Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Eye Candy of the Day: Destry Rides Again

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.


kda0121 said...

Jen, I'm gonna have to ask you to put back in your DVD of Destry Rides Again and fast forward to the ending. The next scene after Marlene bites the dust shows Tom Destry and the young boy walking down the street, swapping stories and whittling on some wood. Just then, a wagon drives past with a banjo playing and a young girl singing a song, reminiscent of Frenchy. Tom gets a starts to get pained expression on his face, but then turns it into a soulful smile. So, she's still on his mind and heart, but in the west, life goes on.

I really love this movie too. Jimmy was on a roll during this time, making one good movie after another. I was going to name them, but it would take up too much space. During this run of excellent movies he worked with directors Frank Capra, John Cromwell, Ernst Lubitsch and Frank Borzage, none of them slouches.

George Marshall is one of the very underrated Hollywood directors. He is considered more of a workman than an artist and I'm sure that would've been okay by him. He was no-nonsense and unpretentious. He just made a lot of very good movies, Destry Rides Again being one of his best.

SteveQ said...

My fave Marlene film (maybe favorite film of all time, period) is "Winess For the Prosecution," but what a career to have done "Blue Angel," and "Destry" as well! Has any other woman claimed sex symbol status as long? certainly none that could act.

I keep forgetting to check this blog - could you put a link on the Mad On Dirt blog to this?

Jennythenipper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jennythenipper said...

Yeah, Steve, I'm amazed by her career, especially when you consider that she didn't become a star in America until she was over thirty, something that is unthinkable in this day and age. She was the same age as I am, 38, when she made Destry.

Witness for the Prosectuion is a great movie which I haven't seen in years. I have it around here somewhere, I must dig it out. If you just click on my name anywhere in blogger it takes you to my profile page which has all my blogs on it. I would make a linke to Mad on Dirt, but I want to keep that one more running themed.

KDA: Well there is the bit where he obviously remembers Frenchy, but then a few minutes later he is talking marriage with what's her name. Yeah, life goes on in the West. I suppose your right. I just wish he'd pine for a little longer.

kda0121 said...

There's no way; (at least during the code), that Tom and Frenchie could end up together. He had to be with the "nice" girl at the end. A similar ending happened in James Stewart's The Far Country, some sixteen years later. Although Jimmy's character was entirely different, Ruth Roman fit nicely into the Dietrich type role, who met her end much the same way and Corrine Calvet played the nice little girl to pick up Jimmy's heartbroken pieces. It's really not too far-fetched from real life. We may be attracted to the bad girl; (or bad boy types), but we know we're better off with the nice ones.

Irena said...

Steve said: Has any other woman claimed sex symbol status as long? certainly none that could act.

Well, I must disagree with that and mention Catherine Deneuve and Sophia Loren here. And they sure can act.
At least that's how I feel about the matter.:)

SteveQ said...

Irena, I thought of Sophia Loren about 10 minutes after I posted; I guess I type faster than I think. My thoughts of Deneuve's acting probably are clouded, as I haven't watched a film of hers in a while.