Monday, October 28, 2013

Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)



Ruggles of Red Gap (1935) is a charming movie, adapted from the 1915 novel by Harry Leon Wilson which also became a popular Broadway show. Directed by Leo McCarey, a fine director who explored many social issues in his films, this Paramount movie has a superb cast including Charles Laughton, ZaSu Pitts, Mary Boland, Charles Ruggles, Roland Young and Leila Hyams.



This is just the feel-good film that is perfect for lifting ones spirit on a gloomy day. And that's just what this film did for me. These past few weeks have consisted of tightly packed schedules with few breaks and many opportunities for anxiety attacks. When I finally got a break, I needed a film to make me feel good about life and that's just what Ruggles of Red Gap did for me.

Charles Laughton stars as Marmaduke "Bill" Ruggles, a British butler whose superior, the Earl of Burnstead (Roland Young), lost him in a poker game. The winners of that game were the American Couple Egbert (Charles Ruggles) and Effie Floud (Mary Boland). These nouveau rich country folk from Red Gap, Washington are in Paris to soak up some culture courtesy of their oil fortune. Effie is particularly interested in climbing the social ladder and thinks Ruggles will be a wonderful trophy to show off to her friends back home. Ruggles is uncomfortable working for Americans, breaking the traditions he's worked so hard for years to uphold, and it shows in the sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle facial expressions Laughton gives to the Ruggles character.

"Well, well you old tarantula!"

Something happens to Ruggles when he moves to Red Gap with this new couple. His new superior Mr. Egbert Floud's personality starts to rub off on him. Egbert doesn't have the same appetite for sophistication hat his wife does. He wants only to be his fun-loving cowpoke self.

"Hey, we just met. Squat-ez vous."
When the townsfolk confuse Ruggles for a Colonel of the British Army instead of just a butler, Ruggles finds an opportunity to reinvent himself and live the American dream of freedom, prosperity and success.

"...miraculously there comes a man. A person of importance, however small. A man whose decisions and whose future are  in his own hands." - Ruggles
Ruggles falls for the local spinster Prunella (ZaSu Pitts) and starts to make his own plans for life other than being a butler. All the performances are splendid. I loved Laughton, Pitts, Boland and Ruggles especially. Roland Young and Leila Hyams have interesting supporting roles and I love the character of Belknap-Jackson played by Lucien Littlefield.

"I tell you that Belknap-Jackson is a Boston Cream Puff!"
At one point the film takes a rather strange patriotic turn. There is one scene in which a bunch of guys in a Red Gap tavern are struggling to remember what Lincoln said during his Gettysburg Address but Ruggles knows every word. According to what I found online, this scene was very emotional for Charles Laughton and he remembered it fondly. During filming the British Laughton was considering applying for American citizenship.



This film is a wonderful comedy which is elevated by it's exploration of social issues of class and personal freedom. There are sober moments, times when you laugh out loud at the exploits of the Floud couple and when your heart is touched by tender scenes between Ruggles and Prunella Judson (Pitts). At the end of the film, I found myself crying in the best possible way there is to cry. McCarey's Make Way for Tomorrow (1937) made me cry hysterically but Ruggles of Red Gap made me cry tears of joy.



Please watch this film if you can. If stories can still move you emotionally and you haven't grown completely numb to them, let this film in. You'll be a better person for it.



Ruggles of Red Gap is one of the many movies Universal acquired from Paramount. It's part of the Universal Vault Series on DVD-R. I rented it from ClassicFlix (they don't have it for sale). There is also a Blu-Ray version. Both DVD and Blu-Rays look to be out of print or their availability is limited. I'm hoping to purchase this one but can't find where I can get a new copy!

ETA: Laura of Laura's Miscellaneous Musings tells me that Universal Vault Series are sold exclusively on Amazon but there is talk of making them available at other retailers in the future.

3 comments:

  1. Wow, Laughton's younger and relatively skinnier in this one. That bowler hat suits him, I think.

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  2. This is a very well thought out site with very good content, I enjoyed reading it very much indeed. I’m certainly going to check out the sites you recommend. Travel Oh Travel

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  3. I have had this blog post sitting in my RSS feed until I finally had the chance to watch this movie, which happened over the weekend. I absolutely loved it! The whole cast was very engaging and really blended well. I have loved Laughton since The Old Dark House, and it was fun seeing him in this role. Thank you for the recommendation!

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