Characters/Players: Director: George Marshall
Destry, Jr.: Jimmy Stewart (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, It's A Wonderful
Frenchy: Marlene Dietrich
Lem Claggart (his wife, Sophie)
Mr. Loupgerou (bartender) (His Girl Friday)
Clara (Frenchy's maid)
Gyp Watson (one of Kent's gang)
As the film opens we see that the little town of Bottleneck is no place for a peace-loving American. . .
A poker game is going on upstars in the Last Chance Saloon, and a local rancher, Lem Claggart, is winning steadily. "I never knew money was so easy to get," he laughs. Goaded by the saloon owner, Kent, he bets his entire ranch. But just as Claggart is about to reveal his two winning aces, the saloon's chanteuse, Frenchy, spills a cup of coffee on his lap. Claggart (naturally) jumps up, and after he returns to his seat, the two aces, and his ranch, are gone. Now Kent controlls the land through which the ranchers must take their cattle. He intends to charge the ranchers for each head of cattle that passes through the valley. "We're rich!" exults Frenchy. "I'll get my gal's teeth plugged with diamonds, and sit and watch her smile," says Gyp Watson, another of Kent's gang.
Outside the saloon where he has been thrown, Claggart picks himself up and goes for his rifle. Sheriff Keogh stops him: "Go on before you get yourself killed," says the sheriff, and steps up to the saloon's second floor to investigate. But just a few minutes later, and before the Mayor can, as he puts it, "buy himself an option on Keogh's curiosity," a shot rings out. "Looks as if you'll have to buy yourself a whole new sheriff--if you can find one," remarks Frenchy, in the stillness after the shot.
Frenchy goes off to prepare for her next number, "You've Got That Look," and reassures her maid Clara that Bottleneck is a safe place to stay. Someone comes in to tell her to hurry out to the stage. There's no hurry, says Frenchy, because "the longer they wait, the better they like it." Finally, to the great appreciation of the saloon, Frenchy comes out in feathers and frills to sing.
Despite Frenchy's words, finding a new sheriff proves an easy matter after all. As soon as she has finished her song, Mayor Slade announces the election of the town drunk and some-time saloon singer, Washington Dimmesdale, as the new sheriff. When the reality of his election has penetrated his usual haze of whiskey, Wash drops the bottle he is toasting himself with. "A man has got to choose between the bottle and the badge," he declares, to the laughter of the whole corrupt, unbelieving town. Although the town thinks of him as only a drunk, Wash has a more respectable past than most realize: "I was deputy sheriff under Tom Destry, best gun-fighter in the West," Wash declares, "and I'm a-goin' to call for Tom, Jr." Young Destry, Wash tells them, has already cleaned up Tombstone (Arizona), a much rougher place than Bottleneck. When Tom gets to Bottleneck, "Destry will ride again."
A stagecoach comes over the hills, swaying dangerously to the edge of the road. One of the three passengers, a tough-looking, loud-speaking man, threatens the stagecoach driver, but his sister, Janice restrains him. The other passenger, a thin, young, gentle-looking man carving a napkin ring, introduces himself to Janice and Jack as Tom Destry, Jr. "Are you sure your name is Destry?" asks Jack in bewilderment. "Folks is always asking me that," says Tom equably.
In the town of Bottleneck,
Wash is anxiously anticipating the arrival of the stagecoach. In the saloon, Boris
(Callahan) is hiding from his wife Lily Belle and playing blackjack with Frenchy.
Being out of money, he is forced to bet his pants, and being equally out of luck,
he loses them. But he balks at giving them to Frenchy in public. "It's undignified,"
he complains, and he adds, "I've met every king in Europe." "Well
now you've met two aces in Bottleneck," replies Frenchy; "hand over
those pants." Just as the stagecoach arrives Boris beats an undignified and
Tyndall creates something of an impression after he jumps out of the stage and punches and outshoots the stagecoach drivers; but Destry hardly cuts so manly a figure as he courteously hands Janice and her parasol and birdcage out to the relative safety of the ground. The town, set to take on a lawmaker as tough or tougher than themselves, greets Destry's gentle politeness as effiminate weakness, and guffaws their way back into the saloon. There Kent asks Destry for his guns. But Kent doesn't get Destry's guns, because Destry isn't wearing them. Frenchy watches the interchange in some amusement, and then walks over to Destry. "I can see now how you cleaned up Tombstone," says she, handing him a mop; "you can start right here, and don't forget the corners."
