Ruggles of Red Gap (DVD Review)1 Feb, 2010 By: Mike Clark
Available Now via Amazon.com CreateSpace
Stars Charles Laughton, Zasu Pitts, Charles Ruggles, Mary Boland.
“For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” gets its most moving screen rendering — in a jolly good comedy.
From the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup through decade-ending Love Affair, director Leo McCarey was probably Frank Capra’s foremost artistic rival in 1930s Hollywood. The 1935 effort Ruggles of Red Gap is McCarey’s gentle jewel, epochs overdue on DVD, which, for lead Charles Laughton, kicked off one of the greatest single years any actor has ever enjoyed (classic malevolent roles in Les Miserables and Mutiny on the Bounty followed, boom boom).
Laughton is a British valet won in a poker game by nouveau riche types (snobbish wife, “regular” husband) in Washington state. Based on a play and the best-of-screen versions before and after (the last was 1950’s Technicolor, on-DVD Bob Hope-Lucille Ball comedy Fancy Pants), this story of burgeoning egalitarianism opens too leisurely but blooms sublimely in its final hour.
Laughton’s barroom recitation of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is justly famed, and he considered it one of the hallmarks of his 30-year screen career.
The recent availability of this best picture Oscar nominee is a nice lead-in to Criterion’s much-awaited Feb. 23 release of McCarey’s never-more-topical 1937 tearjerker Make Way for Tomorrow — from the same year as The Awful Truth, the screwball comedy masterpiece that won the director his first of two Oscars, though he thought Tomorrow the better movie.