For Reel

Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)
March 11, 2014, 4:30 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Leo McCarey
5 Stars
Ruggles of Red GapCharles Laughton often cited the titular Ruggles of Ruggles of Red Gap as his favorite character that he ever played on screen. It’s a role that allowed him to embrace his comedic side more fully (which he would eventually use to great effect in films like The Canterville Ghost and Hobson’s Choice), but moreover the film gave him the ideal vehicle to present a romantic ode to both democracy and to his adopted country. The film traces the journey of an English manservant (Laughton) who is gambled away to a frontier millionaire (Charles Ruggles) and his wife (Mary Boland) in the small western town of Red Gap. Ruggles is initially uncomfortable with the drastic change of setting, however he comes to love the new opportunities he’s been granted and finally begins to see himself as an equal to his fellow man. The earnestly patriotic sentiment is consistent with the America that Capra would mythologize in the late 30s/early 40s, but the crucial detail that differentiates this narrative is the lack of a singular everyman. Ruggles is an outsider to both Red Gap and the audience initially–his intensely formal mannerisms early in the picture set him at a distance from the average movie-goer. The journey, then, is not for one noble man to create a social or political change, but rather for this outsider to assimilate with the rough-and-tumble westerners, who are presented as morally superior to the snobbish, self-important European upper class. It’s as optimistic a vision of American democracy and the country’s people that has ever been put to screen, and the miracle is that (save for Laughton’s impassioned recitation of the Gettysburg address) it never feels overly-preachy–it’s patriotism slyly works its way into the picture undetected until almost the very end.

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