Destry Rides Again

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Destry Rides Again
Destry Rides Again (1939 poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by George Marshall
Written byFelix Jackson
Screenplay by
Based on Destry Rides Again 1930 novel
by Max Brand
Produced by Joe Pasternak
Cinematography Hal Mohr
Edited byMilton Carruth
Music by Frank Skinner
Universal Pictures
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date
  • December 29, 1939 (1939-12-29)(United States)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$700,000 [1] or $765,000 [2]
Box office$1.6 million [3]

Destry Rides Again is a 1939 American Western comedy film directed by George Marshall and starring Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart. The supporting cast includes Mischa Auer, Charles Winninger, Brian Donlevy, Allen Jenkins, Irene Hervey, Billy Gilbert, Bill Cody Jr., Lillian Yarbo, and Una Merkel.


The opening credits list the story as "Suggested by Max Brand's novel Destry Rides Again ", but the movie is almost completely different. It also bears no resemblance to the 1932 adaptation of the novel starring Tom Mix, which is often retitled as Justice Rides Again.

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". [4] [5]


James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again Destry-Rides-Again-1939.jpg
James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again

Saloon owner Kent, the unscrupulous boss of the fictional Western town of Bottleneck, has the town's sheriff, Mr. Keogh, killed when Keogh asks one too many questions about a rigged poker game. Kent and Frenchy, a cheap saloon tramp who is his girlfriend, now have a stranglehold over the local cattle ranchers. The town's crooked mayor, Hiram J. Slade, who is in collusion with Kent, appoints the town drunk, Washington Dimsdale, as the new sheriff, assuming that he will be easy to control and manipulate. However, Dimsdale, a deputy under the famous lawman Tom Destry, promptly swears off drinking, and is able to call upon the latter's equally formidable son, Tom Destry Jr., to help him make Bottleneck a lawful, respectable town.

Destry arrives in Bottleneck with Jack Tyndall, a cattleman, and his sister, Janice. Destry initially confounds the townsfolk by refusing to strap on a gun and maintaining civility in dealing with everyone, including Kent and Frenchy. This quickly makes him a disappointment to Dimsdale and a laughingstock to the townspeople; he is mockingly asked to "clean up" Bottleneck by being given a mop and bucket. However, after a number of rowdy horsemen ride into town shooting their pistols in the air, he demonstrates uncanny expertise in marksmanship and threatens to jail them if they do it again, earning the respect of Bottleneck's citizens.

Through the townsmen's evasive answers regarding the whereabouts of Keogh, Destry gradually begins to suspect that Keogh was murdered. He confirms this by provoking Frenchy into admitting it, but without a location for the body, he lacks any proof. Destry therefore deputizes Boris, a Russian immigrant whom Frenchy had earlier humiliated, and implies to Kent that he had found the body outside of town "in remarkably good condition". When Kent sends a member of his gang to check on Keogh's burial site, Boris and Dimsdale follow, capture, and jail him.

Although the gang member is charged with Keogh's murder (in the hope that he would implicate Kent in exchange for clemency), Mayor Slade appoints himself judge of the trial, making an innocent verdict a foregone conclusion. To prevent this, Destry calls in a judge from a larger city in secret, but the plan is ruined after Boris accidentally gives away the other judge's name in the saloon. Kent orders Frenchy to invite the deputy to her house while other gang members storm the sheriff's office and cause a breakout; now in love with Destry, she accepts. When shots are fired, he rushes back, to find the cell empty and Dimsdale mortally wounded. Destry returns to his room and puts on his gun belt, abandoning his previous commitment to nonviolence.

Under Destry's command, the honest townsmen form a posse and prepare to attack the saloon, where Kent's gang is fortified, while Destry enters through the roof and looks for Kent. At Frenchy's urging, the townswomen march in between the groups, preventing further violence, before breaking into the saloon and subduing the gang. Kent narrowly escapes, and attempts to shoot Destry from the second floor; Frenchy takes the bullet for him, killing her, and Destry kills Kent.

Some time later, Destry is shown to be the sheriff of a now lawful Bottleneck, repeating to children the stories that Dimsdale told him of the town's violent history. He jokingly tells a story about marriage to Janice, implying a marriage between them will soon follow.


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, as well as a revised version of Little Joe the Wrangler.


Director George Marshall, Marlene Dietrich and producer Joe Pasternak on the set of Destry Rides Again Marshall-Dietrich-Pasternak in Destry Rides Again.jpg
Director George Marshall, Marlene Dietrich and producer Joe Pasternak on the set of Destry Rides Again

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.

The film was James Stewart's first Western (he would not return to the genre until 1950, with Winchester '73 , followed by Broken Arrow ). 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. [6] The film also represented Dietrich's return to Hollywood after a string of flops at Paramount ("Angel", "The Scarlet Empress", "The Devil is a Woman") caused her, and a number of other stars, to be labelled "box office poison". While vacationing at Cap d'Antibes with her family, her mentor Josef von Sternberg and her lover Erich Maria Remarque, she received an offer from Joe Pasternak to come to Universal at half the salary she had been receiving for most of the 1930s. Pasternak had previously tried to sign Dietrich to Universal while she was still in Berlin. Unsure of what to do she was advised by von Sternberg "I made you into a Goddess. Now show them you have feet of clay".

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 but had a surreptitious abortion without telling Stewart. [7]

Internationally, the film was released under the alternative 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 observed 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." [8]

Other versions

Marlene Dietrich's character, Frenchy, was the inspiration for the character of Lili Von Shtupp in the Western parody Blazing Saddles . [11]

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  3. "Box office information for France in 1945." Box Office Story. Retrieved: April 11, 2015.
  4. Stern, Christopher (December 3, 1996). "National Film Registry taps 25 more pix". Variety. Retrieved September 29, 2020.
  5. "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved September 29, 2020.
  6. Quirk 2000, pp. 117–118.
  7. Riva 1994, pp. 456, 500.
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  9. Overview:'Destry Rides Again' (1932)." IMDb. Retrieved: April 11, 2015.
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  11. "Mel Brooks: 10 things you never knew about 'Blazing Saddles'". May 4, 2014.