OF RED GAP
/ DVD. Eureka
box office hit in 1935, where it helped cement Charles Laughton’s
reputation and give him a new string to his bow as a comic actor,
Ruggles of Red Gap is a charming, in fairly inconsequential
culture-clash comedy that holds up pretty well.
Laughton plays the title character, a stuffy English butler who
is won in a poker game (because apparently, butlers back then
were only one step up from slaves) from the Earl of Burnstead
(Roland Young) by crass, wealthy American Egbert Floud (Charlie
Ruggles) and his social-climber wife Effie (Mary Boland). Taking
him home to Red Gap in Washington, the pair have very different
attitudes towards their new man – while Effie wants to show
him off, Egbert is content to treat him as an equal, taking him
along to social drinking functions. Slowly, Ruggles starts to
become his own man, revealing a mischievous, anarchic and strong-willed
side that benefits from being in a country where ‘everyone
is equal’ (as the film likes to remind us).
Going for gentle chuckles rather than belly laughs, director Leo
McCarey avoids the glorious insanity and slapstick of his work
with Laurel and Hardy and The Marx Brothers to deliver a charming,
unthreatening comedy of manners (or the lack of them). The film
mocks both English stuffiness and American nouveau riche pretensions,
but ultimately it’s a dig at the class system with its rigid
rules. Ruggles dreads the idea of moving to America, but once
there, is able to break out of the social straitjacket that has
bound his family for generations.
Good-natured, easy going and unpretentious, Ruggles of
Red Gap probably seemed quite quaint even at the time,
compared to the smart screwball comedies emerging during the same
period. But its fish-out-of-water theme has proved a popular one
over the years, and the movie is a surprisingly sweet tale, with
a genuinely lovely performance from Laughton at its centre.
This new Blu-ray edition comes complete with three Ruggles radio
plays (starring Laughton and Ruggles) to extend your fun. clear.
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