Ruggles of Reg Gap (1935)

Film Review

RUGGLES OF RED GAP

Release Date: 19 February, 1935

Studio: Paramount

Director: Leo McCarey

Starring: Charles Laughton, Charlie Ruggles, Roland Young, Mary Boland

Special Notes: TCM Classic Film Festival, 2013

Ruggles of Red Gap was presented as part of the Journeys of Self Discovery theme at the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival. The film was discussed by 98-year-old actor/producer/director Norman Lloyd (Alfred Hitchock Presents, Saboteur) and film-critic Todd McCarthy.

Synopsis

In London, in a card game with a rich, but uncouth, westerner (Ruggles), an earl (Young) loses his very proper manservant, Ruggles, played by Charles Laughton. Ruggles' society-conscious wife (Boland), hopes that Laughton can improve the manners of her husband. They transport Laughton to their home in Red Gap, Washington, where Laughton confronts the classless society of the American West. In a saloon with the other citizens of Red Gap, a discussion of social equality leads Ruggles to recite the Gettysburg address to the surprise and admiration of all. When the earl arrives to reclaim his servant, Ruggles realizes that he is now his own man and decides to stay and open a restaurant in Red Gap.

Discussion

The story of Ruggles, the proper English valet transplanted to the wild west, was serialized in The Saturday Evening Post in 1914, published as a novel in 1915, and produced as a Broadway musical for 33 performances in 1915-1916. Filmed adaptations include a 1923 silent starring Edward Everett Horton, the 1935 Laughton version, and a 1957 television musical starring Michael Redgrave. Although the Laughton film is the best-known version, the novel and an audio recording of the television musical are also readily available.

For Laughton, the timid manservant represents a complete change from the psychopaths and tyrants he frequently played. Laughton's subdued and low-key performance as the timid and subservient Ruggles is the opposite of his showy performance as the obsessed Dr. Moreau in 1932's Island of Lost Souls, but no less effective. Norman Lloyd told some stories to point out the personality of Charles Laughton, who was resolute that his performance was true to the character he was playing. Lloyd and Laughton met during the filming of Arch of Triumph (1948). The first morning, over a bottle of Scotch whiskey, they discussed the script. To understand the mind of his character, Laughton, who was playing a Nazi, asked for a copy of Hitler's autobiography Mein Kampf. Laughton even added a sentence from the book to the script. For Ruggles, he was particularly concerned that his performance of the Gettysburg address was well received.