The movie is partly about the differences between Britain and America, as perceived in 1935, and also the theme of personal independence. America is seen as the land of opportunity and equality, as memorably stated in one of the film's main scenes, when Laughton, as Ruggles, a butler, recites Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
PlotAn English Earl, Lord Burnstead, played by Roland Young, visits Paris with his butler, Marmaduke Ruggles, played by Charles Laughton. During a poker game the Earl bets and loses his butler to a nouveau riche American couple, Egbert and Effie Floud (Charlie Ruggles and Mary Boland) who bring him back to their home town of Red Gap, Washington in the hope that he will boost their social standing.
Once in Red Gap Ruggles becomes something of a celebrity and falls for a local widow, Mrs. Judson, played by ZaSu Pitts. Gradually he changes his outlook on life and grows in independence, eventually opening a restaurant in the town.
ProductionThe novel, 'Ruggles of Red Gap' by Harry Leon Wilson was published in 1915 and made into a Broadway musical the same year. It was twice filmed as a silent movie, in 1918 and 1923, and would again be filmed in 1950, being called 'Fancy Pants', and starring Bob Hope and Lucille Ball.
Charles Laughton was already a major star by 1935 after successes with 'The Private Life of Henry VIII' in 1933 and 'The Barretts of Wimpole Street' in 1934 and he made it clear to Paramount that he wanted to play the role of Ruggles. He knew that Leo McCarey had worked on many film comedies,with top comic actors including Laurel and Hardy, and he named McCarey as his choice as director for 'Ruggles of Red Gap'. McCarey makes the most of the story and fully justifies his choice.
The movie was filmed at Paramount Ranch in Agoura, California. The original start of filming was delayed as Charles Laughton, who had had his head shaved for his previous role as Mr Micawber in 'David Copperfield', needed time to regrow his hair. Then during filming Laughton was hospitalised with a rectal abscess and required weeks of treatment.
One of the highlights of the film is the recital by Laughton as Ruggles, of Lincoln's Gettysburg address. The scene so affected Laughton that it took a day and a half to film it without Laughton breaking down. The scene was a big hit with audiences of the time and is still a delight today.
Main CastThe cast is well chosen and and beautifully balanced, interacting with each other with unerring timing. Laughton, of course, dominates in his understated way, but the other players perform well too.
Charles Laughton ... Marmaduke Ruggles
Mary Boland ... Effie Floud
Charlie Ruggles ... Egbert Floud
ZaSu Pitts ... Mrs. Judson
Roland Young ... Earl of Burnstead
Leila Hyams ... Nell Kenner
Maude Eburne ... "Ma" Pettingill
Lucien Littlefield ... Charles Belknap-Jackson
Leota Lorraine ... Mrs. Belknap-Jackson
James Burke ... Jeff Tuttle
Dell Henderson ... Sam
Clarence Wilson ... Jake Henshaw
Charles Laughton (1899-1962) Laughton gives a comic tour de force of rare subtlety in one of his few comedic roles. His facial expressions alone are extremely funny and he carries the whole film seemingly effortlessly. Laughton went on to become one of the great acting names of the English speaking world and gave unforgettable performances in such films as 'Mutiny on the Bounty' in 1935, 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' in 1939 and 'Hobson's Choice' in 1954.
Mary Boland (1882-1965) As Effie, the social-climbing wife of Egbert, Mary Boland oozes a delightful fussiness. She began her Broadway career in 1907 and became a silent movie actress in 1915. After returning to the theater in 1920, she went back to movies in 1931 after 11 years and became well known for her comedic roles, often opposite Charlie Ruggles, and for her appearances in dramatic movies such as 'The Women' in 1939 and 'Pride and Prejudice' in 1940.
Charlie Ruggles(1886-1970) It is ironic but no more than pure coincidence that a film with a character named Ruggles in the title should have an actor named Ruggles in a main role. After training to be a doctor Charlie Ruggles took to the stage and then became a movie actor. For years through the 1930's he appeared with Mary Boland as the mild-mannered husband dominated by his wife. In a long career he appeared in about 100 movies with his best known role that of the big-game hunter in 'Bringing Up Baby' in 1938.
ZaSu Pitts. (1894-1963) As Ruggles' girl, Prunella, Zasu Pitts is at her dithering best. Born Eliza Susan Pitts she made her stage debut in 1915 and entered movies 2 years later, becoming a well known face within a few years. In 1922 she starred in a tragic role in Von Stroheim's classic, 'Greed'. She continued as a comedy stalwart through the advent of Talkies and became a regular on early television shows with her trademark woebegone look and fluttery hands.
CreditsDirector ... Leo McCarey
Producer ... Arthur Hornblow Jr.
Screenplay ... Walter DeLeon, Harlan Thompson
Based on ... The novel "Ruggles of Red Gap" by Harry Leon Wilson
Music ... John Leipold, Heinz Roemheld (uncredited)
Cinematography ... Alfred Gilks
Distribution Company ... Paramount Pictures
Release date ... March 8, 1935
Running time ... 90 minutes
Academy AwardsNo Wins:
One Unsuccessful Nomination:
Best Picture ... Arthur Hornblow Jr.