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Destry (1954)

If Alfred Hitchcock can famously remake his own The Man Who Knew Too Much than what’s to prevent Raoul Walsh from redoing High Sierra as a western called Colorado Territory and remake his own The Strawberry Blonde seven years later under it’s original title, One Sunday Afternoon? Yes sir, both directors did just that. Which pretty much opens the door for director George Marshall to remake his version of 1939’s Destry Rides Again for the 50’s western craze as just plain Destry starring western favorite Audie Murphy in a role well suited to him that had previously been played by Jimmy Stewart in the earlier edition.

Rowdy cowboys, saloon hall dance girls and Lyle Bettger essaying one of his patented shoot’em in the back no good characters is what sets the story of Destry in motion. When Sheriff Bailey is shot in the back over getting a little too close to the truth of Bettger cheating Walter Baldwin out of his ranch, his substitute, the town drunk played by Thomas Mitchell takes his job a bit too seriously for Bettger’s taste when he calls in town tamer Tom Destry (Murphy). Audie’s introduction is a comical one as he descends the stagecoach holding an umbrella and a birdcage to the guffaws of the town folk who’ve gathered around to see the rough and tough hombre that Mitchell has summoned to clean up the criminal element of their wild frontier town. This right after the behemoth Alan Hale Jr. gets of the stage and decks a man which only magnifies how small Audie is.

Audie doesn’t carry a gun and talks softly when introduced to Bettger and the crooked town mayor, Edgar Buchanan. Mitchell is a might embarrassed thinking Audie isn’t the man for the job though we all know different. It’s at this point that we’re to see the famous Marlene Dietrich – Una Merkel fight re-enacted by Mari Blanchard and Mary Wickes in the middle of the saloon. Blanchard is the saloon gal that all the men yearn to hold.

This includes character favorite Wallace Ford whose caught red handed by wife Wickes who promptly stages a donnybrook with Blanchard to the amusement of all the saloon regulars. Yes, Audie will have his hands full with Blanchard as the temptress with the temper to match and then the sweet farm girl he’ll come to know played by contract player Lori Nelson.

Within a year of this release Lori would face off against the legendary Gill Man in The Revenge of the Creature that saw another contract player make his film debut. Who? I’m not telling, go watch it yourself and keep your eye on the lab assistant. This was Lori’s second go around in a Murphy western. She had already starred with him in Tumblweed and would also turn up in an episode of his Whispering Smith TV series as the 60’s rang in.

Audie is going to play it cool and when bully John Doucette gets out of hand, it’s time for Murphy to put on display his marksmanship with a six shooter. Bettger is soon to realize that the real life WW2 hero is not to taken lightly. Now Murphy poses a threat to Bettger and Buchanan’s underhanded schemes to cheat farmers off their lands. It won’t be long before a shootout is to take place bringing this Universal-International feature to a close.

I’m not about to tell you this 1953 take on the story is better than the 1939 version though I will concede that Mari Blanchard is no Marlene Dietrich. But then who is? If one looks at this film without making the comparison, it’s an enjoyable western romp with Audie Murphy in fine form as the baby faced cowboy that he became known for on the big screen. Universal-International was at this time producing plenty of cowboy pictures and the studio’s output was generally well made fare with plenty of popular lead actors and familiar faces to populate the background making them fun to revisit. If only these titles and the studio itself had the cult following of Hammer Films or the Universal Studios Monsters then perhaps we’d have better access to them.

It turns out that this wasn’t the only film the director would remake of own either. He turned in two memorable versions of a haunted island tale. First up the 1940 Bob Hope scare fest, The Ghost Breakers and it’s subsequent reworking for Martin and Lewis known as Scared Stiff in ’53. Both quite enjoyable if you get the chance. He’d work once more with Murphy on The Guns of Fort Petticoat before moving on to a succession of Glenn Ford titles.

Makes me wonder what film Steven Spielberg would want to remake from his own filmography.

To the best of my knowledge, this is not an easy title to locate so I’m glad I was gifted a copy on VHS from a television airing. If you know something I don’t, please let me know where an official copy might be located. It’s worthy of another viewing.

5 Comments »

  1. Great essay, and I really love the way you dig out these obscurities (too right that there needs to be an available version of this), but Audie ain’t no Jimmy.

    • Generally I don’t compare versions as it’s inevitable that one gets put down even if that isn’t the intention. Audie is no Jimmy but still this role works thanks to his innocent looks. In the end it’s an enjoyable B. Anyway, thanks as always for stopping in and the compliment.

  2. This film tends to get short changed when compared to the earlier version, and it’s a little unfair in my opinion. Murphy is very good here, and he was growing as an actor with every performance at this stage.

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