Destry Rides Again (1939)

Destry Rides Again (1939), directed by George Marshall.

For a long time Westerns were not allowed to be entirely serious, but with time we had less singing cowboy and more Stagecoach (1939). From that same year we have films that split the difference between comic action and emotional involvement, like Dodge City (1939) and Destry Rides Again (1939).

The rough town of Bottleneck needs cleaning up and folksy James Stewart seems an unlikely lawman for the job. He won't even carry a gun! Until he has to. In the meantime he impresses the bad guys with feats of marksmanship that catch their attention.

Sparks fly with saloon singer Marlene Dietrich, memorably spoofed by Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles (1974). Dietrich was playing off her own sultry seductress roles in films like The Blue Angel (1930) and Morocco (1930), so the hall of mirrors goes pretty deep. She sings "The Boys in the Back Room" and "You've Got That Look".

She and Una Merkel have a famous barroom brawl. Without much direction they really went at it and had bruises to show for their efforts.

Brian Donlevy brings his usual granite-like menace and we have Mischa Auer for comic relief.

Director George Marshall did his own shot-for-shot remake as Destry (1954) with Audie Murphy and Thomas Mitchell. The earlier Destry Rides Again (1932) with Tom Mix is an unrelated story.

Stewart and Dietrich would co-star again in No Highway in the Sky (1951).

Nice photography by Hal Mohr.

Available on Blu-ray from Criterion.