Approved. I find it kind of hilarious that my wife has seen this movie enough times to know all the words to the Marlene Dietrich songs, but it isn't really child-friendly by today's standards. Don't get me wrong. There was no pausing as my kids came down for snacks after bed. It's not that kind of content. The issues with this movie are issues that you would expect from a Western made in 1939. There is xenophobia leading to outright racism. I'm pretty sure that the protagonist hit a woman for being too mouthy for him (I turned my head for a second and there she was with a split lip). It's got some very uncomfortable politics. Regardless, it is still approved.
DIRECTOR: George Marshall
Okay, I decided that I'm still doing the blog, but doing it at a more organic pace. I'm not going to go out of my way to finish movies in time to write something the next day. It's almost summer vacation and I plan to read and play video games. I know. Crazy, right? So as I watch movies, I'll write about them. The benefit, hopefully, is that my blogs will be written while the movie is still fresh. I straight up watched Destry Rides Again before I went to bed last night and now it's 8:14 am. Yeah, this is probably going to go well.
The opening of the movie is perhaps the most telling element of Destry Rides Again. Showing a sign saying "Welcome to Bottleneck", the entire thing looks pretty darned Hollywoodish. Hollywood often made the Western the B-film on a double bill. All of the sets were available. While you have a pretty impressive cast of Marlene Dietrich, Jimmy Stewart, and Brian Donlevy, everything else kind of reads like Hollywood backlot. That vibe quickly disappears and the movie really settles into being another Western. But seeing that sign feels like the bare minimum of effort was put into making that sign. I know. I'm reading into a sign here for a long time. (Pun intended.) But immediately after this sign, the opening credits roll and there's something that I'm going to over-analyze. It says that the movie was "Suggested by the novel Destry Rides Again". It wasn't based on the book. It was suggested by the book. That's something I'm not used to seeing in film.
Because --and this is exclusively headcanon that may prove accurate --I really get the vibe that the book was not this movie. In my head, the novel Destry Rides Again was an intense Western drama, detailing the rise of a hero trying to tame the West. It was about a son who had watched his father shot in the back trying to stand up for what was right and then trying to become an even more hardened sheriff. What we got, instead, was a movie that isn't really sure if it wants to be a comedy or a drama. It's tone is really weird. I'm not saying this like it is a bad thing. It's not a great thing either. But Destry Rides Again reads a lot more like a dramedy than anything else. It's borderline silly throughout. The titular Destry really rides pretty hard on Jimmy Stewart's folksy charm. It puts him in all kinds of situations where his enthusiasm and back woods knowledge is in stark contrast to the world he's thrust into. For all I know, this is the book. (Although the cover of the book has someone firing a gun, which is already in contrast to what the book is about.
As a comedy, it's kind of funny. I don't know if it works as a drama as much. This is where I kind of treat the movie as disposable, by the way. I know it's not fair of me to treat most Westerns as disposable. It's stupid of me and I know it is one of my faults. But I really wanted to invest in the drama of this movie. There are some moments that are really meant to be pretty dramatic. The death of Wash is supposed to be hella tragic. The fact that Frenchie dies is almost beyond belief. But the movie gets pretty absurd at times. It plays on the belief that I wholeheartedly subscribe to, but it treats it as a joke. Destry comes into town to clean up this den of iniquity, but he's going to do it unarmed. Realizing that the way of the gun leads to misery and death, Destry wants to find ways of solving problems without resorting to using weaponry or lethal force. Do you know how much I didn't want this to be a joke? For a long time within the movie, I was thinking that they were going to be "This is all folksy. But when it chips are down, we'll realize the value of not resorting to lethal force."
Which leads me to the point where the movie let me down. Once Wash is killed (not that Wash...), Destry straps on his father's pistols and leads this revolution to take down Kent. It's actually pretty cool because Frenchie leads an even bigger army. But he's doing so with a gun. And Frenchie dies...as does Kent. Destry shoots Kent. There's something so anti-climactic about this whole thing with Kent and Destry. Kent finds Destry to be a simpleton whom he can work with throughout the film. Destry, despite having a mission to clean up the town, is there to change minds and hearts about how people have to live. He's aware from moment one that Kent is gross and the reason that this town is so darned toxic. But if Destry was going to shoot Kent because he's angry, isn't Kent the one who is right? I keep making connections to Doctor Who and I'm ashamed of this, but it's going to happen right now. The Doctor hates guns. The same can be said for Batman. There's a scene in Series One of the reboot where the Ninth Doctor picks up a weapon. It looks cool as heck, but the show really points out that this is where the Doctor fails. It's because he's not relying on his greatest virtue: finding another way. It's the Doctor without a plan and resorting to brute force. By having Destry pick up those weapons and kill Kent, it kind of proves everyone right.
Wash wouldn't have died. This is what Tyndall wanted from moment one. Heck, it's almost like the movie went out of its way to make everyone but Destry look silly in their defense of this character. But Destry is the one one who never really looks silly, despite the fact that the movie proved him wrong. Heck, even Frenchie dies, despite the fact that she's just come around to his point of view by the end of the film. I do want to look at that character choice. Frenchie kind of is a villain. Yeah, I don't like the idea that Destry has to be the one to keep her in line, especially by splitting her lip. But I don't get Frenchie's shift in character. I mean, I emotionally get it. The movie has the two characters at strong odds. There's that gross Taming of the Shrew element in this based on humiliation and grooming. But we start the film with Destry and Frenchie at absolute odds. Frenchie, mortified by the fact that this stranger who can't even carry a gun gets her soaking wet, throws things with the intention of killing him. He then splits her lip and uses her for information. Now, the film would like to suggest that many people haven't stood up to Frenchie before. After all, she is a French force of nature, so kowtowing to her seems to be the norm. But she full on becomes a hero at the end of the movie, despite the fact that her income is affected by switching sides.
From an audience's perspective, it makes sense. We're meant to experience that Pussy Galore moment where the villainess becomes a hero because of the gallant hero. But in terms of verisimilitude, there's nothing there. It's insanely absurd. There's no small shift towards morality beyond the attraction that she has for Jimmy Stewart. It's a bit silly.
But that's what the whole movie is. It's just a bit silly. I don't hate silly. I don't even hate what the final product is with Destry Rides Again. It's fun. But there's a bunch of concepts that I would love to explore just a little bit better. Instead, we get just a safe Western that is better than most because of charismatic personalities. That's fine. But I want better than fine sometimes.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.