A few minutes later, Lily Belle, wife of "Callahan," comes in: she is
furious about the pants, and spoiling for a fight. She calls Frenchy a "gilded
lily," and in no time at all the two women are rolling over tables and across
the floor, pulling hair, scratching, biting, and doing their best to kill each
other. The whole saloon takes bets, cheers Frenchy on, and adds to the uproar.
Tom walks over, and at an opportune moment, pours the bucket Frenchy has given
him over the two fighters. They both jump up, and Lily Belle runs out, but Frenchy
begins to fight with Destry. "Get out
before I kill you," she screams, and after Destry has retreated, she shouts, "who's buying me a drink?"
In his room at Lily Belle's boarding house, Wash tells Tom Destry he is useless in Bottleneck without guns: he had better go home. But Tom explains why he doesn't believe in guns: "They shot my pa in the back. His guns didn't do him much good, did they?" Tom thinks it is better to put bad men in jail, so they look like criminals, rather than shooting them so they seem like heroes for dying in a gunbattle. Tom persuades Wash to swear him in as a deputy sheriff.
Tom quickly proves his worth. As Tom and Wash are walking down the street, a band of rowdy cowboys come through, shooting wildly up and down the street. Tom stops them. "Aside from being nice ornaments, a fella can have a whole lot of harmless amusement out of these here toys," says Tom as he displays his hitherto unrevealed shooting skills. The cowboys are frightened into leaving. At the office, Tom mulls over the rabbits and gold Sheriff Keogh left behind. Just then, Eli Claggart comes racing in. Kent and his men are trying to take the Claggart's ranch. Wash and Tom go out to settle the affair, but because Claggart has signed away his rights to the ranch, and because there is no way to prove the game was crooked, the Claggarts have to leave. The Claggarts are disgusted, and nobody is happy.
On the ride back to town, Destry thinks of a plan: he goes to visit Frenchy, and accuses her of helping Kent to cheat people. Using her anger and pride, he tricks her into admitting that Keogh was killed by Kent or his gang. Just before he leaves, he says,"I bet you've got kind of a lovely face under all that paint. Why don't you wipe it off some day and have a good look. Figure out how you can live up to it."
In Lily Belle's boarding house, Bartender Loupgarou asks Lily Belle to get his pants back since Boris, her husband, has taken them. "All I want to do is be a cowboy and wear my own pants," pleads Boris, but Lily Belle makes him return Mr. Loupgarou's.
Boris soon gets a chance to wear his own pants. Discovered hiding in Tom's closet "waiting for a stagecoach," as he claims, he is persuaded to become a deputy in exchange for a pair of pants. He agrees to help Tom and Wash search for the body of Sheriff Keogh. Meanwhile, Kent visits Frenchy, and asks her what happened when Destry visited. They quarrel, and Frenchy goes outside, where she meets Destry just coming in to the saloon. Destry has just told Wash and Boris he will trick Kent into showing them where the body of Sheriff Keogh is: Tom will hint to Kent that he knows where the body is, and they two are to wait outside and follow any of Kent's gang that leaves the saloon. Then, if they can find the body, Kent will go on trial for murder. But before he goes in to the saloon, Frenchy passes a few kind words with him, and offers him her rabbit's foot. Seeing her friendliness, Jack Tyndall comes over to accuse Destry of helping Kent get the Claggarts's ranch and cheating him at the same time. Destry shows that he is well able to stand up for himself if necessary.
Inside the saloon, Destry tells Slade he wants to talk. But Frenchy comes out the sing "See What the Boys in the Backroom Will Have," and all the saloon gathers to watch. Afterwards, Slade, Kent and Destry talk. Frenchy, no fool, guesses what the conversation is about, and knowing Kent will kill Destry if he gets too close to the truth, tries to help Destry by asking him to buy her a drink. Still Destry manages to frighten Kent into sending his men to check on the body. Meantime, Kent delays Destry with a glass of wine and a suggestion to take some time off. Destry does just that, inviting Frenchy to square dance, until Boris comes back to the saloon with news of the location of the body. In an announcement to the whole saloon, Destry says that Gyp Watson (the one who was sent to check on the body), is now in jail, accused of murder. But Slade outmaneuvers Destry by announcing that as chief magistrate, he will try this case (i.e., serve as judge) himself.
Gyp is in jail, and not long after Jack Tyndall occupies the next cell for taking his cattle through Kent's land without paying. He and Destry and Janice are arguing in the jailhouse when Boris bring the news that a federal judge will come to try the murder case. So Tyndall agrees to pay Kent his money, believing he will soon get it back. Boris is sent to the saloon, where Kent is watching Mayor Slade instructing the jury on their "duty." After paying the money, on the way out, Boris accidentally lets slip that Judge Mertall (the federal judge) is coming.
At the jail that night, Tom and Wash are talking to Gyp when Clara, Frenchy's maid, comes with a message for Tom to visit Frenchy right away. Tom leaves, and while he is gone, Kent's men come and shoot Wash in the back. Frenchy, of course, knew Kent would go to the jail, and saved Tom's life. But hearing the noise of the guns, Tom rushes back to the jail, only in time to see Wash die. Angered and sickened, he rushes home to get his father's guns. The other men join him in the corral at the end of town, where they make a plan to attack the saloon. Frenchy dashes out to find the women of the town, and urge them to fight for the lives of their men.
Kent and his gang prepare for a shootout, and Destry and his men prepare to attack the saloon, but just as the battle begins, the women interfere. Marching between the blazing guns, they stop the shooting and pour into the saloon, hitting the men inside with boards and sticks. Destry gets into the saloon from the roof, and works his way down to the first floor looking for Kent. Kent sees Destry looking for him, and sneaking his way up to the second floor, tries to shoot Destry from above. Frenchy sees Kent, and runs to warn Tom just as Kent shoots. Kent shoots Frenchy by mistake; Tom shoots Kent in return; and Tom kisses Frenchy just before she dies.
Now the little town of Bottleneck has bought its peace. Eli Claggart and Sheriff Destry walk down the street telling each other the stories that Wash used to tell. But before they get too far, Janice Tyndall rushes out to ask for the Sheriff's help: something is wrong with Lily Belle. Boris, it seems, is tired of the picture of her first husband that hangs over their bed, and replaces it with his own. Marital harmony is restored, and "speaking of marriage," says Tom . . . "Yes Tom?" Janice asks. Tom begins: "I had a friend once. . . "
Focus: This movie repays careful
attention: every scene is unusually full of things to look at, all of which relate
to the plot. Marshall relies heavily on the long shots in deep focus to convey
the story, in part because the whole town of Bottleneck is a character, and to
film the whole saloon at once, deep focus is necessary. Frenchy, because she is
a bit older than Tom, is usually treated in soft focus and with soft/bright lights.
final point of interest is the breakdown of Tom's stories as the film progresses. The last two stories remain unfinished, just as his hope to settle Bottleneck's problems without violence is unfulfilled.
The song "Little Joe" is a kind of ballad/folk song that can go on for
as long as anyone can make up new rhymes.
Here are a few of the choruses that are sung in this movie:
Joe, Little Joe
Oh, whatever become of him, I don't know
Oh he sure did like his liquor
And it would have got his ticker (heart)
But the sheriff got him quicker, (i.e., killed him)
Joe, Little Joe
Oh, wherever his body lies, I don't know
When the yellow moon was beamin'
He could wrangle like a demon (wrangle=catch steer with rope)
And you'd always hear him screamin'
Joe, Little Joe
Oh whatever he's doing now, I don't know
He had women by the dozens
And he swore they was his cousins
Till he met up with their husbands
Little Joe, Little Joe
Oh, whatever happened to him, I don't know
But I sure do like my liquor
But I see you got it quicker
And I hope it makes you sick, you buffalo!
B> Destry tells a lot of little stories to make a point. These are the anecdotes that he tells:
In the Stagecoach (Blowing People's Heads Off)
I had a friend once, his name was Stubbs. He was always going around threatening
to blow people's heads off.
One day a fella came along and took him up on it.
Destry: Well folks say that now Stubb's forehead is holding up the prettiest tombstone in Green Lawn Cemetery.
