I love Jimmy Stewart. I first saw him in Harvey, then Rear Window, and then, I think, in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, or maybe It's a Wonderful Life, and that's it, I was hooked. It doesn't really matter, I guess, the point is, I like Jimmy Stewart movies and have started trying to slowly work my way through his catalogue. I was particularly excited about Destry Rides Again because it co-stars Marlene Dietrich, and because it's a Western. One of the things that I love about Jimmy Stewart is that, despite the fact that he's always unmistakably Jimmy Stewart, his characters are actually quite different from each other. This one is a real badass. Not in the puffed up macho kind of way, but in the quiet, mild-mannered, opposed to guns yet best shot in the county kind of way. Totally awesome.
Marlene Dietrich was, of course, totally hot, and also a raging badass. They just don't make women like her anymore. Her English has just a slight accent in this one, and she's got a few great songs, particularly "See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have". She throws things a lot when she gets pissed, which, for some reason, is incredibly sexy. There's also a great catfight scene.
I haven't watched that many Westerns, now that I think about it. Fascinating genre. This one in particular is interesting because of the way it plays with gender identity - Stewart gets laughed at a lot for not being manly enough, and he has this weird motherly/homoerotic/best friend relationship going with the sheriff - there's this bizarre shirt tucking and untucking tic they keep up for most of the movie, very odd, and of course, Marlene is a total badass, and dominates most of the men in town, but not the main guys, and then one of the final scenes is a veritable army of women who march in, essentially to save the town. So while on the one hand, there are these moments when gender identity is clearly an issue in the standard kind of way, it also seems to subverted repeatedly in the film. It's also interesting because there's this curious multiculturalism going on as well. The sheriff develops an Irish accent about 20 minutes into the movie, and the other deputy is a Russian named Boris, who longs to be a real cowboy. So you've got this team of these three guys who are kind of othered and emasculated in various ways, and all get to reclaim their manhood; Boris by standing up to his wife, the sheriff by getting shot in the back (in this movie, it's the way to go), and Stewart, ironically, by picking up a gun. So much for being a man without a gun, eh? But it's interesting the way that there are these norms that are set up in the course of the movie in order to define some people as different, and then this difference is kind of interrogated and validated, and then dissolves. Except, it seems, for the Russian, who may become a cowboy, but will always be a Cossack. At least we can all agree there.
The movie was made in 1939, and again, I can't help but think mournfully to myself that they just don't make 'em that way anymore. But it's hard to say exactly how they made them then, and why it's so different. There's something about old movies, the kinds of interpretive practices they open themselves up to, the way they take what is essentially a stock plot and wring every last drop out of it, the acting, the whole star system - great stuff.