Ruggles of Red Gap Blu-ray

Wednesday, 20 June 2012 14:35

Ruggles of Red Gap in a Blu-ray and DVD set“Ruggles of Red Gap” is an amusing black and white comedy from the 1930s starring Charles Laughton of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” fame. Laughton plays a very prim and proper man servant who discovers one morning that he has been casually given away in a game of poker. Even worse, his new boss is a shameless and very wealthy American, quite a different proposition to the classy British Lord (Roland Young – “Topper”) he previously served.

His new master is Egbert Floud (the confusingly-named Charles Ruggles – “Bringing Up Baby”), a man who lives under the thumb of his bossy wife Effie (Mary Boland – “Six of a Kind”) in Red Gap, Washington, USA. Red Gap is a Western town full of cowboys and laid back folk who like to party. Needless to say, it takes Ruggles quite some time to adapt to his new masters and their way of life, but adjust he does and along the way makes some major self-discoveries.

This picture was directed by Leo McCarey, a man responsible for some truly classic comedies from a golden era such as “Duck Soup”, and he also masterminded the creation of my all-time favourite double-act, Laurel and Hardy. “Ruggles” has quite a lot in common with that duo’s output, though it contains less outright slapstick humour and also had a serious message to pass on.

Laughton puts in a fantastic performance as the fish-out-of-water servant who struggles to cope with his new master’s treatment of him as more of a friend and confidant than an employee at his beck and call. Egbert is constantly leading him astray, coercing him into sharing an alcoholic drink or three, and encouraging him to drop his ingrained sense etiquette.

Much of the humour in the film focuses on these moments, such as when Ruggles refuses to get into a horse-drawn cab before his very insistent boss, with the daft result of the two of them going round and round the cab, through both sets of doors so that one is always behind the other, and neither is prepared to concede.

The film delights in exposing how stuffy and bogged-down well-to-do Europeans are in comparison with their much more enthusiastic and free-living American cousins. The movie opens in Paris in 1908 where Egbert and his wife are visiting, and Ruggles and the Lord live. Whilst out on a trip around the city, Egbert and his newly-won companion bump into another American, a rowdy friend of Egbert’s. They all get drunk in Effie’s absence, whooping and fooling around to the utter disgust of everyone else around them.

The film’s core message concerns Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, which Ruggles studies as part of his reading-up on American history and which, tellingly, none of the people he encounters in the local bar can quote or even paraphrase. In a jarring scene that stands in stark contrast to the light-hearted tone seen elsewhere, Ruggles earnestly recites the speech from memory, with the other bar customers enraptured by his words. Quite how the concept of equality and liberty for all sits with the terrible treatment of native Americans is not explained!

The movie also satirises the concept of celebrity through a funny piece of mistaken identity, brought on by some creative journalism concerning Ruggles. I cannot say much more than that without giving a key plot point away, but suffice to say that it goes hand-in-hand with the equality vibe.

On Blu-ray (the version reviewed), the new restoration is definitely sharper and more detailed than the DVD edition, and although there is a fair amount of grain it is only a minor inconvenience when you appreciate that the film was made almost 80 years ago!

Special features included in this dual-format release include:

  • New high-definition master, officially licensed from Universal Pictures
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired
  • Optional music and effects track
  • Exclusive video interview with Laughton biographer Simon Callow (black and white, HD)
  • ‘Ruggles on the Radio’: three adaptations made for radio broadcast, all featuring Charles Laughton and Charlie Ruggles in a reprisal of their famous roles
  • Laughton reciting Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, originally released as a 78-rpm record in 1937
  • A 32-page booklet featuring a new and exclusive essay by filmmaker and critic Dan Sallitt and rare archival imagery

Callow proves to be a very animated and enthusiastic exponent of Laughton’s work, and mentions that the actor was disillusioned with class and the concept of domestic servitude in England, admiring an idyllic notion of American democracy and equality.

I went into this movie blind as to what to expect, and came out really enjoying it. Please do not let its age or the fact that it is presented in black and white put you off; the central story is as engaging now as it was when the film was originally released.

“Ruggles of Red Gap” (1935) is out now on dual-format Blu-ray and DVD (both discs in one box), courtesy of Eureka Entertainment. The main feature has a running time of 91 minutes approx, carries a ‘PG’ certificate and retails for £19.99, or less from

Last modified on Monday, 23 July 2012 10:41

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