Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Alternate Best Actor 1935: Charles Laughton in Ruggles of Red Gap

Charles Laughton did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Marmaduke Ruggles in Ruggles of Red Gap.

Ruggles of Red Gap is an enjoyable film about a butler who learns about freedoms due to his services being traded to fulfill a gambling debt.

Charles Laughton had a banner year for 1935 appearing in two best picture nominees Les Miserables, and this film as well as best picture winner Mutiny on the Bounty. In Les Miserables and Mutiny he portrayed villains but this film he portrays the lead protagonist of the film. This performance is very different from most of his characters who tend to be flamboyant larger than life characters who tend to be rather brazen in their manner. Charles Laughton in this film as the butler Ruggles plays a rather meek and modest character. Ruggles early on in the picture actually says very little other than proper butler things to say.

Laughton knows how to make his presence known well staying appropriately meek, and he has a lot of fun with his character's manner in which he sticks to procedure. Laughton is quite amusing as he shows Ruggles attempt to keep proper while encouraged to be anything but by his new American employer. A particularly amusing early on is Ruggles rather poor attempt to smile when encouraged to do so by the American, and Laughton's portrayal of Ruggles's attempt is just hilarious. In the early half Laughton stays lightly comedic and enjoyably so as Ruggles is forced by the American to slowly lose some of his butler mannerisms, but Laughton is very funny as he portrays Ruggles in between styles.

Laughton does stay rather modest in his portrayal but handles the transition of Ruggles very well. He eases into properly as Ruggles only slowly loses his mentalities and to a certain degree never fully loses his old habits. This is a particularly charming performance by Charles Laughton, and he makes Ruggles really likable through the genuine fashion in which he portrays Ruggles. When Ruggles discovers the new joys in place to having more freedom, and begins enjoying himself Laughton handles it all very honestly which is interesting as he still manages to be humorous in the transition at the same time. He combines these conflicting elements actually quite well even as his portrayal moves more toward the dramatic at the end. 

Laughton handles the dramatic finale of his role particularly well as he makes Ruggles fully become his own man. He does it though simply that is fitting for Ruggles as he passionately reveals that he truly does care for his own freedom in a particularly powerful scene where he recites the Gettysburg address. He makes these final scenes moving as he plays the modest Ruggles stand up for himself. He does this so well because although finally Ruggles completely stands out on his own it is still done in an appropriately modest fashion that fits the character he has established from the beginning, and the final change has been earned by his performance through the film. This is a very strong performance by Charles Laughton very low key for him yet he still manages to stick out through humorous and honest portrayal that I actually prefer over his Oscar nominated work from 1935.

9 comments:

RatedRStar said...

loved him in both this and Mutiny, he is always very um amusing to watch.

RatedRStar said...

I loved him as Henry VIII but I think his greatest ever peformance was in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame where he truly became Quasimodo and didnt use his usual hamtastic style of acting.

Michael Patison said...

I always enjoy him. I don't think hamtastic is the way to describe him though. He never seems to be overacting or even hammy in any way, in my opinion. He just has this charisma that I find, for lack of a better word, intoxicating. He is simply relentlessly entertaining.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

@Michael: Ham is not inherently bad. If it was, Daniel Day-Lewis wouldn't have half the praise that he does. Histrionics can be a very good thing. Which is really the reason I love Michael Shannon so much.

Louis Morgan said...

Yes going over the top can be done very well, but an actor has be very talented to do so.

Michael Patison said...

I guess the thing for me is that I tremendously enjoy well-done over-the-top acting, but I don't consider that sort of acting and hammy acting to be one in the same. For me, hammy acting is, by definition, exclusively bad.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I've accepted the definition of ham to be a more ambiguous term thanks to TV Tropes.

Louis Morgan said...

Unfortunately there really is not a word for good over the top acting or bad over the top acting. But I guess you could factor it as Charles Laughton style (good), Paul Muni style (bad).

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I go by Daniel Day-Lewis style (good), and Billy Zane style (bad).