Eureka Entertainment // 1935 // 91 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard // July 4th, 2012
"What did Lincoln say at Gettysburg?"
When the Earl of Burnstead (Roland Young, Topper) uses him as a makeweight in a bet, articulate English valet Marmaduke Ruggles (Charles Laughton, Island of Lost Souls) finds himself in the employ of Egbert Floud (Charlie Ruggles), a loud, brash American who intends to take Ruggles back to the States. Initially reluctant to leave England behind for the dangers of turn-of-the-century America, Ruggles has his eyes opened to the possibilities life offers, thanks to the less formal nature of his new master.
An early example of the culture clash comedy, 1935's Ruggles of Red Gap may not be in tune with modern audiences raised on a diet of Adam Sandler movies, but for those appreciative of a gentler style of humor, director Leo McCarey's film offers fine entertainment.
Charles Laughton delivers a wonderful comedic performance that, initially at least, comes across as a little odd. It's fair to say that Laughton's mannerisms, not to mention the way he delivers his lines, take a little time to really bed in. Thankfully, once one has been given sufficient time to become accustomed to what Laughton is doing, Ruggles becomes an endearing creation. With Charlie Ruggles playing the brash American to Laughton's stilted Englishman, McCarey's comedy revels in the fun exchanges that make light of the cultural differences between the two nations.
Once Ruggles of Red Gap leaves Europe behind and arrives in the United States, the film takes a new tack, as it explores Ruggles' longing to be his own man. Generations of servitude have seen Ruggles neglect his own needs, but as he becomes more accustomed to the ways of "the land of the free," where "all men are created equal," his eyes are opened to the possibilities that life offers. It is at this point that Ruggles of Red Gap transcends from a ditzy comedy into something far more substantial.
This is a film built on the strength and depth of its characters. As such, it is the small character moments -- which are numerous throughout the course of Ruggles of Red Gap -- that elevate what could have been an overly formal affair into an absolute joy. A prime example of this is the beautiful interplay between Roland Young and Leila Hyams, who become acquainted over a musical number that is as funny as it is sweet. Critics might point to the film's relative lack of conflict -- the sole villain is distinctly of the pantomime variety=-its incidental light narrative, and its saccharine finale as proof of a lesser film. Although it wouldn't be unfair to say the film is so sweet it could cause diabetes, and there's never any doubt that things will end up just fine for Ruggles, to concern oneself with such matters would be to completely miss the point of the film.
Eureka's Ruggles of Red Gap (Blu-ray) (Region B) release features a sharp 1.37:1 1080p transfer, with deep blacks and a good level of detail. The picture shows few signs of damage, and really is impressive, considering the film's age. The DTS-HD Master Audio track delivers crisp dialogue. The special features kick off with Charles Laughton biographer Simon Callow discussing his lifelong love of Laughton, with a focus on Ruggles of Red Gap. "Ruggles on the Radio" offers up three radio adaptations of Ruggles of Red Gap, each featuring Charles Laughton and Charlie Ruggles, who reprise their roles from the motion picture original. Finally, we have the "Gettysburg Address." Following the film's popularity, a record of Laughton reciting Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was released in 1937 and is included here in its entirety.
A warm, funny, and ultimately uplifting celebration of life, love, and freedom, Ruggles of Red Gap is a forgotten classic from Hollywood's Golden Era that deserves to be discovered by a whole new generation of film lovers.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eureka Entertainment
* Full Frame (1080p)
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1935
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Radio Shows