Saturday, March 05, 2011


Let me get some confusion out of the way right now: this movie has a character named Ruggles, played by Charles Laughton, and an actor named (Charlie) Ruggles playing a character named Floud. While Floud and his wife (Mary Boland), rich but uncouth Americans, are vacationing in Europe, they win a butler, Maramduke Ruggles, from the Earl of Burnstead (Roland Young). Ruggles is upset about going to such an uncivilized country, "a country with slavery"; the Earl replies, "That's all finished--some fellow named Pocahontas or something did something about it." Back in the relative wilds of Washington state, it takes a while for Ruggles to adjust to the less-strict class structure here, and eventually he decides to open a restaurant, falls in love, and even teaches the Americans some history (in a famous scene in which he recites the Gettysburg Address from memory when none of the Americans can even say what the Address is about).

What makes this movie so enjoyable, in addition to a good script, are first-rate performances all around. Laughton, usually best in roles in which he can ham it up, is wonderfully dry and tamped-down here and completely believable as the mild-mannered butler who breaks out of his shell--especially funny is a drunk scene with Laughton and Ruggles. Ruggles holds his own, though he doesn’t have much to do in the last half. Boland is very funny as the obnoxious wife, Young is absolutely right as the droll Earl, and Maude Eburne gets some laughs in the relatively small role of Boland's mother. Zasu Pitts (pictured above with Laughton) doesn't get much to do as Laughton's love interest, but she's the only weak spot. Otherwise, a witty and charming comedy. [TCM]

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