Ruggles of Red Gap (1935): Leo McCarey’s Oscar-Nominated Political Comedy, Starring Charles Laughton

Charles Laughton gives a wonderful performance as the valet Marmaduke Ruggles in Leo McCarey’s 1935 “Ruggles of Red Gap,” a savvy political comedy that contrasts values of British aristocracy with those of American democracy. Among other things, the picture became known for a splendid, touching scene, in which the intoxicated Laughton recites Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in a saloon to a hushed audience of barflies and maverick cowhands.

The witty screenplay, by Walter DeLeon, Harlan Thompson, and Humphrey Pearson is based on the novel and play by Harvey Leon Wilson, a gifted but little unknown man of letters.

When the tale begins, George Van Bassingwell (Roland Young), Ruggles’ aristocratic but impoverished English master, loses him in a poker game in Paris to visiting American rancher named Egbert Floud (Charles Ruggles).

After a wild night on the town, Ruggles packs his belongings and goes out West to Red Gap, a frontier town, where the local residents mistake him fro a blueblood. Quickly adopting the American Dream and its upward mobility values, Ruggles decides that he no longer needs to be a servant. To that extent, he gets himself a wife (ZaSu Pitts), leaves Ruggles and his pretentious wife (Mary Boland) and opens a small business, a restaurant. Before long, Bassingwell himself visits town and decides to stay there.

This classic poignant Anglo-American fable is directed by McCarey with verve but customary restrained style that perfectly serve the text and the actors. McCarey, one of the best American directors, also directed the sophisticated marital comedy, “The Awful Truth (1937), starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, and the 1944 Oscar-winner “Going My Way.”

McCarey’s is the third version of a movie previously done in 1918 with Taylor Holmes and in 1923 starring Edward Everett Horton. In 1950, the comedy was disappointingly remade as “Fancy Pants,” a star vehicle for Bob Hope.
Laughton failed to receive a Best Actor nomination for this picture, but he was nominated the same year for “Mutiny on the Bounty,” which swept won Best Picture (see below). Laughton had won the Oscar for the biopic, “The Private Life of Henry III,” in 1933.

Cast

Marmaduke Ruggles (Charles Laughton)
Egbert Floud (Charlie Ruggles)
Effie Floud (Mary Boland)
Earl of Burstead (Roland Young)
Mrs. Judson (ZaSu Pitts)
Nell Kenner (Leila Hyams)
Ma Pettingill (Maude Eburne)
Charles Belknap-Jackson (Lucien Littlefield)
Mrs. Belknap-Jackson (Leota Lorraine)
Jeff Tuttle (James Burke)

Credits

Running Time: 76 Minutes

Produced by Arthur Hornblow Jr.
Directed by Leo mcCarey
Screenplay: Walter DeLeon, Harlan Thompson, and Humphrey Pearson, based on the novel and play by Harvey Leon Wilson.
Camera: Alfred Gilkes
Editor: Edward Dmytryk
Music: Ralph Rainger, Sam Goslow
Art direction: Hans Dreier, Robert Odell.
Costume: Travis Banton.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Picture (produced by Arthur Hornblow Jr.)

Oscar Context

Ruggles of Red Gap competed for the Best Picture Oscar with eleven films: Alice Adams, Broadway Melody of 1936, Captain Blood, David Copperfield, The Informer, Lives of a Bengal Lancer, A Midsummer Nights Dream, Mutiny on the Bounty, Naughty Marietta, and Top Hat.

Mutiny of the Bounty won Best Picture.