The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, July 27-August 2

Charles Laughton in Leo McCarey's RUGGLES OF RED GAP (1935). Courtesy Film Forum/Photofest.

Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)
Directed by Leo McCarey
If “Make America Great Again” instills more horror than inspiration, then Ruggles of Red Gap is the film you need to either acquaint yourself with or revisit. At the very least, contained in the tale of British servant Ruggles’ (Charles Laughton) fish-out-of-water discovery of the American dream is all the nuance with which Trump refuses to engage. His new American master, Egbert Floud (Charlie Ruggles), may be a prototypical ugly American in France, but there’s no denying the warmth, shorn of any class distinctions, with which he treats his new charge at home. And Ruggles himself eventually learns the error of his own stereotyping ways: An early rear-projection gag reveals the nightmarish Wild West conception he has of America, one that he soon discovers is false. Ruggles’s recitation of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address—he, the foreigner, being the one man among full-blooded Americans in a Red Gap saloon who knows the speech by heart—remains a remarkable mix of savage satire and idealistic inspiration; the concluding rendition of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” in his honor still touchingly vibrates with possibility in this great land of ours. Ruggles of Red Gap presents America at its best—and it’s a reminder we desperately need now more than ever. Kenji Fujishima (July 28, 4pm at MoMA’s McCarey series)


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