Stewart and Dietrich in Destry Rides Again (1939). the pair were rumored to have had an affair during the making of this unforgettable Western. Image from Simply Classics.
Destry is a lively, well-acted western that is probably best remembered for the big cat fight scene between Dietrich and Una Merkel. Dietrich and Stewart have amazing chemistry together and one or two trashy Hollywood biographies have them hooking up for a doomed love affair that supposedly left Dietrich pregnant and heartbroken. Whatever the case, the film benefits from the sparks that fly whenever they are on screen.
Dietrich I've always felt was under-rated as actress because she has been so terribly over-rated as a style icon. Just because her looks foretold menswear-inspired fashion, Madonna, punk and post-punk doesn't mean she couldn't throw down when she needed to. Destry is one of her best performances: she sings, she cracks jokes, she kicks ass and she breaks hearts.
Jimmy Stewart has many great performances to his credit, but Destry has always been up there with Philly Story and Mr. Smith in my book. He plays a Sheriff in a crooked town who manages to clean up the stereotypical mob of bad guys mostly without guns. Stewart goes through the movie, with a bemused, laconic attitude. It's almost as if Dietrich's famously ironic tone wore off on him and he added it to his all-american bag of tricks.
Where would Courtney Love be without Destry Rides Again?
Director George Marshall made a lot of westerns, (including the 1955 remake called Destry) but Destry Rides Again doesn't feel like a typical turn in the genre. First of all, the solution to the town of Bottleneck's problems is that all the women band together to fight beside their men. Westerns are usually about the individual, they almost always champion a lone wolf who rides into town and vanguishes the bad guys only to disappear again. Destry is really the oppoosite of that. There is a bit of High Noon here, without the preachiness--the idea that people are collectively resposible for law and order and that evil can only thrive in an atmosphere of fear that Destry manages to mostly dispel with cleverness and humor. My big beef with Destry is the ending of course. It bugs me every time I watch it because Tom seems to forget Frenchy almost immediately. Other than the ending, I'd say it's a darn near perfect movie, so entertaining that for years I labored under the delusion that Howard hawks directed it.
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