Directed by George Marshall
Made in 1939, this is both a traditional Hollywood western in some respects, and in others a great spoof of those movies. At heart, it’s a comedy but, despite this, it also throws in the requisite western scenes. Often, however, there’s a certain tongue in cheek quality to them.
The story is pure western: the town of Bottleneck (great name!) is lawless. There’s a nasty land baron trying to seize the necessary lands to complete his control of the area. Once his, he can charge others inflated prices to cross those lands.
The town sheriff, trying to impose some law, is shot and killed, his body disposed of in such a way that it won’t be found. The corrupt town mayor then appoints the town drunk as sheriff.
Now there is no law in Bottleneck. But … The town drunk sobers up.
He takes his bogus position seriously and therefore sends for Destry (Jimmy Stewart), the son of another famous lawman.
Destry arrives and the fun really gets going. He’s not what anyone expects.
He’s calm, relatively mild-mannered, doesn’t wear guns … doesn’t even like guns. And of course, this sets up the final scenes when (as we can expect) he finally is pushed to a point where he does put on guns (a similar situation to Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider).
In the meantime, the filmmakers and the audience have loads of fun, including a cat fight between an angry wife and the town floozy, Marlene Dietrich.
In Destry Rides Again, Jimmy Stewart is perfect – he is so Jimmy Stewart. His famous halting pattern of speech is used comedically to suggest a kind of slyness. It shows the awareness and intelligence behind his character’s meek exterior so we know this quality is part of the character’s act.
As an audience, we realize there is more to him than the meek exterior we see.
Dietrich is also good, though the name Frenchy doesn’t quite fit her German accent … but I suppose that’s quibbling.
Unlike some parodies that simply mock a style, films that choose to take a kind of “looking down the nose” approach, Destry Rides Again seems to love westerns and love using the style to have fun. And it works brilliantly. It’s a movie that succeeds as a western and as a comedy. Ultimately, it is simply a lot of fun to watch.
Highly recommended. (See also: Along Came Jones)
(Originally posted in 2003.)