Back in the day, the town of Bottleneck was ran by Sheriff Destry and his deputy Washington Dimsdale (Charles Winninger). But years after Sheriff Destry’s death, Bottleneck has become a pretty rough and tumble town run by saloon owner Kent and his barmaid Frenchy (Marlene Dietrich) and Washington has become the town drunk, always reminiscing about the good old days when he was the deputy. Kent has been running a fixed poker game that he uses to bilk ranch owners out of their land so he can charge cattle owners a hefty fee to let their cattle pass through. When Kent tries this trick on Lern Claggett, Lern tells Sheriff Keogh and Keogh starts investigating. Kent kills Sheriff Keogh and the mayor, who has been conspiring with Kent, tells the town that Keogh had to leave town suddenly and gives his job to Washington. They assume that Washington will be too drunk to do the job properly, but little do they know that a little responsibility is a good thing for Washington. He gives up alcohol on the spot and calls for Sheriff Destry’s son, Tom Destry, Jr. (James Stewart) to come to Bottleneck and be his deputy.
When Destry comes to town, it seems like he’s all wrong for Bottleneck. Surprisingly for someone who’s supposed to be in charge of keeping such a wild town in line, he refuses to carry a gun. He sure knows how to use one, but he just doesn’t believe in using them. Destry becomes something of a town joke, but he actually manages to win Frenchy over after he breaks up a fight she’s in and she gets into a fight with him instead. But then he gets to work at investigating Sheriff Keogh’s murder and arrests Gyp, one of Kent’s cohorts. Kent thinks he’s outsmarted Destry by appointing another one of his cohorts as judge, but it turns out Destry is way ahead of him and has sent for a real judge to come to town for the case. When Kent finds out, he’s furious and gets a gang of his friends ready to shoot Destry. Frenchy knows what’s going on and tries to save Destry by having him come visit her at her house and the gang shoots Washington instead. Now Destry is really mad! He goes home, gets his father’s guns, and rallies all the gypped ranchers to take down all the outlaws. An epic shootout takes place that results in Frenchy sacrificing herself for Destry.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may have picked up on the fact that I’m not terribly fond of Westerns. There are a few that I like, but generally, I’d rather watch one of my cats sleep than watch a Western. For me to say that I really liked a Western is one of the highest compliments I can give a movie and Destry Rides Again is certainly deserving of that honor. I probably wouldn’t have sought this movie out at all if it weren’t for the fact that I’m a big Marlene Dietrich fan, but in the end, I’m really glad I gave it a chance because it’s a lot of fun. It’s much more lighthearted than your typical Western, but it’s also got some very exciting action scenes that are so classically Western.
This was the first Western for both Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich. Of course, Jimmy proved to be a natural fit for the genre, and went on to make many more. He was definitely perfect for that non-threatening, mild mannered character. Dietrich actually wasn’t particularly keen on making a Western, but at the time, she was deeply concerned about the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany. Her friend Erich Maria Remarque told her that being in a Western would make her seem more all American and maybe American audiences would be more receptive to what she had to say about Nazis if they thought of her as one of their own. So she agreed and I’m glad she went ahead with it, because she seemed to be having such a good time with her role. At first, I was afraid that Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich would be kind of an odd couple, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked them together. Destry Rides Again is just a good time from beginning to end.