Before TV, jet planes and cell phones, there used to be a big difference between the city and the country. Just look at the countless Hollywood movies that play on the misunderstandings between the sophisticated city dweller and the rube. In the more ironic world of instant access, these types of stories don’t have the same affect. But I still like the old Ma and Pa Kettle movies, and I enjoyed “Green Acres” on TV. And I recommend a viewing of “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House,” where Cary Grant decides to buy a fixer-upper house in the Connecticut “wilderness,” only to find that the locals move at their own pace.
One of the most outstanding movies of this type happens to be “Ruggles of Red Gap,” a classic made by Paramount Pictures and released in 1935. This film, directed by Leo McCarey, stars the brilliant Charles Laughton as Marmaduke Ruggles, a gentleman’s gentleman in Paris to the English Earl of Burnstead (Roland Young). The Earl loses Ruggles in a poker match against Egbert Floud (Charles Ruggles), and his crass but social climbing wife Effie (Mary Boland) is determined to take Ruggles back to their modest and unsophisticated town of Red Gap, Washington, USA.
The bickering Flouds take on Ruggles, but Egbert is determined to have his fun. Even though Effie sends Ruggles out to make sure Egbert receives some culture at the Louvre Museum, Egbert entices Ruggles to spend the day drinking with him. For the first time in his life, the uncomfortable and meek Ruggles experiences excitement and freedom. Later, when the Flouds take him to Red Gap, he creates a sensation among the townsfolk, who think he’s a genuine English colonel. Much to Effie’s displeasure, things don’t turn out as well as she’d hoped.
Much to Ruggle’s surprise, he takes a liking to the people of Red Gap, including a widow named Mrs. Judson (Zazu Pitts). She pulls Ruggles even further away from his former life and makes him feel like he can make it go of it in America. It’s fun to watch Ruggles slowly come out of his shell and finally make some important decisions for himself. Later we learn that Ruggles always appreciated the American spirit as he performs a beautiful and perfect recital of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
Charles Ruggle’s (no relation to Marmaduke) over-the-top performance as Egbert grates at times, but he nevertheless delivers some of the most hilariously corny lines. Roland Young shines as the pragmatic earl, who eventually joins with Egbert in having some fun in Red Gap. Leila Hyams plays Nell Kenner, a popular and lovely woman in Red Gap who throws the best parties. Her musical performance on piano with Roland Young on the drums is a highlight of the film.