Destry Rides Again: a comical western movie

Adapted from a novel by Max Brand, Destry Rides Again (1939) is a comedy Western by the talented director George Marshall. It tells the story of the town of Bottleneck which is under the control of a saloon owner. A new sheriff comes to set order in the city without resorting to violence, and it does not take long for him to fall in love with a beautiful saloon singer.

Tom Destry (James Stewart) plays the role of the pacifist deputy of the new sheriff, Wash (Charles Winninger), after saloon owner Kent (Brian Donlevy) killed sheriff Keogh (Joe King), when the latter tried to find out what was going on in the saloon. Destry comes to the lawless town to re-establish order but without resorting to violence, even though his principle of not carrying a gun makes him ridiculous in the eyes of people in Bottleneck. However, Tom Destry is a good shooter, but he believes in pacifism and prefers not to make enemies. While accomplishing his mission, he receives support from Frenchy (Marlene Dietrich) who is the saloon singer and the mistress of his worst enemy. Destry starts falling in love with Frenchy who keeps warning him about the unkind and pitiless Kent. Their relationship becomes stronger as Destry eventually convinces Frenchy to side with him, not only because he has a personality, but also because, as the women in town describe him, he is not like other men. But using only peaceful means to enforce the law in a violent town is not exactly an easy job…

Folks making fun of Destry (Snapshot from the movie)
Folks making fun of Destry (Snapshot from the movie)

Dealing with the way of life in the West, Destry Rides Again efficiently mixes action and humor. The movie is great in terms of dialogues, because they are what makes the acting particularly funny, especially the dialogues between Tom Destry and the silly sheriff Wash. James Stewart, who is the hero, does not give the image of a serious and harsh man, at least in the beginning of the movie. He keeps telling pleasant jokes and many stories about his friends, and by doing this, he represents a comical hero. As for Dietrich, she embodies the manipulative woman, both loved and hated, displaying both eroticism and romanticism, yet generally in a comical manner, except in some very tender scenes, for instance when she removes her lipstick and asks Destry to kiss her. The film focuses largely on the relationship between the two protagonists, whose humorous squabble and budding love are wonderfully played out by Stewart and Dietrich.

The sound effects are perfectly adapted to the different scenes and reinforce the entertaining side of the movie.  The music is another interesting element, as the songs of Frenchy—notably “Little Joe”—are truly enjoyable and add charm to the narrative. Though a black-and-white movie from the Thirties, Destry Rides Again offers clear and good images, proving the quality of the cinematographic work at the time.

The film story intends to explain that evil does not last, and that it can be beaten in a brilliant manner. With the naïve deputy played by the talented James Stewart and the exciting seductress embodied by Marlene Dietrich, the movie offers good performances and a great plot in a humorous context, managing to combine funny and serious scenes thanks to an efficient mix of comedy, romance and drama.

Destry removes Frenchy’s lipstick (Snapshot from the movie)

Dynamic, funny and intense, Destry Rides Again is a successful comedy western which deserves to be watched.


Destry Rides Again

Direction: by George Marshall

Screenplay: Felix Jackson (from the novel of Max Brand)

Production: Joe Pasternak.

Music:  Frank Skinner and Friedrich Hollaender

Marlene Dietrich: Frenchy.

James Stewart: Thomas ‘Tom’ Jefferson Destry.

Charles Winninger: Washington ‘Wash’ Dimsdale.

Brian Donlevy: Kent.

Samuel S. Hinds: Hiram J. Slade

Irene Hervey: Janice Tyndall.

Mischa Auer: Boris Callahan.

Joe King: Sheriff Keogh

Allen Jenkins: Gyp Watson.

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