Destry Rides Again (1939): Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich in Comedy-Western

One of the most commercially popular movies of 1939, “Destry Rides Again” is a comedy Western (or Western comedy), teaming Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich for the first and only time in their careers.

(The chemistry between the two stars was so strong that it was carried on off-screen, in a well-publicized affair.)

Stewart is well cast as Tom Destry, the naïve son of a legendary frontier peacekeeper, a youngster who initially doesn’t believe in gunplay or any form of violence.

Destry becomes the object of ridicule when he rides into the wide-open town of Bottleneck, run by the crooked Kent (Brian Donlevy). His detractors laugh even louder when Destry signs on as deputy to drunken sheriff Wash Dimsdale (Charles Winninger).  At first, he refuses to carry a gun, and at the bar, he orders milk!

In the first half of the film, Destry is the epitome of a hero defined by low-keyed manner.  As such, he is the perfect counterpoint to Dietrich’s brassy, savvy and bold femme.

But things change, when Destry proves himself a crack shot, despite his abhorrence of shooting. Later, when saloon singer Frenchy (Marlene Dietrich), Kent’s gal, takes offence at Destry’s indifference to her feminine mystique, she vows to make a fool of the new deputy.

Guess what: the two fall in love, and in the end, it’s Frenchy who loses her life when trying to protect Destry.

“Destry Rides Again” served as a comeback for Marlene Dietrich, who two years earlier had been written off as “box office poison.” At the time, some critics complained about the weak story (plotless narrative) and stereotypical characters, especially Dietrich’s.

But Dietrich shows that at 40, she still possessed sex appeal, and Stewart got to display (again) his natural charisma, in a banner year, in which he also scored big in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

For others, “Destry Rides Again” was sort of tongue-in-cheek “Blue Angel.” The historian William Everson claims that this movie also introduced steamy sex to the Western genre, years before Howard Hughes’ notorious “Outlaw.”

The film is based on a novel by Max Brand.  This was the second (and best) version of the story: Destry Rides Again was made before in 1932 with cowboy star Tom Mix, and it was remade in a pale version in 1954, starring Audie Murphy.

What makes this film so special is its blend of humor, romance, action, and even camp (both intentional and unintentional)

Directed By: George Marshall
Written By: Max Brand, Felix Jackson, Henry Myers, Gertrude Purcell