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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 <email@example.com>
American comedy was at its strongest in the 1930s and '40s. Ruggles of Red Gap is a great representative of that era. There hasn't been an American movie in the past two, maybe three decades that's as funny as this one. Ruggles of Red Gap begins with one of the funniest premises imaginable: a British butler, Marmaduke Ruggles (Charles Laughton), is won from his lord (Roland Young) in a poker game by a wily American (Charlie Ruggles) whose pretentious wife (Mary Boland, Ruggles' constant co-star) wants the butler to teach him some manners. The first half-hour is easily the strongest section in the film, with Ruggles (I'll be referring to the actors) the fish-out-of-water in Paris, trying to sidestep his conniving wife and teach Laughton, steeped in the servant tradition, to let himself go and have some fun. When the two men are supposed to be at the Louvre, Ruggles drags his new manservant to a sidewalk establishment and orders them some beers. A fellow resident of Red Gap (the town in Washington State where Ruggles and Boland live, and to where they will later take Laughton) sees Ruggles there and they cause a huge scene with their Wild West antics. They even get poor Laughton drunk, for perhaps the first time in his life, and he learns the most useful of American phrases: "Yippee!" He also learns how to smile. Boland is at her strongest in the first section, as well. Her attempts to speak French are hilarious. "Trays amazing!" she bungles.
When the crew arrives in America, the film loses a bit of its steam, but not much. It has a great story, unlike many of the other great comedies being made at the time (which relied on caricatures like W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers), and that keeps it entertaining. Laughton is such a delight to behold, and he meets up with a lovely woman played by the undervalued character actress Zasu Pitts, best remembered for her neurotic wife role in Erich von Stroheim's 1925 masterpiece Greed. I have only seen her in two non-Greed movies, counting Ruggles of Red Gap, but she's obviously a huge comic talent. Laughton may be the star, but Charlie Ruggles, also a semi-forgotten comic master, steals the movie from him. Boland is funniest when the film is in Paris, but she's still pretty good afterwards. Another scene stealer is Roland Young. I love his mumbling way of speaking. He comes back later in the movie and has a great scene where he learns to play the drums. Leo McCarey is one of comedy's finest directors in comedy's finest era. What a wonderful film this is! 9/10.
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