James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again (1939)

Stewart's a Son of a Gun Slinger

When the town of Bottleneck's sheriff suddenly disappears, the villainous Kent (Brian Donlevy) and the corrupt mayor decide to appoint the town's drunk, Washington Dimsdale (Charles Winninger), into the role of chief lawman. But Washington decides to get himself a new deputy in the form of Thomas Jefferson Destry (James Stewart - Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), the son of the legendary lawman who once ran the town. The trouble is that Thomas Destry is a new breed of lawman, he prefers to talk and charm his way out of troublesome situations rather than use a gun, which brings him to the attention of singer Frenchy (Marlene Dietrich - Rancho Notorious). When Destry and Washington discover that the previous Sheriff was in fact murdered Destry is forced to use his guns and take action.

The songs are terrible, the comedy is obvious and some of the acting is bordering on the hammy, but despite all of this the 1939 version of "Destry Rides Again" still manages to charm the pants off of you. And that is the most important thing watching a movie which is over 75 years old; it still manages to entertain despite when compared to more modern movies it has many noticeable weaknesses. As such, and this may sound shocking, but despite the numerous issues "Destry Rides Again" with James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich is one of those classic westerns, which should be on everyone's watch list or in their DVD collection.

Brian Donlevy and James Stewart in Destry Rides Again (1939)

Now unlike many westerns which cover vast amounts of territory "Destry Rides Again" works on barely a handful of locations with most of the action revolving around the Saloon, the sheriff's office and Frenchy's place. The limit on locations actually works because it makes the storyline the central focus which rather than being just another typical western about revenge, "Destry Rides Again" is more about good versus evil. Although saying that it is built on genre standards, that of a corrupt local and a morally upright sheriff.

As such it would be fair to say that storyline wise "Destry Rides Again" is not the most original movie as it works through the standard good versus bad but what makes it entertaining is that Destry is a pacifist, preferring to talk his way out of trouble. It provides for plenty of simple comedy as he tells stories to make a point, winning over the locals and a few enemies in the process. But that doesn't mean "Destry Rides Again" is a western lacking western action because it still delivers with an impressive guns a blazing ending, as well as a rather comical scene where Destry shows his amazing gun skill by shooting knobs off of a sign, just to prove a point.

What makes "Destry Rides Again" work is down to the stars and their characters. James Stewart who prior to this had made his name playing the morally upright citizen in the likes of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" again plays a similar character in Thomas Jefferson Destry. He's upright, honest and believes in doing stuff to the letter of the law, all very believable when James Stewart plays him and he adds that storytelling charm to the character as well to make him amusing. It's not all nice stuff and Destry does eventually loose his rag, so to speak, but again it feels believable because whilst James Stewart makes him a nice honest guy, there is an essence of anger simmering underneath so that when it does break through it feels in character.

"Destry Rides Again" is also impressive thanks to Marlene Dietrich as Frenchy who after a couple of years away from making movies appears to be having fun in a very ballsy character. It's a good performance of a character with hidden depths although I honestly don't know whether Dietrich's singing of some very corny songs was meant to be serious or there for comedy effect. And it would be wrong not to mention the pretty amazing cat fight scene between Frenchy and Mrs. Carrington, it's full on but also comical with it ending with both women being doused by a bucket of water.

What this all boils down to is that "Destry Rides Again" is a movie when watched now has a lot of obvious flaws from the dubious singing, the corny songs and some hammy acting. But then it's still entertaining and very charming thanks mostly to the performances of James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich.