Here’s a classic — 1939’s Destry Rides Again — that is often overlooked.  It broke new ground. The comic Western. And like all true classics it’s been remade, and even adapted as a musical for Broadway.

But only the original is worthy of your attention. Some questions (and answers):

Why is there no ‘Destry’ as such in the picture? Because the lead character played by James  Stewart, in his first western, is the son of famous lawman ‘Tom Destry.’  The name of Stewart’s character is actually Tom Destry Jr., a new deputy vying to clean up the town of Bottleneck. Destry Jr. Rides Again doesn’t quite work as a title.

What is Marlene Dietrich’s main contribution? She plays dance hall queen “Frenchy” who shifts her love interest from bad guy Brian Donlevy to Stewart.  She notably sings “See What The Boys In The Back Room Will Have” and “You’ve Got That Look,” which became staples of her subsequent theater and night club appearances.

What about Destry drew censorship nervousness at the time it was released? It was a broadly physical brawl between ‘Frenchy” and actress Una Merkel’s character (‘Lilly Belle’) which took on mud-wrestling proportions. Hints of sex and pure violence all in one package.

How did the odd pairing or Stewart and Dietrich hit it off?  Odd or not, they got along famously.  Marlene later said she and Stewart had a hot romance during Destry’s production.

Isn’t it true that the critics hated Destry when it came out, apparently confused by its mixture of conventional western, broad satire and wildly physical comedy?  No, it isn’t. The New York Times critic noted that the picture defied typecasting.  No kidding. Stewart’s and Dietrich’s performances drew raves. More important, the general public liked the picture.

When did the Broadway musical version of the movie open?  Producer David Merrick opened the show in 1959, with Andy Griffith  in the role played by Stewart and Dolores Gray as ‘Frenchy.” It was a hit.

 

 

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