What Really Made America Great
by Ron Steelman
I recently saw an old film from 1935, “Ruggles of Red Gap.” I remember seeing it on TV years ago. and I loved it then. But now I love it for a different reason. It has a powerful, patriotic scene that illustrates why immigrants have always been important to our country, not only for their patriotic spirit, but for how they have always been a big part of what “Made America Great” in the first place!
In this film, the famous actor, Charles Laughton, recites the Gettysburg Address in a unique setting to say the least. The Gettysburg Address had great personal significance to Laughton because at the time he was considering taking up American citizenship (he became a U.S. citizen in 1950).
I like this film for several reasons:
1. It is a comedy (that should be enough right there, actually).
2. My wife and I are cinephiles.
3. The film is one of my favorites because it stars Charles Laughton in the first comedic role I ever saw him in, compared to all the other roles for which he was famous, like: “The Private Lives of Henry VIII,” “Les Miserables,” “Mutiny on the Bounty,” “I, Claudius,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Witness for the Prosecution,” “Spartacus,” and many others. He is extremely funny and I wish he had done more comedies.
4. The film has a stellar cast with wonderful character actors, like: Mary Boland, Charles Ruggles (same name as the title character), Zazu Pitts, Roland Young, Leila Hyams, and tons of grizzled old cowboys (all with weathered, rawhide-like faces).
5. And, there are some interesting stories in the trivia department to tell about the “making-of” of the film.
But first, watch this video clip, then later we’ll share some of the behind-the-scenes tidbits.
Pardon Me While I Vent a Little
Amid the current border crisis I am sickened by the anti-immigrant policies being ginned-up by our politicians. Those officially seeking asylum from violent countries are being turned away. Those entering at other points are being arrested and having their children taken from them and sent to facilities in many far-away states. There appears to be no plan to reunite parents with their very young children. These policies are abhorrent and illegal. They are anti-American, anti-human-rights, and anti-humanist. We can only hope that the dimwits in Washington will return the children to their parents soon.
I just heard of an argument by a Trump supporter that these people applying for asylum should not be allowed in because they are not seeking the correct form of asylum. The Trump supporter claimed that in order to be accepted for asylum, they must be fleeing “political” persecution. That is simply not so. They explained this away by claiming that these people were simply fleeing bad economic conditions. That also is not so.
Here is the actual wording from the law about asylum seekers: “Asylum has three basic requirements. First, an asylum applicant must establish that he or she fears persecution in their home country. Second, the applicant must prove that he or she would be persecuted on account of one of five protected grounds: race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or particular social group. Third, an applicant must establish that the government is either involved in the persecution, or unable to control the conduct of private actors.”
I believe the operative phrases here are: “particular social group,” and “government is either involved in the persecution, or unable to control the conduct of private actors.” The particular social group is poor people who happen to live in a country where the government isn’t protecting them from private actors, ie. gangs trying to put their children into violent gangs.
The ‘Steelman The Humanist” International Human Rights Court has spoken!
> Edward Dmytryk, the film’s editor, said that Charles Laughton became so emotional during the scene in the saloon where he recites the Gettysburg Address that it took director Leo McCarey 1-1/2 days to complete shooting it. According to Dmytryk, the preview audiences found Laughton’s close-ups in the scene embarrassing and tittered through the speech. When substitute shots of Laughton from behind were inserted, the audience found the reaction shots of the other people watching him very moving, and the second preview was extremely successful.
> Charles Laughton referred to his reading of the “Gettysburg Address” in the film as “one of the most moving things that ever happened to me.” Laughton recited the address to the cast and crew of Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) on the last day of shooting on Catalina Island and again on the set of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). He performed the Gettysburg Address many times on radio, television, and included it in his one man show all over the country.
> Nazi Germany banned the release of any German-dubbed version of this film because of the Gettysburg Address speech.
> There’s another marvelously loose scene between the wonderful Leila Hyams and Roland Young as they perform the song “Pretty Baby” on the piano and drums, respectively. Parts of it look improvised, and I would swear that Hyams and Young are going to break out of character at any second. They seem to be having a ball and that’s contagious to the audience.
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