Second chances are the rule of the West. Wide open country makes reinvention easy, no matter if you’re a cowboy, a bandit or the town drunk, at least in the movies. But in the 1939 Western, Destry Rides Again, the chance to start over happened both on and off screen.
The 1939 version marked the second time Destry had hit theaters: There was also a 1932 release that hewed closer to the plot of the novel that both movies (and a subsequent remake and Broadway show) were based on. But it was take two that packed the greater star power: Jimmy Stewart as lawman Thomas Jefferson Destry, Jr. and the legendary Marlene Dietrich as Frenchie, the dance hall queen. But at the time, Dietrich’s career was in much need of a lift.
Working with director Josef von Sternberg under the studio system at
Paramount, Dietrich created a niche for herself paying femme fatale
characters, but when von Sternberg was fired, their partnership ended,
leaving her to meander through a series of flops. Enter the tall, dark,
handsome sheriff. Stewart’s character, the son of a lawman famous for
clearing out unsavory types, is called into the town of Bottleneck when
local thugs, including Frenchie’s beau and co-conspirator, takes over. Destry Rides Again was a huge hit and revitalized Dietrich’s career. Both as Frenchie and in real life, Dietrich got a second chance.