Saturday, January 10, 2009

Duelling Destrys

What a great day for Cowboy movies.

This morning, AMC was running Destry Rides Again followed immediately by Destry. Both, of course, were the same story. The first was made in 1939 and starred James Stewart in the title role, and the second was done in 1954 and starred war hero-turned-actor Audie Murphy in the Destry role. Both were directed by George Marshall, and both were--and are--great movies.

The story deals with a rough-and-tumble town run by a rich and powerful bad guy. When the Sheriff disappears, the crooked mayor appoints the town drunk as Sheriff, figuring that he'll stay out of everyone's way. But the old drunk used to ride with frontier lawman legend Tom Destry back in the old days. That Destry--a fast and feared gunfighter--is dead, but he has a son, Tom Jr., played by Stewart and Murphy, who comes to town to help clean it up. But when Destry Jr. gets to town, the people are shocked and amused to find out that he doesn't even carry a gun! He quickly becomes the butt of a lot of jokes before the people start to realize that he doesn't need one.

In the first movie, Stewart has a great female lead in Marlene Dietrich. Murphy, fifteen years later, doesn't do too much worse when he gets paired off with Mari Blanchard, another big star from the 50's and 60's. But Dietrich definitely nailed the role, in my opinion.

Murphy did benefit from one other rising star in his version. The minor but important character of Jack Larson was played by a very young Alan Hale jr., a frequent bit player in old westerns later to become immortalized as The Skipper on Gilligan's Island.

I liked being able to watch the two films back-to-back because it gave me the opportunity to compare the actors' performances against their peers playing the same roles in the same story. It was easy for me to prefer Dietrich playing Frenchy over Blanchard's portrayal of Brandy (different names, but same "bad girl" character otherwise) but Stewart v. Murphy....Wow. Tough call there. Both are favorites of mine.

I watched the first one while eating breakfast and playing with Lagniappe, and then I drove to the gym to work out while the second one was on. I caught most of that one while on the treadmill, thus ensuring that I got MY workout in while Destry solved the murder of the missing sheriff and cleaned up the town.

As for my pick of the better Destry much as I like Audie Murphy in those old westerns, I have to give the nod to Stewart in this particular role.

But hey--don't take my word for it. watch 'em both yourself and tell me who you like better. It's not like it'll kill you to watch the same movie twice with different actors in each version. It's a good tale that moves along fast and you'll never be bored.

I'll state in closing--as I have before--that both of these movies starred real war heros. Jimmy Stewart was an Army Air Corps bomber pilot over Germany--he enlisted even though he didn't have to because he felt that it was his duty as an American. Likewise, Alan Hale joined the Coast Guard and served in the Pacific Theater.

Audie Murphy wasn't an actor before the war, but his military credentials as America's most decorated combat veteran are beyond dispute.

It's a damned shame that Hollywood took such a sharp left turn between those days and now. Back then, many of the silver screen's best and brightest rushed off to serve. Nowadays, we're stuck with punks like George Clooney and Sean Penn who are more than willing to pocket big buck pretending to be soldiers on screen but who not only refuse to serve like more talented and patriotic actors did in the 1940's, but openly criticize our military and our Commander-in-Chief during a time of war, and in the case of traitors like Penn, provide actual aide and comfort to our enemies.


  1. Anonymous8:18 PM

    I have seen both movies. And I agree I like the Stewart version better.

  2. It's been nice to see the Audie Murphy film library back in rotation on cable. I haven't seen DESTRY since I was a little kid, but I remember staying up for a late movie when I was maybe 9 or 10 and watching NIGHT PASSAGE with my grandfather, who'd seen it in the theater in 1957. Great movie.

    I agree about the character of actors currently. I watch movies with genuine tough guys, veterans, in them, like Lee Marvin, and comparing them to today's 'action heroes' such as, say, Tom Cruise, and... uh... there ain't no contest.

    A moment that has to be watched, and one of the creepiest scenes I've ever seen in film, is in TO HELL AND BACK. Audie Murphy is clearing a house, kicks in a door, and rakes a figure in the room with his Thompson. The 'enemy' is HIMSELF in a full-length mirror. It's scary as hell.

    And, if you want to know how to handle World War II-vintage small arms, there is no better tutorial than TO HELL AND BACK. Watch Murphy, and you can see that guy did a whole lot of business with those weapons. That guy was something else.

    Saturday morning Westerns: