Welcome to Bottleneck, one of the roughest, toughest towns in the Old West. It's difficult to uphold the law in this place, as the man who is really running things is not the Sheriff or the Mayor, but Kent (Brian Donlevy), who is determined to own all the land for miles around so he can charge cattle ranchers extortionate prices to run their livestock through his territory. Tonight Kent is gambling with farmer Claggett (Tom Fadden) and making it seem as if the man is enjoying a lucky streak, so lucky that he bets his farm, knowing he has an ace in the hole. However, Kent has invited the barroom's singer Frenchy (Marlene Dietrich) up and she "accidentally" spills hot coffee on Claggett - enabling Kent's men to switch the cards and Claggett loses it all. He fetches his rifle and is about to take his revenge when the Sheriff stops him and tells him he will sort out the cheats - but a gunshot rings out and the Sheriff mysteriously "leaves town"...
Could Marlene Dietrich sing? The debate has raged down the decades, with one side loving her distinctive voice, and the other arguing she was tone deaf, but one thing's for sure, when she made Destry Rides Again not only did she gain a signature song in "See What the Boys in the Backroom Will Have" to go along with "Falling In Love Again", but won a career revival after she had been labelled "box office poison". Not only that, but co-star James Stewart secured his place as a genuine Hollywood celebrity - Mr Smith Goes to Washington was released the same year - in the role of Destry, the man the new Sheriff Dimsdale (Charles Winninger) sends for to back him up. Dimsdale is the town drunk and has been appointed to his new post as a joke, with Kent knowing that there's no way he will interfere with his schemes, but Dimsdale has high hopes for Destry.
This Destry is the son of a previous sheriff, one of the bravest men Dimsdale ever worked alongside, so when he steps off the stagecoach holding a parasol and birdcage (for the lady passenger who he happened to travel with), he doesn't exactly make the best first impression. And when it is revealed he doesn't carry guns, drinks milk and is generally pacifistic in demeanour, Dimsdale is crestfallen, feeling he has been made a fool of and telling Destry to go back home. In spite of this, the new anecdote-spouting arrival is made of sterner stuff than he first appears, and begins to make life difficult for Kent when he starts asking awkward questions about what precisely went on the night the previous sheriff disappeared. By upholding the law, Destry seems to work in Kent's favour at first, but gradually his cunning becomes clear.
Stewart was apparently cast because he was the most unlikely cowboy the producers could think of (ironic considering his extensive work in the genre during the fifties), but he's marvellous throughout. This movie was "suggested by" the novel by Max Brand (the creator of Dr Kildare), and had already been filmed with Tom Mix in the lead, but this version was a good deal less conventional. Stewart and Dietrich had real chemistry, whether she's throwing bottles at him after he broke up her famous barroom brawl with Una Merkel, or being charmed by his manners despite herself, and it's a pity their romance is not allowed to blossom. The supporting cast couldn't be better, with Winninger and Mischa Auer, as the trouser-losing Callahan who becomes the second deputy, particularly standing out for praise. But the film doesn't quite have the courage of its convictions: disappointingly, for the ending Destry gives up his pacifism and takes up his guns. It's understandable considering what happens, but it would have been more satisfying to see him use his wits to catch out Kent. Nevertheless, Destry Rides Again is funny and tense in equal measure, one of the better Westerns of the thirties. Music by Frank Skinner.