Destry Rides Again is a 1939 western starring Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart, and directed by George Marshall. The supporting cast includes Mischa Auer, Charles Winninger, Brian Donlevy, Allen Jenkins, Irene Hervey, Billy Gilbert, Bill Cody, Jr., Lillian Yarbo, and Una Merkel. Although the title comes from Max Brand's popular novel, which inspired the earlier screenplay with Tom Mix, this version is almost entirely unrelated to either.
In 1996, Destry Rides Again was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Saloon owner Kent (Brian Donlevy), the unscrupulous boss of the fictional Western town of Bottleneck, has the town's sheriff, Mr. Keogh (Joe King), killed when Keogh asks one too many questions about a rigged poker game. Kent and "Frenchy" (Marlene Dietrich), his girlfriend and the dance hall queen, now have a stranglehold over the local cattle ranchers. The crooked town's mayor, Hiram J. Slade (Samuel S. Hinds), who is in collusion with Kent, appoints the town drunk, Washington Dimsdale (Charles Winninger), as the new sheriff, assuming that he will be easy to control and manipulate. But what the mayor does not know is that Dimsdale was a deputy under the famous lawman, Tom Destry, and is able to call upon the latter's equally formidable son, Tom Destry, Jr. (James Stewart), to help him make Bottleneck a lawful, respectable town.
Destry confounds the townsfolk by refusing to strap on a gun in spite of demonstrating that he is an expert marksman. He still carries out the "letter of the law", as deputy sheriff, and earns their respect. A final confrontation between Destry and Kent's gang is inevitable, but "Frenchy" is won over by Destry and changes sides. A final gunfight ensues where Frenchy is killed in the crossfire, and the rule of law wins the day.
As appearing in screen credits:
Dietrich sings "See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have" and "You've Got That Look", written by Frank Loesser, set to music by Frederick Hollander, which have become classics.
Famed Western writer Max Brand contributed the novel, Destry Rides Again, but the film also owes its origins to Brand's serial "Twelve Peers", published in a pulp-magazine. In the original work, Harrison (or "Harry") Destry was not a pacifist. As filmed in 1932, with Tom Mix in the starring role, the central character differed in that Destry did wear six-guns in that version.
The film was James Stewart's first western (he would not return to the genre until 1950, with Broken Arrow and Winchester 73). The story featured a ferocious cat-fight between Marlene Dietrich and Una Merkel, which apparently caused a mild censorship problem at the time of release.
According to writer/director Peter Bogdanovich, Marlene Dietrich told him during an aircraft flight that she and James Stewart had an affair during shooting and that she became pregnant and had the baby surreptitiously aborted without telling Stewart.
Internationally, the film was released under the alternate titles Femme ou Démon in French and Arizona in Spanish.
Destry Rides Again was generally well accepted by the public, as well as critics. It was reviewed by Frank S. Nugent in The New York Times, who noted that the film did not follow the usual Hollywood type-casting. On Dietrich's role, he characterized, "It's difficult to reconcile Miss Dietrich's Frenchy, the cabaret girl of the Bloody Gulch Saloon, with the posed and posturing Dietrich we last saw in Mr. Lubitsch's 'Angel'." Stewart's contribution was similarly treated, "turning in an easy, likable, pleasantly humored performance."Universal Pictures released an earlier version, also titled Destry Rides Again (1932), directed by Benjamin Stoloff and starring Tom Mix and Zasu Pitts.
An almost shot-for-shot remake of the 1939 production, Destry (1954), was also directed by George Marshall and stars Audie Murphy and Thomas Mitchell.
A Broadway musical version of the story, Destry Rides Again, opened in New York at the Imperial Theater on April 23, 1959, and played 472 performances. Produced by David Merrick, the show had a book by Leonard Gershe, music and lyrics by Harold Rome, and starred Andy Griffith as Destry and Dolores Gray as Frenchy.
ABC aired a short-lived television series in 1964, Destry, based on the first two films, starring John Gavin as the son of the movie's title character.