"Four score and seven years ago..."
If you're wondering why my opening quote features the beginning of the Gettysburg Address, it's because that speech plays a pivotal role in the film I'm about to review. It's Ruggles of Red Gap, a comedy starring Charles Laughton and Mary Boland.
Set in 1908, Ruggles (Charles Laughton) is a butler living in Paris with his master the Earl of Burnstead (Roland Young). When Ruggles is bought off by the American cowboy Egbert Floud (Charles Ruggles; no relations to the story in any way), Ruggles, Egbert, and his social wife Effie (Mary Boland) head to the American town of Red Gap. There, Ruggles is mistaken as a British officer, but becomes a popular fellow, though the social town leader Belknap-Jackson (Lucien Littlefield) is suspicious about it. Soon, Ruggles is intrigued by democracy and intends to make his mark in America.
The film also features Lelia Hyams as singer and dancer Neil Kenner and Zasu Pitts as the cook Mrs. Judson, who develops a crush on Ruggles.
Ruggles of Red Gap is famous for two things. First, it's famous for a scene where Ruggles recites the Gettysburg Address, which basically sums up the whole message of the film where foreigners can succeed in America like any other American. The other famous scene is where The Earl is taught how to play the drums. And yes, that sequence was pretty funny.
I enjoyed Ruggles of Red Gap cause it had heart. Charles Laughton was great as Ruggles. With his self-determination on the American Dream, his focus on American life makes me root for the character even more. The scene where he quotes the Gettysburg Address was known for moving audiences during the day, with many cheering after that scene, and it helped them survive The Great Depression, which was big at that time.
Charles Ruggles had some laughs as the American cowboy, Mary Boland is a hoot as Effie, the social-intending wife, and Lucian Littlefield is memorable as Belknap-Jackson. Roland Young was a bit of a bore as the Earl of Burnstead, but the scene where he plays the drums is surprisingly funny. The biggest miscast however, was Zasu Pitts as Ruggles' love interest. This woman annoyed me. Her voice sounded like she blew a ginormous balloon, released it, and felt all the helium. It's that annoying.
If I enjoyed the majority of the cast and the American patriotism in this, then why is my score not 100%, like the general Tomatometer score? Well, for starters, it lacked pure humor. Yes, there were some comedic sequences I enjoyed such as Mary Boland screaming, a drunken Ruggles hollering "Woopee", and the Earl learning to play the drums, but the majority of the humor focused on Laughton's facial expressions. While that kind of humor works in some comedies (look at Donald O'Connor in Singin' in the Rain), for the role of Charles Laughton as Ruggles, it didn't, cause Laughton is too big a guy to carry humor out of facial expressions. For someone his height, he should have done more "Whoopees" when his character was gassed. My opinions sound stupid, but that's what I felt about the majority of the humor in Ruggles of Red Gap.
But, that doesn't mean I hate Ruggles of Red Gap. In reality, I mostly enjoyed the film. Sure the film had a little too much focus on humor that isn't that super funny, but Ruggles of Red Gap had some entertaining performance, mostly coming from Charles Laughton and Mary Boland, some true American spirit, and some heart. It's not the funniest film I've seen, but with the patriotism, I give it a decently positive score.