Thursday, January 22, 2015

"Ruggles of Red Gap" with Charles Laughton and Charlie Ruggles (1935)

This movie is a rare and delightful treat. Egbert Floud (played by Charlie Ruggles) is on a trip to Europe with his would be cultured wife, Effie (played by Mary Boland.) They are from Red Gap, somewhere out West in the United States. The movie begins with Lord Bumstead (played by Roland Young) waking up hungover after losing his butler, William Ruggles (played by Charles Laughton) in a game of poker with Egbert Floud.

Egbert is very uneasy with the idea of having a servant but his wife is insistent and so he finds himself with a "man servant", or "butler." When they arrive in Red Gap, Ruggles sees that he is now free from being cast as a servant at birth, leaving him with limitless choices, and so he begins to rebel.

Falling in love with a local widow, Mrs. Judson (played by Zasu Pitts) awakens in him the desire to be more, and he finally works up the courage to stand up for himself. This is the result of a remarkable discussion in a saloon, about "...just what did Lincoln say at Gettysburg?" The answer comes in the form of the best recitation of the Gettysburg Address; delivered by Charles Laughton; that I have ever heard. (This is fitting, as originally only the English reporters of the time thought the speech to be of any note. In America it was looked upon as a short, though passionate, disappointment. It was only years after Lincoln's death that his speech was fully appreciated here.)

What follows is one man's discovery of what it means to be equal and rise above his own beginnings. Embracing opportunity is something that Ruggles has never had the chance to experience. And though initially aghast at the idea of being something other than a butler, when the chance is laid before him, he is ready to seize the day and further his destiny. In short, he decides to "enter into trade." Egbert, who didn't want a "butler" in the first place, is only too eager to assist him.

Opening a restaurant in Red Gap causes a great stir, particularly due to the fact that Egberts' wife has already introduced Ruggles to everyone as an English Lord, rather than as a butler. When his former boss, Lord Bumstead, comes to take him home, he is met by a new Ruggles; one who is intent upon reaching his potential in this new country. And this has unintended consequences for Lord Bumstead as well, as he finds himself questioning the rigid autocracy of which he, himself, is also a product.

This wonderful and optimistic film is worth watching if for no other reason than to hear English spoken so well by Laughton. Loaded with some of the best character actors Hollywood has ever produced, this film has long been a favorite of mine. I first saw this one on "The Million Dollar Movie" on Channel 9 - WOR TV in New York as a kid. I was so glad to see that it has been transferred to DVD. It would be a shame to lose this gem of a film.

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