Destry Rides Again
Unrated; Directed by George Marshall; Starring Jimmy Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, Charles Winninger, Una Merkel, Brian Donlevy, Mischa Auer
Seeing a beloved classic film on a big screen makes a film buff glow with joy. Well, the NAU Film Series showed Destry Rides Again last week. For those of you who never heard of the movie, it’s a Western, made in 1939, but it’s a Western with a twist. Our hero, Destry, doesn’t use guns. He drinks milk in a bar, and steely-eyed lawman he ain’t. Yet, Destry is a Western hero. After all, he’s played by Jimmy Stewart, so you know he’s the hero.
This 1939 film would cap off Jimmy Stewart’s wonderful year. Five of his films were released that year. Many are now forgotten (Ice Follies of 1939 anyone?), but Destry Rides Again would remain one of audiences’ favorites. It was Mr. Smith Goes to Washington that made Stewart a star. He earned an Academy Award nomination, wouldn’t win it, but would take the Oscar home the following year for his performance in Philadelphia Story. So, here’s the up-and-coming star cast with a well-known star of a leading lady, Marlene Dietrich.
Marlene Dietrich had not made a movie in two years, as her last set of films bombed badly. Dietrich jumped into the role of Frenchy in Destry Rides Again. Used to playing cool, glamorous, and exotic beauties who drove men wild with desire, she plays Frenchy with a rough and tumble manner, willing to get down and dirty (there’s a famous fight scene where she does her own stunts). It worked for Dietrich – her performance gave her a comeback.
Though watching Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich share scenes remains the best part of Destry Rides Again, the script also allows for plenty of humor and drama. Destry Rides Again has a supporting cast of comic actors, who have several funny scenes. There’s Una Merkel and Mischa Auer, as the domineering wife and put-upon husband. Charles Winninger is the town drunk who is made sheriff of Bottleneck by the crooked land baron (Brian Donlevy).
Yet it’s Jimmy Stewart, as the gangly and easy-going Tom Destry, that keeps things light until the big showdown at the end of the movie. Stewart is perfect as the deputy who tries to clean up Bottleneck’s corruption with smarts and good humor. Carving napkin rings and telling tall tales fits his style. Up against hot-tempered bad girl, Frenchy, it is fun to watch Stewart show Destry’s fascination with the woman. It helps that it’s Dietrich playing Frenchy.
Destry Rides Again isn’t your normal Western, but it does make for fun viewing. Good guys fight the bad guys, but differently than many Westerns. And best of all, there’s Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich. The star power is strong, and both are at the top of their game.