4:15 PM, Friday April 28
World Premiere: Introduced by Geoff Gardner

6:00PM, Monday May 01

Randwick Ritz

Director: Leo McCarey
Country: United States
Year: 1935
Runtime: 92 minutes
Rating: G
Language: English


"One of the great comedies of all time, a wonderful source of pleasure." – Virgin Film Guide

1908. Charles Laughton plays the droll British butler Marmaduke Ruggles whose employer loses him in a Parisian poker game to a crass American ranching couple from Red Gap, Washington State. Laughton clearly enjoys this role and his comedic underplaying is outstanding. He fortunately resists the temptation to wink at the audience. Nobody has ever failed to be moved by Laughton’s famous Gettysburg Address scene and nobody ever laughs more than when Roland Young is taught to play the drums by the local courtesan. Directed by Leo McCarey (Duck Soup, The Awful Truth, Make Way for Tomorrow, Love Affair, An Affair to Remember, Going My Way).

Charles Laughton, greatest of character actors, will astound you.” — Esquire

McCarey understands people better than anyone in Hollywood.” — Jean Renoir

Few gentler or more remarkable studies of cross-cultural engagement.” — Aaron Cutler

The 4.15 pm screening on Friday 28 April will be introduced by Geoff Gardner, Chair of the Cinema Reborn Organising Committee.

Watch a wonderful introduction to the film by the great modern director Peter Bogdanovich, here.

By John Bazxter

Leo McCarey

Famously handsome and charming, McCarey trained and briefly practiced as a defence attorney until an irate client, intent on mayhem, chased him out of the court-room.  He drifted into working for Hal Roach, independent producer of two-reel comedies. His role as “Supervisor” required him, he said, to do “practically everything in the film, to write the story, to cut it, to collect the gags, to coordinate everything, to view the rushes, to take care of the editing, sending copies, re-editing when the reactions to the preview had not been good enough, and even, from time to time, shooting the scenes a second time.” Among his most notable achievements was to match cerebral Stan Laurel with amiable doofus Oliver Hardy. “Laurel wrote the films and participated in their creation,” McCarey recalled. ”Hardy was really incapable of creating anything at all. It was astounding that he could even find his way to the studio.”

McCarey was that rarest of individuals in the Hollywood community, a devout Catholic. Once he began to direct features, his stories frequently dealt, like Ruggles of Red Gap, with moral or social transformation. In Love Affair, a charming seducer discovers true love through sacrifice, and in The Awful Truth a married couple only bond when they try to divorce. His Catholicism also directly inspired Going My Way and The Bells of St Mary’s: stories of happy-go-lucky priest Bing Crosby struggling to influence intransigent traditionalists within his own faith.

At the same time, McCarey was  notorious for holding a grudge. He fought a twenty-year feud with Cary Grant, accusing him, after working on The Awful Truth, of copying his style. He never forgave Paramount for ejecting him from the lot following completion of a film. “After that,” he said with satisfaction, “every film I did for them cost half a million more than it should.”
The Film
Leo McCarey entered the nineteen-thirties a comedy veteran, having directed, produced and written scores of two-reelers. Making Duck Soup with the Marx Brothers, directing Eddie Cantor in The Kid From Spain and Mae West in Belle of the Nineties appeared to set his feature career on the same comic path.  

Charles Laughton was no less pigeon-holed, playing tyrants, murderers and mad doctors. (Variety would note of Ruggles of Red Gap that, "for the first time in pictures, he has not been cast as a psychopathic subject.") Determined to transform his career, Laughton bought Harry Leon Wilson’s novel about a British manservant transplanted to the American west and worked with a writer to flesh out the character. Mainly because of his work with the Marx Brothers, he specified McCarey to direct. 

Valet to Roland Young’s Earl of Burnstead, Marmaduke Ruggles is lost in a poker game to nouveau riche American Egbert Floud, who is visiting Europe at the behest of his socially-climbing wife Effie (Mary Boland). He returns with them to their home in Red Gap, where he’s mistaken for a distinguished military man and the Flouds’ house-guest. Despite the efforts of Effie’s snobbish sister and brother-in-law, Ruggles embraces Red Gap and in turn is embraced by its people. He courts a local widow (Zasu Pitts) and together they open a restaurant that celebrates Anglo-American friendship.

In the process, Ruggles adopts American values, particularly those of social equality, which inspire a key scene in the film. When locals in a bar can’t recall the words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Ruggles stuns them by reciting the entire speech from memory.  Laughton called the experience of filming this scene “the most moving thing that ever happened to me”. He repeatedly broke down during the day-and-a-half it took to shoot.  (At such moments, editor Edward Dmytryk shrewdly cuts away from Laughton to show only his back and the awed faces of watching barflies.)

Production was beset with problems. Shooting was briefly suspended when Laughton was hospitalised. (A masochist, Laughton habitually suffered injuries inflicted by local “rough trade” rent boys.) He had still been at MGM when shooting started, playing Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield, a role that required his head to be shaved. MGM grudgingly replaced him with W.C. Fields, but for some scenes as Ruggles Laughton obviously wears a wig. (Laughton fulfilled his MGM contract with an Oscar-winning performance as Captain Bligh in Mutiny of the Bounty. For the cast and crew of Mutiny, on the last day of shooting, he reprised his recitation of the Gettysburg Address, also repeated on the set of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.)

Reviews praised his performance as the British fish out of his depth in American waters. "Laughton gives us a pudgy, droll and quite irresistible Ruggles,” wrote the New York Times, “who reveals only the briefest taint of the Laughton pathology." Arguably, however, it was his skill in embodying Quasimodo, Nero and vivisectionist Doctor Moreau that freed him to play a drunken Ruggles, emitting tentative whoops at unexpected moments, leaping on the backs of unsuspecting fellow boozers, and reclining in alcoholic placidity on the saddle of a carousel horse.

The Restoration
World Premiere of the 4K Restoration of Ruggles of Red Gap. Universal Pictures utilized the 35mm Nitrate Fine Grain borrowed from the Library of Congress, and the 35mm Optical Track Positive from the Universal Studios archive. The picture elements were scanned in 4K on an ARRI film scanner for a 4K workflow. Universal applied digital processes to improve flicker and stability, and to clean up dirt, projection cues, and damage in Reels 2 and 4. The audio elements were scanned, and digital audio restoration tools were applied to reduce anomalies, noise floor, hum, and overall level adjustments. Universal Pictures created a black and white 4K Digital Master and a 4K DCP. Restoration services conducted by Universal StudioPost.

Director: Leo MCCAREY | USA | 1935 | 90 mins | 2K Flat DCP (orig. 35mm, 1.37:1) | B&W | Mono Sd. | English | (G).

Production Company: Paramount Pictures | Producer: Arthur J. HORNBLOWER | Script: Walter DELEON & Harlan THOMPSON, Humphrey PEARSON, based on the novel by Harry Leon Wilson | Photography: Alfred GILKS | Editor: [Edward DMYTRYK, uncredited] | Sound: [Philip WISDOM, uncredited] | Music: [John LEIPOLD, Heinz ROEMHELD, uncredited] | Costumes: [Travis BANTON uncredited].

Cast: Charles LAUGHTON (‘Ruggles’), Mary BOLAND (‘Effie Floud’), Charles Ruggles (‘Egbert Floud’) Zasu PITTS (Prunella Judson), Roland YOUNG (‘Earl of Burnstead’), Lelia HYMAMS (Neil KENNER).

Cinema Reborn acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land on which we live, learn and work. We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and extend this respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.