actor named Charles Ruggles, oddly enough!); Egbert’s saucy mother, “Ma’ Pettingill (Maude Eburne); and countless others. From the moment Ruggles gets drunk in Paris (at Egbert’s insistence) and burps out “Yippee!”, to the final stirring moments of the film, you’ll have a huge grin on your face. This is truly a “feel-good” movie.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Charles Laughton as Ruggles — watch his eyes as he transforms from a faithful manservant to a self-sufficient American…
    Laughton
  • Charles Ruggles as Laughton’s new employer, who insists from the very beginning that Laughton is his equal; I love the way he refers to nearly everybody as, “Why, you old (fill-in-the-blank)!”, and the scene where he gets revenge on the mustache-clipping barber…
    Ruggles
  • Mary Boland, perfectly cast as Egbert’s nagging, social-climbing wife
    Boland
  • Laughton solemnly reciting the Gettysburg Address in a saloon, while the townspeople of Red Gap look on in amazement
    Speech
  • The Earl of Burnstead (Roland Young) accompanying a beautiful singer (Leila Hyams) on the drums
    Drums
  • Many hilarious one-liners: “See that he acts like a gentleman, if you have to hog-tie him!”

Must See?
Yes; this is one of the great, unsung comedies of the 1930s.

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One Response to “Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)”

  1. A must – mostly for its place in cinema history, but esp. for Charles Laughton’s memorable performance. Laughton tended to be cast as the heavy but this is one of those instances in which he is clearly having a gay (as it were) old time. (And knowing what we know now about him, his performance has added subtextual value.)

    While not a hilarious comedy, it’s pleasantly diverting – and one of the better films of Leo McCarey, a director whose work at times seemed to lean dangerously toward cloying. (Though it’s good to remember he also helmed ‘Duck Soup’!)

    Fave scene: Young explaining to Laughton that he lost him in a poker game. Laughton’s vocal tone, face and eyes are priceless.

    Amusing dialogue sprinkled throughout:

    Laughton: Oh, I am someone, m’lord.
    Young: Oh, let me be the first to congratulate you. How did you ever find it out?
    Laughton: You recall an Abraham Lincoln, m’lord?
    Young: Oh, yes, the fellow with a cherry tree.
    Laughton: …No, m’lord.

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