Tyndall: Very funny. You know I've been handling cattle around these parts for some time and met some of the toughest hombres they got. I'm still here This ain't no ornament. I'm pretty good with it.
Destry: So was Stubbs.
Tyndall: Meaning just exactly what?
Destry: Well, I just mean you'd better be careful who you meet up with.
Destry: You know what
you were just saying there reminds me of a friend of mine. He woke up in the middle
of the night and he thought he saw a great big white hand coming up at him
Destry: Over the edge of the bed, yeah. So he got his gun out from under his pillow, and he aimed, and he shot a great big hole right through his own foot.
Destry: Yeah. Now he shouldn't have gone by that first impression, should he? Huh?
Wash: Well, he was a darn fool. . . Ohh, come on!
Sawtooth Magee and the Petticoat/Postage Stamp
Oh Tom, look here. Look at this post. Soaked through and through with the blood
of Sawtooth Magee. Yeah, he objected to a petticoat a neighbor's wife was wearing,
and they fit (fought) to a draw. Both buried in the same grave.
Destry: Sawtooth and the petticoat?
Wash: No, Sawtooth and the neighbor. And four innocent bystanders! You gotta listen to reason or get out of town.
Destry: Aww, I think I'll stick around. You know I had a friend once who used to collect postage stamps. He always said the one good thing about a postage stamp--it always sticks to one thing till it gets there, ya know? I'm sorta like that too.
The Poor Orphan
Wash: You see Tom,
even that little kid!
Destry: Reminds me of a kid I used to know. He done in (killed) both his paw and maw with a crowbar (a long, thick metal bar).
Destry: Yes, he did. And the judge said to him, he said, "Do got anything to say for yourself?" And the kid said, "Well I just hope that your Honor has some regard for the feelings of a poor orphan."
Stick to your own Trade (told to Jack Tyndall)
Destry: Nobody's gonna set themselves up above the law around here, ya understand? I got something to say to you. I think maybe I could illustrate it a little better if I told you a story. I used to have a friend who was an Opry singer (opera singer) But he went into the cement business, and one day he fell into the cement, and now he's the cornerstone of the Post Office in St. Louis, Missouri. He shoud've stuck to his own trade. You'd better stick to yours.
Oysters in July
Destry: That fella Kent
reminds me of a friend of mine back in Kansas city, who was a great wine drinker.
Every time he came into town with a new load of stock he'd rush right into the
first saloon. Didn't matter what saloon it was. . .
Frenchy: I had a friend in Louisiana like that. Only every time he came to town he went to the nearest oyster house. Eat a hundred oysters. I'm sorry I interrupted you.
Destry: Well, I don't think there was much point to my story. Hundred oysters!
Frenchy: Yes and everybody told this friend of mine not to eat oysters in July. Wouldn't listen.
Slade: What's the point to that?
Frenchy: He found a pearl--that big!
Slade: That's good.
Frenchy: No, it was bad. The oyster, I mean. Killed him.
Destry: Who got the pearl?
Frenchy: I did!
Wash's Last Story
Destry: Hey Wash
Wash: Well, Tom, they came. I. . .
Destry: Don't do any talking now, just rest.
Wash: I'll talk if I want to. For a little while, anyway He he--I bet you knew a fella once who did something like falling asleep when he ought to kept awake, didn't ya? Ha?
Destry: Well, I. . . yeah, I knew a fella. Lived down around Witchita. He was. . .
Wash: Ohhh. . .
Wash: It don't hurt much, but it makes me so darn mad!
Destry: Wash. . .
Wash: Go on, go on. What happened to the fella in Wichita?
Destry: Oh, well, oh, well, he was a, ah, oh a great big green sort of a punkin'-roller, you know, and he just. . .
Wash: This better be good!
Destry: Yeah, well, well you see he ah, tried to keep awake one night when he was gonna catch a stage over to a neaby town. He had a girl over there he was courting, Wash.
Wash: Oh a man must be an awful fool to get shot in the back! If I just. . .
Destry: Wait a minute--you know, that's how they shot my father. They didn't dare face him, either.
Wash: They didn't give us a chance, did they?
Destry: No, they didn't.
Wash: Oh, I'm sleepy, plumb tuckered out (completely tired). That Gyp has kept me awake too much.