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).
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: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