I continue to study the Western genre. I have now launched a podcast about the making of Western films. Listen here
Destry should have been the model for most comedic westerns to follow. Unfortunately, most of them chose a more farcical direction and turned into spoofs of the genre. However, more than 80 years later, George Marshall’s film still stands as the supreme example of how to blend the genres.
The key, demonstrated by the film from beginning to end, is a respect for realism. Now don’t get me wrong, this film is far from an authentic account of Western history but it does remain grounded, even in its most ridiculous moments. Take the opening sequence for instance. We’re treated to a rowdy, raunchy affair with singing, dancing, binge-drinking, gambling, and fighting, all displayed with the supreme Hollywood craftsmanship (check out those tracking shots!). But however wild it gets, it’s all believable, especially within the world Marshall has so skillfully created. He establishes the rules and plays by them, giving us plenty of laughter but also some real consequences for his characters. It’s that dangerous feeling that enriches the comedic aspects of Destry Rides Again, instead of spoiling them. Marshall balances everything from romance to tragedy without losing the film’s light, charming tone.
I have great admiration for this movie and now I am even more curious to see Marshall’s remake of his own work, starring Audie Murphy in the Jimmy Stewart role.
Watched on Criterion Channel.