Ruggles of Red Gap (1935, Leo McCarey)

Great comedy, funny, I loved the hell out of it. Katy liked too.

Ruggles (large-faced auteur Charles Laughton) is a butler for the Earl of Burnstead (Roland Young: Topper in Topper and Uriah Heep in David Copperfield). The Burnstead family and the Ruggles family have been in the same Earl/butler relationship for centuries. Along comes the American New Rich to shake things up: wild-west Egbert (Charlie Ruggles, still recognizable by his eyes over the thick mustache) and his haughty wife Effie, who win Ruggles in a card game and move him from Paris to Red Gap, Washington, USA. Egbert treats Ruggles as a buddy rather than a servant and keeps calling him “colonel”, so when they arrive in Red Gap, Ruggles is mistaken for an important guest in Egbert and Effie’s house, and Effie has to keep up the charade to avoid embarrassment. Ultimately there’s no escaping embarrassment for stuck-up Effie, and Ruggles takes advantage of the goodwill he’s acquired in town and the sense of freedom imbued by the American West to open his own (assumed successful) restaurant, cuddle (implied) with his sweetie (also implied) boot his rival out the building, and get publicly applauded at the end.

Ruggles is a great character. He’s not exactly the typical stuffy butler who gradually learns to relax – he seems from the start to have an inner life, and he adjusts relatively easily from selfless servant to personable entrepreneur. Overall much funnier class commentary than in The Rules of the Game, yet you don’t hear Cahiers du cinema all calling this the best film ever made. Based on a play and filmed a few other times, including a silent with E. Everett Horton as Ruggles, and in technicolor with Bob Hope and Lucille Ball. McCarey directed this soon after a Marx bros. movie and before a Harold Lloyd movie. Appropriately, we watched it soon after a Marx bros. movie and before a Harold Lloyd movie (neither one by McCarey, sorry bud).

character Ruggles (left) with actor Ruggles (right):

Besides being a great director, Charles Laughton was in everything from Whale’s The Old Dark House to Kubrick’s Spartacus. Silent star turned successful comedy/drama character actress Zasu Pitts is Ruggles’ dark-haired love interest, and Leila Hyams (also a silent star, best known for playing the nice girl in Freaks) is a blonde singer, a hot young society gal. I wanna say that Lucien Littlefield (Scandal Sheet, The Bitter Tea of General Yen) played the asshole who tried to keep Ruggles down.