Cast & Crew
In Paris in the spring of 1908, the Earl of Burnstead regretfully informs his manservant, Marmaduke Ruggles, that he has lost Ruggles in a poker game to the genial, but roughhewn millionaire Egbert "Sourdough" Floud, who, on the insistence of his dominating, society-conscious wife Effie, intends to take Ruggles to their home in Red Gap, Washington. Before they leave Paris, however, Ruggles, who is assigned to oversee his new master's cultural education, begins to fall under Egbert's egalitarian influence, getting drunk and abandoning many of his professional traditions. In Red Gap, Egbert continues to treat Ruggles as an equal. He playfully introduces Ruggles as a colonel and generates a false newspaper article that obliges Effie and her snobbish brother-in-law, Charles Belknap-Jackson, to pretend that Ruggles is an honored guest instead of a servant. When Belknap-Jackson dismisses Ruggles, he sadly packs his bags and, while waiting for the train, enters the Silver Dollar Saloon. There, Egbert and his wealthy, down-to-earth mother-in-law, "Ma" Pettingill, are outraged to learn that Belknap-Jackson fired Ruggles without their consent. A discussion of egalitarianism ensues, and when no one in the bar can remember President Abraham Lincoln's address at Gettysburg, Ruggles recites the speech in full from memory to the astonishment of the crowd. He then decides to become the first Ruggles in generations to quit being a manservant and go into business for himself. With the help of widow Prunella Judson, a local woman with whom he is smitten, and a business loan from Egbert and Ma, Ruggles begins work on his restaurant. When Effie informs Ruggles of the impending visit of the Earl of Burnstead, who wants him to return to his service, Ruggles' loyalty to the earl and to his profession causes him to hesitate. When the earl arrives and Ruggles is found missing, Prunella fears he may have jumped in the river, but his Americanization has gone too far; he shows up and declares his independence to the earl, who congratulates him. The night Ruggles' Anglo-American Grill opens, Effie, Belnap-Jackson and their society friends are among the guests. When the earl arrives with his bride, Nell Kenner, a dancer and native of Red Gap, Belnap-Jackson insults the earl for marrying beneath his class, and Ruggles throws him out. Returning to the kitchen, Ruggles fears the incident has caused his ruin, but the earl gives a speech in Ruggles' honor. The crowd then breaks into a chorus of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow," and Ruggles is overjoyed to realize they are singing, not for the earl, but for him.
J. W. Johnston
Edward Le Saint
Isabelle La Mal
C. L. Sherwood
Ernest S. Adams
A. F. Erickson
Robert M. Gillham
Arthur Hornblow Jr.
William Slavens Mcnutt
Phil G. Wisdom
Ruggles of Red Gap
After winning praise for more serious roles, Laughton specifically requested that Paramount cast him in a film version of Harry Leon Wilson's novel (which had been adapted to the stage as a musical in 1915). The story had already been filmed twice before as a silent, first with Taylor Holmes and Virginia Valli in 1918 and then with James Cruze directing Edward Everett Horton and Fritzi Ridgeway in 1923.
For his first feature comedy, Laughton wanted to work with only the best, so he specifically requested Leo McCarey as his director. McCarey was the man who had teamed Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy and had been instrumental in shaping their comic personae. Wanting that kind of comic inspiration behind his work, Laughton worked closely with McCarey and various writers on shaping the screenplay and developing comic business for his character. When he felt his character wasn't sufficiently British, he asked the studio to import an old friend, British writer Arthur Macrae. Although not credited, Macrae wrote some of Laughton's best lines in Ruggles of Red Gap.
Laughton didn't get his way on everything, however. He wanted stage actress Gordon cast as the Widow Judson, but whether Paramount turned him down (Gordon had only been in one film, as an extra in the 1915 silent The Whirl of Life) or she was unavailable (she was appearing on Broadway as the film was shooting) is not clear. But Pitts, an established eccentric comedienne known for her fluttery gestures and bewildered line readings, was an inspired choice.
