Destry Rides Again

Destry Rides Again is a 1939 American Western film directed by George Marshall and starring Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart.

Destry Rides Again
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGeorge Marshall
Produced byJoe Pasternak
Written byFelix Jackson
Screenplay byHenry Myers
Gertrude Purcell
Based onDestry Rides Again
1930 novel
by Max Brand
StarringMarlene Dietrich
James Stewart
Music byFrank Skinner
CinematographyHal Mohr
Edited byMilton Carruth
Universal Pictures
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
December 29, 1939 (1939-12-29) (U.S. release)
1945 (France)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.6 million[2]

The supporting cast includes Mischa Auer, Charles Winninger, Brian Donlevy, Allen Jenkins, Irene Hervey, Billy Gilbert, Bill Cody Jr., Lillian Yarbo, and Una Merkel. Although the title comes from Max Brand's popular novel, which inspired the earlier screenplay with Tom Mix, this version is almost entirely unrelated to either.

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".


Saloon owner Kent (Brian Donlevy), the unscrupulous boss of the fictional Western town of Bottleneck, has the town's sheriff, Mr. Keogh (Joe King), killed when Keogh asks one too many questions about a rigged poker game. Kent and "Frenchy" (Marlene Dietrich), his girlfriend and the dance hall queen, now have a stranglehold over the local cattle ranchers. The crooked town's mayor, Hiram J. Slade (Samuel S. Hinds), who is in collusion with Kent, appoints the town drunk, Washington Dimsdale (Charles Winninger), 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. (James Stewart), 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 who 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 the movie ends a child sings "Little Joe" the song Frenchy was singing at the beginning of movie indicating Destry will never forget Frenchy.


As appearing in screen credits:[3]


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.


Famed 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 in that version.

The film was James Stewart's first western (he would not return to the genre until 1950, with Broken Arrow and Winchester 73). 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.[4] 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.[5]

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 noted 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."[6]

Other versions



  1. Scheuer, P. K. (1980, Jan 09). Pasternak: The man who out-disneyed disney. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  2. "Box office information for France in 1945." Box Office Story. Retrieved: April 11, 2015.
  3. "Destry Rides Again credits." IMDb. Retrieved: November 18, 2011.
  4. Quirk 2000, pp. 117–118.
  5. Riva 1994, pp. 456, 500.
  6. Nugent, Frank S. " 'Destry Rides Again' (1939)." The New York Times, originally published November 30, 1939. Retrieved: December 13, 2009.
  7. Overview:'Destry Rides Again' (1932)." IMDb. Retrieved: April 11, 2015.


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