Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Charles Laughton doing comedy

TCM's prime time lineup tonight kicks off with the interesting comedy Ruggles of Red Gap, at 8:00 PM ET.

The title is interesting in that Ruggles refers to the name of Laughton's character, Marmaduke Ruggles, as well as the name of one of the other stars, comic actor Charlie Ruggles. Charlie Ruggles' character is not named Ruggles, however, but Egbert Flout. He's a cattle rancher from Red Gap, Washington, USA, who's been dragged to Paris by his overbearing wife Effie (Mary Boland) who is attempting to get her husband some culture in him. However, he'd be happer playing poker, and in one of the poker games, he wins the contract of Marmaduke Ruggles, who is the valet of and English earl (played by Roland Young).

Egbert doesn't really need a valet, but the Mrs. could certainly find a man around the house to do some of the chores helpful. So, the two bring Marmaduke back to the American West with them. Having been introduced to the USA, though, and not particularly caring for Mrs. Floud, Marmaduke if anything becomes the embodiment of the American melting pot. He becomes just as American as everybody else in town (accent aside), and decides he wants to get his own piece of the American dream by opening up a restuarant, helped ably by ZaSu Pitts, with whom he's also beginning to fall in love.

Charlie Ruggles, you'd expect to find in a comedy; Laughton, not so much. One of the results of this is that Charlie Ruggles does just as good a job as you'd expect him to do (and it's a pretty darn good job at that). Laughton, on the other hand, surprises. He was such a good actor that he could do all sorts of things, and comedy turns out to be just one more thing he could do well. The only false step he makes isn't even really his fault; it's a scene in which he shows that he's become more American than everybody else in town by reciting the Gettysburg Address. It's a stilted scene, and one that looks as though it was shoehorned into the movie, but Laughton does the best he can with it.

Ruggles of Red Gap has been released to DVD, but is apparently only available at Amazon.

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