Paramount definitely had an interest in casting Charlie Ruggles as the rancher who brings Laughton West and Mary Boland as Ruggles' wife. The studio had invested in the two as a comic team after scene-stealing performances as married couples in The Night of June 13th and Evenings for Sale (both 1932). Their first starring vehicle together, Mama Loves Papa (1933), had been a surprise hit. They would be teamed 14 times in all. It almost became 13, however, when work on another film threatened to pull Ruggles from Ruggles of Red Gap. Sidney Toler, best known for playing Charlie Chan, was signed to replace him, until delays on Ruggles made the original casting possible.
Laughton caused the delays. He was due to start Ruggles of Red Gap when he returned from MGM, where he had briefly played Micawber in David Copperfield (1935) until leaving the role by mutual agreement (he was replaced by another Paramount star, W.C. Fields). But he had shaved his head for the role, requiring a wait while his hair grew back in. Paramount asked MGM to pay for the delay. Then, during rehearsals Laughton had to be hospitalized for a rectal abscess, a painful condition that required weeks of treatment and continued to plague him through filming. Macrae and Laughton's wife, Elsa Lanchester, tried to divert him with stories of their visits to professional wrestling bouts and Aimee Semple McPherson's revival meetings. And Fields, hearing of the ailment, wired him, "HOPE THE HOLE THING IS BETTER."
Despite his discomfort, Laughton turned in an inspired performance. At the film's climax -- and in tribute to Laughton's adopted country -- Ruggles recites the Gettysburg Address to his new neighbors in Red Gap as the camera moves over the visibly moved listeners. The scene was a huge hit with audiences, often drawing applause at screenings. It also was responsible for bringing Abraham Lincoln's speech back into prominence at a time when it was not widely known. The scene so moved Laughton that it took him a day and a half to film it without breaking down. He would continue to perform the Gettysburg Address, as a closing day tribute to co-workers on Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) and, later, as part of his tours delivering dramatic readings.
Ruggles of Red Gap turned out to be a triumph for all involved. Reviewers were thrilled to see Laughton in a sympathetic, comic role. Writing in The New York Times, Andre Sennwald raved, "Ceasing his normal traffic with Dr. Freud and the devil, Mr. Laughton gives us a pudgy, droll and quite irresistible Ruggles who reveals only the briefest taint of the Laughton pathology." The film was cited, along with Mutiny on the Bounty, when the New York Film Critics voted him their first award for Best Actor. It also provided a boon for McCarey, who used it to move into major pictures. The following year he would direct Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth (1937), which brought him the Oscar® for Best Director.
The film would remain popular through the years, becoming a television staple when Paramount sold its library to the new medium in the '50s. By then, the studio had a new Ruggles to promote. Bob Hope co-starred with Lucille Ball in a loose musical remake, Fancy Pants, in 1950. In 1957, the television anthology Producer's Showcase presented a new musical version with Michael Redgrave as Ruggles, teaming with Jane Powell, David Wayne, Imogene Coca, Peter Lawford, Paul Lynde and Hal Linden.
Director: Leo McCarey
Producer: Arthur Hornblow, Jr.
Screenplay: Walter DeLeon, Harlan Thompson, Humphrey Pearson
Based on the play and the novel by Harry Leon Wilson
Cinematography: Alfred Gilks
Art Direction: Hans Dreier, Robert Odell
Music: Heinz Roemheld
Principal Cast: Charles Laughton (Marmaduke Ruggles), Mary Boland (Effie Floud), Charlie Ruggles (Egbert Floud), ZaSu Pitts (Mrs. Judson), Roland Young (George Van Bassingwell), Leila Hyams (Nell Kenner), Maude Eburne (Ma Pettingill), Lucien Littlefield (Charles Belknap-Jackson). BW-90m.
