Destry Rides Again
Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart ride high in this superb comedic western, both a boisterous spoof and a shining example of the genre it is having fun with. As the brawling, rough-and-tumble saloon singer Frenchy, Dietrich shed her exotic love-goddess image and launched a triumphant career comeback, while Stewart cemented his amiable everyman persona, in his first of many westerns, with a charming turn as a gun-abhorring deputy sheriff who uses his wits to bring law and order to the frontier town of Bottleneck. A sparkling script, a supporting cast of virtuoso character actors, and rollicking musical numbers—delivered with unmatched bravado by the magnetic Dietrich—come together to create an irresistible, oft-imitated marvel of studio-era craftsmanship.
George Marshall’s Destry Rides Again comes to Blu-ray via The Criterion Collection, presented with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode in its original aspect ratio of 1.35:1 on a dual-layer disc. The presentation comes from a new 4K restoration performed by Universal and The Film Foundation.
The end results are pretty good, though I was surprised by a slight softness to the image. Grain is rendered well enough (most of the time) and the details are there, but it’s almost like there’s just this very slight smear to everything that just holds back those finer details and textures. I’ll put that down to the source materials, though, as the digital aspect of the image looks fine otherwise. There are moments where the image can take on a waxier look, but I’m unsure if it’s anything to do with the source materials, encode, or restoration since it’s incredibly inconsistent and not all that glaring. A couple of sources were used—a 35mm nitrate composite fine-grain and a 35mm safety composite fine-grain—so it could maybe come down to that and transitioning between the sources.
The clean-up has also be incredibly thorough and extensive, and outside of some marks showing up on the sides of the frame there isn’t much else. It’s incredibly clean, contrast looks good, and gray scale is nicely rendered. The film has been missing in action (or at least missing from a decent release) so it was wonderful to get something like this.
The lossless PCM mono presentation is what it is, but it’s more than serviceable enough. There are no major problems, dialogue is clear, music sounds fine, and it doesn’t sound to have been filtered excessively (at least), so there is some modest oomph to it.
The film gets a modest little special edition after Universal’s featureless DVD from almost 2 decades ago. There are a couple of new interviews, the first with Imogen Sara Smith, who explains how the film broke the genre rules of the time from making the hero more of a pacifist (or at least didn’t like using guns) to sending up many elements of the “horse opera.” She also looks at it how it plays off of Marlene Dietrich’s persona and brings her down to Earth before getting into the film’s European influence. Smith does a wonderful job covering the many aspects of the film, all in a swift 17-minute run-time.
James Stewart biographer Donald Dewey also pops up for a 21-minute discussion around Stewart’s career at the time, explaining how studios didn’t really know what to do with him, and then how he found that sweet-spot as a loveable everyman doing Frank Capra’s films at Columbia (it was those along with Destry that shot him to stardom). Stewart would then make the eventual turn to the rougher (even more vicious) characters in his later westerns with Anthony Mann.
Criterion also includes a couple of archival features starting with excerpts from an audio recording of director George Marshall recording an oral history of his career for the AFI in 1973. Running 19-minutes and played over various stills around what Marshall’s discussing, he recounts his film career from bit player to filmmaker, going over some of his work, with Destry only receiving a brief mention. Criterion also includes a 1945 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of Destry Rides Again with Stewart playing his original role (Dietrich’s role is played by Joan Blondell). This only runs 54-minutes, with the opening and ads, so the story is cut down, with the opening taking the biggest hit, but as far as radio adaptations go it’s fairly close.
Farran Smith Nehme then provides an essay for the release’s insert, offering an all-encompassing account of the film’s production and release (even Stewart’s and Dietrich’s possible off-screen relationship) and the impact the film had on the genre along with Stewart’s and Dietrich’s respective careers.
In all I would have expected a lot more, maybe some appreciations from present filmmakers and such, but the supplements are all good if not entirely satisfying.
Feeling to have fallen to the wayside a bit, Destry Rides Again receives a nice Blu-ray release with a wonderful looking presentation. It’s just a shame it’s not the big special edition I would have expected.