Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Destry Rides Again

Destry Rides Again (1939)
Dir. George Marshall
Staring James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, Brian Donlevy

Kent (Donlevy) is slowly taking over the town of Bottleneck with a land scheme. When the town drunk is promoted to sheriff, he enlists the son of a former colleague to help him clean up the town. But the catch is that Destry (Stewart) has a strict no guns policy.
One of the hallmarks of old westerns is the villians using a land scheme amd terrorizing people out of town. I think that's one of the things that I liked about the new Magnificent Seven, and it's an old trope that was used in many films over the years. It seems like 9 out of 10 poverty row westerns of the thirties used this plot for their villians. It's the kind of thing that can get boring, so it's pretty exciting when a film comes along that does it in an interesting way.

Basically this movie is a fun little romp where James Stewart comes into town and is all "Gee, golly" and uses his words and good nature to diffuse situations. It's easy to dismiss a movie due to it being light hearted, but that's this films biggest strength. You've been conditioned to expect certain scenes to go a certain way, be it a bar fight or a shoot out, but this film (and it's unconventional hero) give them film a feel where you don't know what's going to happen.

The film was originally a vehicle for Marlene Dietrich, but she ends up being a minor figure with a couple of big scenes. She gets some entertaining musical numbers though, and she has some good scene chemistry with Stewart*. But really part of what made Stewart one of the all time greatest actors was the fact that he seemed to have great chemistry with everyone that he worked with. Also the movie has Brian Donlevy as the villian, and he was a great actor in tough guy roles that never really broke out and became a huge star. He's good as Kent, but he's basically the traditional western villian of the era.

Just as an aside, I want to mention this great foreign poster that highlights Dietrich:
This is one of many great examples of how beautiful old painted movie posters could be, and seeing this just makes me sad that we live in an era of boring posters created in Photoshop that all look the same.

It's not Stewart's best western, but it is his first. It's also extremely different from the more serious westerns that he'd later make. It seems to get ignored in favor of the films that he made with John Ford and Anthony Mann, but it's a really fun movie that is worth watching.

*And off screen too, if the rumors are to be believed.

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