Today, “Destry Rides Again” is remembered as one of the best Westerns of all time. That is largely thanks to its innovative approach to the genre, as it combined elements of musicals with romantic comedy while imbuing the whole thing with a real sense of heart and morality. In what was his first Western, James Stewart played Deputy Sheriff Tom Destry, a pacifist who attempts to bring order in the corrupt fictional town of Bottleneck. At first, he tries to do so through non-violent means but ultimately has to embrace the gunslinging ways of the old West to succeed.
The plot of “Destry Rides Again” made for some delightfully comedic moments, allowing Stewart to deliver an assured performance while having a great time with the character. Barely a line is said without a wry smile and a playful drawl. That reached almost self-parody levels when Destry questions Marlene Dietrich’s saloon singer, Frenchy, about “taking part in crooked poker games, cheatin’ folks out of their ranches.”
According to Roy Pickard’s 1993 biographical book “Jimmy Stewart: A Life In Film,” this kind of playful persona was exactly what Stewart needed after the rigors of filming “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” with the fastidious Frank Capra. Pickard wrote that “Destry Rides Again” was “something of a battery recharger” for the actor as it was a “relatively easy film to make.”
Stewart was just glad to be there: “As I was just a contract player at [MGM] it was good to be considered for the role.” And while the film was well-received, Stewart got complaints from “Western picture buffs across the country,” who felt the actor’s mild-mannered Sheriff wasn’t quite tough enough.