An excellent example of this is on display in this lesser-seen gem starring the phenomenally talented Charles Laughton as Ruggles of Red Gap. Ruggles is a very proper manservant to Lord Burnstead in England. His employer, however, offers him as chattel as part of a bet that he loses in a poker game to some unusual Americans, Egbert and Effie Floud (Charles Ruggles and Mary Boland). Effie is thrilled beyond belief that this valet will be able to influence her wealthy, but decidedly uncultured, husband. But Egbert has other ideas. He is glad to have a new buddy and introduces Ruggles as “the Colonel” to the townsfolk back home in the U.S.
Ruggles is like a fish out of water. He doesn’t quite know what to make of this situation. He is an excellent servant but confused as to what his responsibilities are supposed to be in this household that is so decidedly different from the one he has known in England. Still, he is impressed with something he never quite grasped before. There are opportunities in this new country for everyone who is willing to work hard.
Ruggles befriends Mrs. Judson (ZaSu Pitts) and demonstrates his remarkable cooking abilities. Soon, the man who was displaced from his comfortable employment into a brand new environment is learning what it means to be a free man.
In the most touching scene of a movie that is mostly filled with humor, Egbert attempts to quote Lincoln’s Gettysburg address in the Silver Dollar Saloon when the quiet and gentle voice of Ruggles eloquently recites it in full. It is a remarkable moment and one that always makes me thankful for the many blessings afforded to us in our beloved country.
The supporting cast sparkles in Ruggles of Red Gap, especially Charles Ruggles who plays the endearing Egbert. It’s the “nouveau riche” Egbert who personifies the American spirit in the film. He accepts every person as his equal, never forgets a friend, and ignores any distinction between classes.
It’s interesting that the film’s most powerful scene—Ruggles’s reciting of the Gettysburg address—wasn’t in the original 1914 novel. But that scene and the strong performances give Ruggles a depth that’s totally missing in the 1950 Bob Hope remake Fancy Pants.
If you’ve never seen Ruggles of Red Gap, it makes for excellent viewing on this patriotic holiday. I truly hope that each and every American celebrates today with thanks given to our Lord and to those who made our freedom possible. Happy Fourth of July!