Saturday, February 17, 2007

DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (Paramount 1939) Universal Home Video

George Marshall’s Destry Rides Again (1939) is a ten gallon western hit, a lavishly mounted adventure that casts gangly James Stewart as Thomas Jefferson Destry Jr., the newly appointed sheriff of a thoroughly lawless town. At first, Tom’s unassuming good nature pegs him as a push over amongst the criminal element, as well as from the spurious ladies of the evening who are fronted by the erotic intercontinental harlot, Frenchy (Marlene Dietrich).

However, very soon Destry begins to assert his power and authority as the law of the land – a move that leads to an outbreak of violence. The film is justly remembered for one scene in particular; the cooling off of Frenchie - where Destry dumps a rather large bucket of water on the sassy temptress and shortly thereafter incurs her wrath; as well as Dietrich’s sultry rendition of See What The Boys In The Backroom’ll Have. The forgotten Mischa Auer co-stars as Boris – a simple-minded philanderer who gets his comeuppance from spicy wife, Lily Belle (Una Merkel).

Destry Rides Again comes at a particularly interesting moment in Hollywood's on again/off again love affair with the big budget western. Basically, it's on again - thanks to John Ford's Stagecoach and Michael Curtiz's Dodge City; both most often accredited with resurrecting the western genre from its low-budget oblivion as modestly funded serialized Saturday matinee fodder. Destry Rides Again doesn't always get such honorable mention, perhaps because it tries - most successfully - to straddle comedy, drama, adventure and action while maintaining the time honored conventions one expects to find in the western genre. 

The best thing about the film is its clever and unexpected chemistry between average every man James Stewart, and the exotic bird of paradise, Marlene Dietrich. On the surface these two seem unlikely casting. But together, they're dynamite and prove it by setting off romantic sparks throughout the film.  Felix Jackson, Henry Myers and Gertrude Purcell's screenplay keeps all the elements in perfect balance. But you could just as easily have set this story in midtown Manhattan and also come up a winner.

The genuine disappointment is that Universal Home Video has undervalued the staying power of this classic with a thoroughly undernourished transfer. Marred by fading, age related artifacts and a poorly balanced gray scale, there is very little to recommend the overall visual quality of this disc. Contrast levels are under exposed during night scenes and slightly over exposed elsewhere. A glaring and distracting amount of film grain and age related artifacts are present throughout and the image appears overly soft in spots. The audio is mono and adequately represented with minor distortions. There are no extras.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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