Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, December 22, 2016


James Stewart
DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939). Director: George Marshall.

Kent (Brian Donlevy) who runs the saloon and the town in the old west, conspires with singer Frenchy (Marlene Dietrich) to cheat Lem Claggert (Tom Fadden of Winners of the West)  out of his ranch during a crooked card game. When Sheriff Keogh (Joe King) objects, he is dispatched with, as is anyone who gets in the way of Kent. Into this situation comes Tom Destry Jr. (James Stewart), the son of the legendary Sheriff Destry and now the deputy for inept and half-drunken Sheriff Washington Dimsdale (Charles Winninger). Destry doesn't carry a gun, although he's a crack shot (wouldn't you know?)  It's now his job to enforce the law, clean up the town, and find Keogh's body, while dealing with the hooker-hard Frenchy, who eventually warms up to him and vice  versa. Destry Rides Again is an odd movie, a sometimes uncomfortable combination of grim situations and unpleasant characters with moments of out and out farce, and the characters never seem remotely real. On the other hand, the movie is entertaining and certain sequences are quite well-staged by Marshall, including Frenchy's post cat-fight meltdown in the bar, and the sequence with the angry townswomen going on the march. As for the acting. it's top of the line all the way, with Dietrich giving an outstanding portrayal that almost manages to make her rather heartless character sympathetic. Jack Carson scores as a cattleman, a less genial role than he usually plays, Una Merkel is fine as the gal who tries to give French a good thrashing, Dickie Jones [Blake of Scotland Yard] is charming as young Claggett, Brian Donlevy [Juke Box Rhythm] is brisk and commanding as the evil Kent, and Charles Winninger gives a typically winning performance as the "new" sheriff, Wash. Dietrich's voice, with every other note sung flat, is wretched, but she still manages to put over such songs as "See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have" with her emoting. It's interesting that while Frenchy is somewhat redeemed, she is still punished for her actions as she would probably not be today. This was remade with Audie Murphy as Destry, and seven years earlier Tom Mix starred in a very different version of Destry Rides Again. Andy Griffith starred in the Broadway musical version with songs by Harold Rome, and John Gavin starred in the short-lived television series. These all originated in a book by Max Brand.

Verdict: Peculiar in some ways but Dietrich knocks it out of the ball park. ***.

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