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While visiting Paris in 1908, upper class Lord Burnstead loses his butler playing poker. Egbert and Effie Floud bring Ruggles back to Red Gap, Washington. Effie wants to take advantage of Ruggles' upper class background to influence Egbert's hick lifestyle. However, Egbert is more interested in partying and he takes Ruggles to the local 'beer bust'. When word gets out that "Colonel Ruggles is staying with his close friends" in the local paper, the butler becomes a town celebrity. After befriending Mrs. Judson, a widow who he impresses with his culinary skills, Ruggles decides to strike out on his own and open a restaurant. His transition from servant to independent man will depend on its success. Written by
Gary Jackson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Ruggles of Red Gap is the warm and tender story of Charles Laughton, gentlemen's gentlemen to Lord Roland Young who loses his services in a poker game to American western tourist Charlie Ruggles and his wife Mary Boland. Ruggles has some ideas about class distinction and one's proper place in society and he's in for quite a culture shock when he's brought back to the western town of Red Gap in Washington State.
In a way Ruggles of Red Gap is the polar opposite of The Earl of Chicago where an American gangster Robert Montgomery inherits an English title and experiences a reverse culture shock. In that film Montgomery has an English valet in Edmund Gwenn who indoctrinates him in reverse of what Laughton experiences. Of course things turn out a whole lot better for Marmaduke Ruggles than for the Earl of Kinmont.
In a way Ruggles of Red Gap may have been Charles Laughton's most personal film. In his life he became an American citizen because he preferred the American view of no titles of nobility and that one had better opportunities here than in Europe. It caused a certain amount of friction between Laughton and some other British players.
Laughton up to then had played a whole lot of bigger than life parts like Nero, Henry VIII, Captain Bligh, Edward Moulton Barrett, parts that called for a lot of swagger. Marmaduke Ruggles is a different kind of man. Self contained, shy, and unsure of himself in new surroundings. But Laughton pulls it off beautifully. It's almost Quasimodo without the grotesque make up. Also very much like the school teacher in This Land is Mine.
Charlie Ruggles and Mary Boland never fail to entertain, they worked beautifully together in a number of films in the early Thirties. They always were a married couple, Boland a very haughty woman with some exaggerated ideas of her own importance and her ever patient and somewhat henpecked husband Charlie. In Ruggles of Red Gap, Charlie Ruggles is a little less henpecked.
My guess is that Zasu Pitts played the role she did because Elsa Lanchester might have been busy elsewhere. I believe she was making the Bride of Frankenstein around this time. Pitts's scenes with Laughton resonate the same way as some of Charles Laughton's best work with his wife.
The highlight of Ruggles of Red Gap has always been Laughton's recital of The Gettysburg Address. In a scene in a saloon where none of the American born people can remember anything of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Laughton the immigrant recited it from memory. It was a harbinger of some of Laughton's later recitals which I remember as a kid on the Ed Sullivan show. The scene is a tribute to all the immigrants who come here because of the ideals this country is supposed to represent. Sometimes our immigrants have taken it more seriously than those who were born here. Immigrants like Charles Laughton.
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