one of the things that made far country such a strong film is its abundance of interesting secondary characters. i think that the same is true for this film. mischa auer plays a russian immigrant/deputy who provides comic relief and some unique dialogue. charles winniger plays the town drunk turned sheriff and is, more or less, a poor man’s walter brennan. samuel hinds plays the corrupted tobacco chewing mayor/judge of the town. he was also in scarlet street and call northside 777. marlene dietrich is super hot, but not as sexy as lauren bacall in to have and have not. she plays a saloon owner who is also a singer/dancer/poker player and basically one of the guys. in one extended sequence she gets in a huge brawl with the wife of mischa auer because she won auer’s pants in a game of poker. you get the idea. jimmy stewart is as young here as i’ve ever seen him (it came out the same year as mr. smith goes to washington). he plays a deputy who sticks to the rules and likes to keep guns out of the equation. his character reminded me of a more capable anthony perkins in tin star. stewart, though, can get tough when he needs to – and he does in the end.
one interesting element of the film is that stewart and dietrich start at opposite ends of the spectrum – she’s a swashbuckling hellraiser and he’s a calm peacemaker (how’s that for a turn?). as the film progresses each move towards the other’s original position until they have swapped roles. he leads the charge on the saloon to take the bad guys down, guns blazing. and she leads the women of the town, armed with garden tools, to the same saloon to restore peace – without guns. in this way it turns the usual roles on their head.
the film is fun and well rounded and stands out, to me anyway, as one of the better films of a very strong year (1939) for hollywood.