Destry Rides Again

Released:  1939

Cast:  Marlene Dietrich, James Stewart, Mischa Auer, Brian Donlevy

SUMMARY:  Bottleneck is a lawless Western town controlled by crooked magnate Kent (Brian Donlevy), who has most of the townspeople, including the mayor, under his control.  With the help of saloon singer Frenchy (Marlene Dietrich), he operates a  crooked poker game that helps him steal land from the local ranchers.  One evening, Sheriff Keogh has had enough of this, and confronts Kent — only to be shot (though the story is that he “disappeared”).  The mayor, Slade, laughingly appoints the town drunk, Washington Dimsdale, as the new sheriff.  Once upon a time, Dimsdale had been a deputy for a sheriff named Destry, but has long since become the laughingstock of the town.  However, when he learns of his appointment, Dimsdale decides to take the job seriously.  He knows that he cannot control Bottleneck on his own, so he sends for the deceased Destry’s son, Tom Destry, Jr. (James Stewart).  Dimsdale is expecting a rough-and-ready lawman, and so is shocked to find that Destry is slim, polite, and hates guns.  This earns him the instant derision of the other townspeople, particularly Kent, who expects to be able to walk all over him.  Just then, a brawl erupts in the saloon between Frenchy and a local woman whose husband has been humiliated.  Destry finally breaks up the fight with a bucket of water, only to have Frenchy turn on him instead.  After throwing nearly every object in the saloon at him, she drives him out.  Meanwhile, Kent and his men have surrounded the Claggett ranch, which he won in the crooked poker game.  Claggett and his family refuse to leave, and a gunfight ensues.  Destry and Dimsdale head out to the ranch to investigate.  Though he sympathizes with the Claggetts, Destry decides that since Claggett signed a document surrendering his ranch, the family must leave (though he promises to return it to them later).  Dimsdale mentions that Keogh had tried to help the family:  when he failed, he “left town” suddenly.

After returning to town Destry visits Frenchy and tries to make amends.  Again, the encounter ends up in a fight.  During the shouting match Frenchy accidentally states that Keogh had tried to interfere and was “taken care of”.  The Claggett family moves to town and quickly begins commiserating with other families who have suffered the same fate.  One rancher, a man named Jack Tyndall, realizes that Kent intends to charge people to move their cattle through his new property and thus make a fortune.  When he learns that Destry refused to help the Claggetts, he encourages the townspeople to rise up and take justice into their own hands.  However, Destry quickly shoots this idea down.  Destry then deputizes a local man named Boris (Mischa Auer), who has lost his pants in a poker game with Frenchy, and is now trying to steal pants from the various men in town.  Boris is given the mission of locating Sheriff Keogh’s body so that Destry can bring murder charges against Kent.  The three lawmen work together to trick one of Kent’s men into checking on the body, then follow him and retrieve it.  Destry then publicly charges the associate with murder.  However, the mayor (who is a close friend of Kent) decides to preside over the trial himself, virtually guaranteeing a sentence of not guilty.  Meanwhile, Kent has started charging ranchers to move their cattle through his new property.  When Jack Tyndall refuses to pay his $2500 fee, he begins shooting, and is arrested.  However, Destry persuades him to play along with a scheme, in which he will pay the money but later get it back.  Destry also reveals that he has summoned an outside judge to try the murer case.  Unfortunately, Boris lets this slip to Kent, who decides to take his men and bust the associate out of jail before the judge arrives.  Dimsdale is killed in the ensuing shootout, and Destry has finally had enough.  He arms himself and joins a large group of other men to take down Kent’s gang.  As this is happening, Frenchy has gathered all of the women and talked them into settling the issue without the men getting shot.  The women arm themselves with fence posts and rolling pins, then wade into the fight that has just burst out in the saloon.  As they disarm and scatter the various men, Kent and Destry sneak through the saloon looking for each other.  Frenchy is able to see both of them, and when she sees that Kent is going to shoot Destry she throws herself in front of the bullet.  Destry then shoots and kills Kent, but Frenchy dies in his arms.  Some time later, Bottleneck is shown to be a very clean, respectable town.  Boris has gained the respect of his wife, and Destry is the new sheriff.

SUMMARY:  This movie might feature the beloved Jimmy Stewart, but I think Marlene Dietrich totally stole the show as Frenchy.  We figure out early on that she’s an important to the poker scam, and Destry is warned on arrival that she’s the “real” boss of the town.  She can obviously handle drunken men and strong-willed men, as well.  However, it’s against a woman that we get to see what she’s really made of:  when Boris’s wife comes in to protest the taking of his pants (which is hilarious, by the way.  Apparently the man only has the one pair, so he goes around town trying to steal a new pair from somebody else.), the two get into an epic brawl.  I would not describe this as a catfight, because while there is slapping and hair-pulling involved, the two are also basically wrestling each other on the floor.  Then she turns on Destry, and throws everything she can get her hands on at him.  She has pretty good aim, too — she actually drives him out of the saloon.  Then, sopping wet (from the water thrown on her), dress torn and hair flying everywhere, she demands to know who’s buying her a drink.  It’s hard not to cheer for that.  She continues to display her volatile temper throughout the movie, as several other people have objects thrown at them (it’s a wonder there’s any glasses left in the saloon).  I also loved the scene at the end where Frenchy rounds up all the women in town, who arm themselves with whatever they can find that isn’t a gun.  Somewhere in Bottleneck, a picket fence was missing several of its posts; there are also pitchforks, clubs and rolling pins.  The best part is that this actually works.  The two groups of men are shooting it out with each other when the women burst in and start raining hell with their fence posts and rolling pins.  At one point, a man cries out that this action “isn’t legal”.  The men are unable to see each other, and I would bet that all or most of them are unwilling to shoot a woman, so their guns become useless; when they can’t fight and are getting pummeled by various wooden objects, most of them hightail it out of there.  Of course, the moral of the story is that law and order really can win over corruption and guns, but in all honesty those were the best scenes.  Marlene Dietrich vs. Una Merkel (who plays Boris’s wife) in a knockdown drag-out is just awesome.

RATING:  Entertaining — and with a message!

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