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Criterion Collection: Destry Rides Again | Blu-ray Review

George Marshall’s classic comedy Western Destry Rides Again finally gets its due with its inclusion in the esteemed Criterion Collection. A notable entry in the filmography of its director and lead stars, it was one of the first notable genre hybrids, the success of which would generate a legion of evolving formulaic successors.

Notably, this was the first time Jimmy Stewart would star in a Western, a genre he would return to in the 1950s with several Anthony Mann collaborations. The jack-of-all-trades Marshall would also return to the genre, directing a segment of the classic How the West Was Won (1962) and also remade the title in 1954 as Destry, starring Audie Murphy.

But the film is perhaps best recognized as a major comeback for star Marlene Dietrich, scoring top billing in what would be her first hit since leaving behind her successive string of titles directed by Josef von Sternberg (the last being 1935’s The Devil is a Woman). Dietrich, on the verge of retirement after several major misfires (including the Lubitsch vehicle Angel and Jacques Feyder’s Knight Without Armor, 1937), would also make her unlikely debut in the genre, which she would return to several times throughout her career (including The Spoilers and Rancho Notorious).

The second characterization of Max Brand’s (author of the Dr. Kildare series) 1930 novel Destry Rides Again takes place in the fictional town Bottleneck, where Kent (Brian Donlevy), owner of the Last Chance Saloon, swindles gamblers out of money with the help of his girlfriend and lead performer Frenchy (Dietrich). When Kent murders Sheriff Keough (Joe King), the cover-up includes colluding mayor Hiram J. Slade (Samuel S. Hinds) appointing local drunk Washington Dimsdale (Charles Winninger) as the replacement. But Dimsdale take his new post seriously, swearing off the booze and calling upon Tom Destry Jr. (Stewart) to be his deputy, as he had previously worked as a deputy under Destry’s deceased father. However, Dimsdale is disappointed when Destry arrives in Bottleneck professing to detest the use of guns to instill law and order. While Kent and his cronies fail to take Destry seriously, the new deputy has other ways of bringing justice to the land.

Although Jimmy Stewart’s anti-violence Destry might seem an odd choice for audiences who haven’t experienced him in Westerns, he cuts quite the striking figure as the lanky, against-the-odds gunman. Likewise, he shares an unexpected chemistry with Dietrich (with whom he had an affair while filming), at last stepping off the goddess pedestal which she’d been placed upon by von Sternberg, is a revelation as a selfish, unlikeable con-artist whose relationship with Destry allows for a change of heart.

While many of its narrative machinations will eventually seem old hat, it’s the classic song numbers included in Destry (which became Dietrich signatures, including “See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”) and the pull no punches catfight between Dietrich and Una Merkel which allows Marshall’s film to ascend to iconicity.

A coterie of notable character actors also pads out the mise en scene wonderfully, including Mischa Auer, Charles Winninger, Jack Carson, Samuel S. Hinds (who would later appear with Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life) and a deliciously vile Brian Donlevy.

Film Rating: ★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Rating: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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