Western Roundup: Destry (1954)

Western Roundup: Destry (1954)

Destry Rides Again is a classic Western novel by Max Brand. It was filmed by Universal Pictures multiple times, including a 1932 version starring Tom Mix and the best-known version, a 1939 release with James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich.

George Marshall directed the James Stewart version, and he was again at the helm when Universal remade the story once more in 1954. Audie Murphy was chosen for the lead role of Tom Destry.

DESTRY movie poster

The 1954 version, simply called Destry, has just been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber Studio Classics; to my knowledge this is the first time it’s been available for home viewing. Destry is part of the three-film Audie Murphy Collection II along with Sierra (1950) and Kansas Raiders (1950).

Audie Murphy Collection

I’ve periodically reviewed Murphy’s films here, as he’s both a great Western star and a personal favorite. I reviewed his Seven Ways From Sundown (1960) in 2020 and wrote about Hell Bent For Leather (1960) early last year. Since it’s been a year and a half since my last Murphy review, this new release is a perfect opportunity to visit another of his films.

This was my first time to see this version of the Destry story, and it’s interesting to note at the outset that with the exception of lead character Tom Destry, the characters have different names in each of Universal’s three versions.

While I’ve yet to see the Tom Mix edition, I’ve seen the one with Stewart, though it’s been a few years. While perhaps not a classic on a level with the Stewart film, I felt the Murphy version stands on its own feet as delightful Western entertainment. Murphy comes off extremely well in the title role, and he’s backed by a terrific cast.

In the familiar story, crooked Decker (Lyle Bettger) and his henchmen run a very wild little Western town and kill the sheriff (Trevor Bardette) who gets in their way.

Destry Thomas Mitchel and Lyle Bettger
Thomas Mitchell and Lyle Bettger

They appoint alcoholic Rags Barnaby (Thomas Mitchell) as sheriff, and Rags immediately sends for Tom Destry (Murphy), son of his late friend, who was a famed lawman.

Rags hasn’t met the adult Destry and when imposing cattleman Larson (Alan Hale Jr.) steps off the stagecoach, Rags is thrilled, only to learn he has the wrong man. Rags is then shocked when the diminutive Destry gets out of the stagecoach, assisting a pretty young lady (Lori Nelson) with her parasol and a birdcage.

Destry Audie Murphy and Lori Nelson
Audie Murphy and Lori Nelson

Nonethless, Destry ends up serving as Rags’ deputy. He doesn’t wear guns and prefers friendly discussions to battle, which initially shocks both Rags and the townspeople; over time, Destry’s positive, trusting attitude causes a number of people in town to reform. Rags stops drinking, saloon girl Brandy (Mari Blanchard) wakes up to realizing her life as Decker’s girl isn’t a good one, and combative Larson learns to deal with his problems in a more peaceable manner.

Destry Mari Blanchard
Mari Blanchard

Only the most hard-bitten character town, Decker, doesn’t change, along with his cronies.

The townspeople are later shocked to learn that Destry is actually an expert marksman — Bettger’s expression at this reveal is hilarious — but even this disclosure is strategic on Destry’s part. He’s learned about new-fangled ways to analyze which guns have shot which bullets, and he’s emptied the townspeople’s guns out for research into the murder of the previous sheriff.

Destry was the perfect role for Murphy, who was only 5′ 5″ and could seem unassuming — yet both onscreen and off, underneath the mild-mannered exterior was a very determined and even dangerous man.

Destry Audie Murphy and Mari Blanchard
Audie Murphy and Mari Blanchard

Murphy also proves himself adept at comedy, whether it’s his good-natured line deliveries or his reactions to Martha (Nelson), who clearly has a crush on the young deputy. I’ve seen many of Murphy’s films and found this a particularly winning performance.

Murphy has a host of great character actors to interact with; in addition to names mentioned above, the deep cast boasts Edgar Buchanan, Wallace Ford, Mary Wickes, and John Doucette.

Nelson is very personable as Martha, engaging in some delightful repartee with Murphy. The film’s other leading lady, Blanchard, shines as the saloon gal, performing several songs. Blanchard bears a strong resemblance to Lynn Bari in this — which isn’t a bad thing, as I’m a big Bari fan.

DESTRY poster 3

The script by D.D. Beauchamp and Edmund H. North, adapted from Felix Jackson’s story for the 1939 version, moves along well at a nicely paced 95 minutes.

Marshall, who by 1954 had directed countless Westerns, does an excellent job managing his large cast and drawing a fine performance from Murphy, who had been in films for a half dozen years at this point.

The movie was filmed in Technicolor by George Robinson. It was shot at Universal Studios and the Janss Conejo Ranch in Thousand Oaks.

Destry Blu Ray

The new Kino Lorber Blu-ray print looks terrific, with excellent sound. Extras consist of the trailer; a gallery of five additional trailers; and a commentary track by Lee Gambin and actor Gary Frank (Family).

I’ve previously seen one of the other films in this set, Sierra, and can confidently say that the Audie Murphy Collection II is a “must” for Western fans.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

– Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub

Laura can be found at her blog, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, where she’s been writing about movies since 2005, and on Twitter at @LaurasMiscMovie. A lifelong film fan, Laura loves the classics including Disney, Film Noir, Musicals, and Westerns.  She regularly covers Southern California classic film festivals.  Laura will scribe on all things western at the ‘Western RoundUp’ for CMH.

This entry was posted in Films, Posts by Laura Grieve, Western RoundUp. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Western Roundup: Destry (1954)

  1. I haven’t seen very many Audie Murphy movies — I will have to give this one a look! I’ve been slowing down on my Western watching lately and this will give me the perfect excuse to get back in the saddle again. (Ha!)

  2. mel says:

    Thanks for your review, Laura – Destry has been one of my top favourite Audie Murphy films since I purchased a 9-minute 8mm sound cut-down version in the mid-1960s. It wasn’t until a few years later that I was able to see the entire movie in a cinema. The new BluRay release should be tremendous!

  3. It’s a while since I’ve seen either version of Destry, but I remember liking Audie’s version a lot. His version doesn’t need to hide behind the more famous one.
    The supporting cast is fantastic.

    I know this may be an unpopular opinion, but I like Mari Blanchard better than Marlene who is always a bit of a hit or miss for me.

  4. Pingback: Western RoundUp: Showdown (1963) | Classic Movie Hub Blog

  5. What really struck me is your point about Murphy being the perfect fit for the role. He embodies that unassuming demeanor you mentioned, yet the underlying determination and hidden capabilities make him such a compelling hero. It reminds me of Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” in a way – the quiet menace simmering beneath the surface.

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