Destry Rides Again is a 1939 western film directed by George Marshall, starring Marlene Dietrich, James Stewart, Mischa Auer, Charles Winninger, Brian Donlevy, Allen Jenkins, Irene Hervey, Bill Cody, Jr., and Una Merkel.
This is a comedy and a drama (and a remake of a 1932 Tom Mix Western), about how a corrupt and violent town can be cleaned up without relying entirely on physical force. It demonstrates the power the cooperation between men and women, as well as what can be done by putting respect for the law over reliance on brawn.
The film opens with a drunken brawl, but seen from outside the tavern rather than inside. The saloon owner and Frenchy (Dietrich) cheat a man out of his ranch. Frenchy spills coffee on the man when he gleefully bets his $10,000 ranch with an unbeatable poker hand. Kent's stooge replaces the man's ace in the hole with a deuce. When Sheriff Keogh goes to investigate, Kent's gang murders him and hides his body. The mayor announces that Keogh has suddenly gone away on business and picks the banjo playing town drunk to be the new sheriff. Unexpectedly, this former deputy of the great Destry suddenly swears off drinking: "You gotta choose between the bottle or the badge". He announces that he's sending for Tom Destry, Junior who cleaned up Tombstone.
A cattleman and his sister ride on the 6-horse stage along with Tom. The hot-headed cattleman complains about the bumpy ride, while his sister says she doesn't mind at all. Tom watches with calm, almost amused detachment. He then deflates Jack with a homespun anecdote about a violent man who went up against the wrong person one day, and is now pushing up the prettiest flowers in his hometown cemetery.
Kent introduces himself as a man with an unusual hobby - taking deputy's guns - and the other men edge cautiously away, but Destry defuses the situation by announcing he doesn't carry a gun. But people are not disappointed because a big fight does indeed break out: it's a cat fight over Callahan between his wife and Frenchy: "You know he'd rather be cheated by me than married to you." It lasts over two minutes and is broken up by Destry pouring water over the two women. It's a running joke that Callahan is treated like a pouting boy by his domineering wife.
Destry believes in law and order, but not in guns. This is the paradox of the film. A casual observer might think he was a pacifist. But he does believe in using force, just not in violent shoot-outs. A violent confrontation makes the bad guys look like heroes somehow, but locking them up in jail makes them look cheap and serves as a warning to the rest.
Destry is actually the most forceful man in town. When the sheriff talks of quitting, because Destry refuses to challenge the bad guys with guns a-blazing, Destry grabs his shoulder and turns him around. "You're not going back to being the town drunk!" He makes him swear him in. When three horsemen come in, shooting their pistols for fun, Destry tells them to hold on. One man calls him "No Gun Destry", but he asks if he can heft the other's guns. He then shoots the knobs off a sign and angrily tells the much subdued gun owner, "The next time, I'll put you in jail."
Destry stops another gun fight by siding with Kent against Claggett, the man he cheated, and permits Kent to throw Claggett off the ranch he worked ten years for. "We gotta respect the law. No two ways about it, right?" He also visits Frenchy "to apologize" (but really to appeal to her better nature).
He gives Callahan a pair of pants to help locate Keogh's body. No pacifist, Destry punches out Jack when he insultingly accuses him of accepting bribes from Kent.
The film has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
A western with a very similar plot and similar comic effects is Michael Curtiz's Dodge City.