For the quite marvelous film site MUBI, home of my friend David Cairns' fabulous column The Forgotten, the Siren has written up the far-from-forgotten Ruggles of Red Gap. Because it's starting a one-week run at Manhattan's Film Forum, and because she loves it dearly. An excerpt:
The film assembles the kind of sterling character actors that we cinecrophiles grieve over on long winter evenings. McCarey, directing the legendarily difficult [Charles] Laughton, doesn't stint on the supporting players to favor his star; the film includes a lot of master shots that keep everybody in frame and in mind. Roland Young, so starchy at first that his shirts could walk off under their own power, may take the prize, as he learns the joys of egalitarianism via luscious blonde Leila Hyams. Mary Boland's Effie Floud, while clearly a climber, can still make you sympathize with what she has to cope with, such as an argument over her husband's hideous taste that ends with her calling him a "striped bass." And Charles Ruggles has some of his best moments gussied up in a morning coat and trying to get his valet drunk: "Come on over here, I want ya to meet somebody," he bellows down a Paris sidewalk, oblivious to snooty French stares and the fact that his own servant is trying to pretend he doesn't know him.
Ah yes, that Laughton drunk scene. Here's a foolproof way to judge an actor's fundamental competence: If he emphasizes the drunkenness, he's hopeless. A person who's truly lit, no matter whether the scene is tragic or comic, is fighting his state every step of the way. Laughton, of course, was far more than competent, and what makes his drunk act paralyzingly funny is that Ruggles isn't even admitting to himself that he's plastered. As he refuses to precede Floud into a carriage, Ruggles has the same old ramrod stance—but the face shows a hint of toddler-like glee, perhaps some inner mockery he could never show when sober. Yet the valet still tries to bring some dignity to each stage of the binge, finally posing on a carousel horse like an overdressed Cupid.
Read the whole thing here.