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 <email@example.com>
Director Leo McCarey, in his heyday a famous director and rival of Frank Capra's, and now largely forgotten, made one of his best films, Ruggles Of Red Gap, adapted from Harry Leon Wilson's novel, in 1935. It tells the story of a meek English butler named Ruggles, who is "lost" in a poker game by his boss, an English earl. Living out west, in Washington state, he is gradually assimilated into American life, makes himself somewhat of a local celebrity, and falls in love along the way. That's about all there is to the story, and it's more than enough in director McCarey's capable hands.
As Ruggles, Charles Laughton is more restrained than he's ever been, and gives a fine comedic performance of rare delicacy. There's none of the usual hamming one expects of him. As his new "bosses", Egbert and Effie Floud, Charlie Ruggles and Mary Boland are wonderful as middle-aged denizens of the Pacific northwest. As Ruggles' girl, Prunella, Zasu Pitts is at her dithering best; while Roland Young is sly and stylish as the earl. The actors interact with exquisite timing, with no one missing a beat, as was nearly always the case with McCarey, who had a rare feeling for the way people actually behave,--as opposed to the way movie people do--which makes his films, when good, a special treat.
This movie is a classic, if a quiet one, and used to be far better known than it is today, which is a pity. Capra's films are shown all the time, while McCarey', aside from his two "Catholic" films of the mid-forties, Going My Way and Bells Of St. Mary's, tend by be neglected. There are no "big scenes" in this one, but an awful lot of brilliant little ones, as when Roland Young learns how to play the drums; or when Charle Laughton recites the Gettysburg Address, the latter the high point of the film, and its most famous moment. One can't help but think, after seeing this movie, that all's right with the world. It isn't, of course, and never has been, but it's awfully nice to feel that way without having to resort to drugs or alcohol. For that one can think Mr. McCarey.
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