by Frank Miller
Simon Callow, Charles Laughton: A Difficult Actor IMDB
Ruggles of Red Gap
Harry Leon Wilson's novel was serialized in Saturday Evening Post and was adapted for the stage by Harrison Rhodes (New York, 25 December 1915). A production still for the film shows actress Georgia Caine in one scene, but her appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. On August 3, 1934, Daily Variety announced that Charlie Ruggles had been replaced by Sidney Toler because Ruggles was working on The Pursuit of Happiness. By 24 Aug, however, Ruggles was back in the cast so that Paramount could capitalize on the "team build-up" of Ruggles and Mary Boland. Their first film in which they played husband and wife was The Night of June 13 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.3137). In an early script, dated November 3, 1934 -three days before production began-Baby LeRoy is listed for the role of "Baby Judson," but was later replaced by Ricard Cezon. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, shooting on this film was delayed because Charles Laughton was returned to Paramount from M-G-M with a shaved head, after playing the part of Micawber in M-G-M's David Copperfield for two days. M-G-M dismissed Laughton and replaced him with W. C. Fields (for more information, see the entry on David Copperfield in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.0971) Paramount reportedly asked M-G-M to pay the studio for the delay.
Ruggles of Red Gap was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture of 1935, as were two other Laughton films: Les Miserables and Mutiny on the Bounty, which won the award (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.2900 and F3.3020). The New York Film Critics Circle, in their first annual award, selected Laughton as Best Actor of 1935 for his performance as Ruggles and his portrayal of Captain Bligh, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. Ruggles of Red Gap was one of Film Daily's "Ten Best Pictures of 1935" and was listed in the 1935-36 Motion Picture Almanac as a March 1935 "Box Office Champion." Although Ralph Rainger and Sam Coslow are credited with having written songs for this film, no titles were found. According to the autobiography of Elsa Lanchester, Laughton's wife, Paramount bought the story and appointed McCarey as director at Laughton's request. Before the film began shooting, Lanchester states, Laughton worked with McCarey and the film's writers on the script, and hired an old friend, Arthur MacRae, who later became a playwright in England, to add the "necessary Englishness" of Ruggles.
Reviews praised Laughton highly for his performance in this film. Daily Variety reported that "for the first time in pictures, he has not been cast as a psychopathic subject." Variety remarked that "it's not satire; it's not a pathological character study. Just plain comedy, and he's splendid, especially when he uses that dead pan." New York Times stated that "Laughton gives us a pudgy, droll and quite irresistible Ruggles who reveals only the briefest taint of the Laughton pathology." Laughton specifically was praised for his serious delivery of Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" to a silenced audience of barflies and cowboys in a saloon. Variety called McCarey's insertion of the speech "dangerous" and "audacious." Daily Variety reported that the sequence brought "sustained applause from the audience, due to Laughton's delivery." In an article in Saturday Evening Post in 1949, Laughton wrote that Ruggles became his favorite role. He referred to his reading of the "Gettysburg Address" in the film as "one of the most moving things that ever happened to me." According to a modern source, Laughton recited the address to the cast and crew of Mutiny on the Bounty on the last day of shooting on Catalina Island and again on the set of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. According to a modern source, Nazi Germany banned the release of any German-dubbed version of this film because of the Gettysburg Address speech.
A modern source also reports that Laughton wanted Ruth Gordon to play the role of Mrs. Judson. According to Lanchester's biography, while rehearsing for Ruggles of Red Gap, Laughton was hospitalized for several weeks for a rectal abscess. According to Daily Variety, following the box office success of this film, M-G-M optioned all of the Harry Leon Wilson "Ma Pettingill" stories, and Wilson joined the M-G-M writing staff on April 15, 1935. Paramount re-issued Ruggles of Red Gap in late August 1937. Wilson's story was the source of a 1918 Essanay film directed by Lawrence C. Windom, starring Taylor Holmes; a 1923 Famous Players-Lasky film directed by James Cruze and starring Edward Everett Horton ( entries); and the 1950 Paramount film, Fancy Pants, starring Bob Hope and Lucille Ball.