Showing posts with label Charles Laughton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Charles Laughton. Show all posts

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.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Night of the Hunter - A Biography of a Film

The Night of the Hunter: A Biography of a Film
by Jeffrey Couchman
Northwestern University Press

Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter (1954), an adaptation of Davis Grubb's 1953 novel, is many things: a fractured fairy tale, an American gothic story, a twisted song, an homage to silent films, a 20th century re-envisioning of William Blake's Songs of Experience and Songs of Innocence and a pseudo-noir.

Couchman's book is not just a love letter to the film and its creators, nor is it a personal perspective on the film. However, if you think NOTH is a masterpiece, the book will only justify your thoughts by laying out the many reasons why it is so. Couchman's book is a soup-to-nuts look at all of the elements that went into creating this classic. He takes us through every phase of the process including the writing of the novel, Laughton's vision of the movie, Grubb's drawings and James Agee's screen adaptation.

Grubb's novel, the source of the story, is spoken about constantly throughout the text  but you don't have to be familiar with the novel to follow along. A general understanding of the film is all you really need.

I'm sure this book is better suited to the serious film student but what a treat it would be to a classic movie lover too? The rich information provided by the book makes the movie experience into a four-course meal instead of just a dessert. I would recommend this book to three different kinds of people. 1) A Film Student 2) Fan of The Night of the Hunter 3) Serious Classic Film Buff who wants to advance his or her knowledge of film.

Couchman delivers wonderful observations and this book is chockful of great information. Here are a few tidbits I'd like to share:

On the infamous scene of Willa (Shelley Winters or at least a wax dummy of her), floating underwater, with her throat slit. "The cinematic fakery resulted in images that no one who has seen the film is likely to froget. A slow pan along waving reeds picks up Willa, bound in the car, her hair flowing as though with a life of its own. In many ways, the scene defines The Night of the Hunter. It is at once realistic and surreal, grim and poetic. Everything about it is a contradiction. The car alone is a shocking, industrial intrusion in a natural realm. The greater intrustion, though, is Willa's body, a serene picture of violent death, a floating apparition weighted to the river bottom." pg 111
Novel versus Film: "[Grubb's novel] satisfies readers expectations. The film thwarts expectations at every turn." - pg 206
On the differing acting styles of Mitchum and Gish: "The choices Laughton made reveal how consciously he sought a stylized, exaggerated performance from Mitchum and a naturalistic unadorned performance from Gish. Each style of acting becomes a code in itself" Mitchum's affected manner signals Preacher's deceitful nature, and Gish's straightforward approach identifies Rachel as direct and honest" - pg 174

If you are a wimpy classic film fan who just likes to watch movies but not use your preicous brain cells to actually think about the films you've seen, then you are not tough enough to handle this book. For all other classic movie buffs, I throw down the gauntlet and challenge you to read this. What will separate the weak from the strong is the desire and ability amongst classic film fans to acquire knowledge, to analyze and think and to earnestly put this knowledge to good use. Are you up for it?
Thank you to Northwestern University Press for sending me this book to review! And so sorry it took me so long to get to it. :-)

Popular Posts

 Twitter   Instagram   Facebook