Suggested by Max Brand's novel, a wild western town is exploited by a crooked saloon owner until a peaceful deputy sheriff shows up.
In unruly Bottleneck Frenchy (Marlene Dietrich) sings in a crowded saloon and helps boss Kent (Brian Donlevy) cheat Lem Claggett (Tom Fadden) out of his land in a poker game. Claggett is thrown out but is stopped from using his rifle by Sheriff Keogh. A shot is heard, and Frenchy sings "You've Got That Look." Kent has Mayor Slade (Samuel S. Hinds) appoint the drunk Washington Dimsdale (Charles Winninger) sheriff. Dimsdale sends for Tom Destry (James Stewart) to be his deputy. Tom arrives on the stage with gunslinger Jack Tyndall (Jack Carson). Frenchy wins at poker and gets the pants off Boris (Mischa Auer). Kent asks Tom for his gun, but Tom shows he has no gun. Kent laughs, and Frenchy hands Tom a mop to clean up the town. Boris's wife Lily Belle (Una Merkel) fights with Frenchy until Tom pours water on them. Lily runs out, and Frenchy attacks Tom until he leaves.
Tom tells Dimsdale that he doesn't believe in guns, because his father was shot in the back. Tom says he is for law and order. Kent and his men shoot at the Claggetts' ranch-house. When three men ride into town shooting, Tom shows he can shoot and warns them. A Claggett boy asks Sheriff Dimsdale to help. Kent shows Tom a paper, and Tom tells the Claggetts they must leave. Tom calls on Frenchy to apologize, implying she is boss but helped Kent cheat Claggett, and suggests she remove her make-up. Lily makes Boris give the bartender (Billy Gilbert) his pants back. The Claggetts arouse concern, and Jack gets angry at Tom because Kent is charging everyone's cattle crossing his land. Boris has the pants of Tom, who asks him to find the previous sheriff. Kent gets angry at Frenchy, who warns Tom to leave town. Jack tells Tom he is moving his cattle, and Tom knocks him down. In the saloon Frenchy sings "See What the Boys in the Back-room Will Have." Kent tells Tom that Sheriff Keogh left town. Tom says he knows where his body is. Kent sends Gyp Watson (Allen Jenkins) and his brother Bugs (Warren Hymer) to check, and Dimsdale and Boris follow them. Tom dances with Frenchy. Boris whispers to Tom, who announces that Gyp is in jail for murder. Mayor Slade says he will judge the case.
Jack refuses to pay for his cattle to cross and lands in jail. Tom persuades Jack to pay Kent. The Mayor instructs the jurors to find Gyp not guilty. Frenchy tells Tom that she is leaving. Tom hears shots and finds Dimsdale dying. Tom gets his guns and leads Jack and other men. Frenchy organizes the women. Kent and his men shoot from the saloon. The women march in with tools and club the men. Frenchy protects Tom and is shot by Kent. Then Tom shoots Kent. Frenchy dies in Tom's arms. In the final scene Tom tells stories, sees Boris gain respect from Lily, and courts Janice (Irene Hervey).
Elements of nonviolent peace-making and humor lift a
typical western plot to a new level. Tom Jefferson Destry symbolizes
the United States in its current laissez-faire foreign policy
in the face of criminal aggression that will soon stir it to take
violent action for law and order. The wives resent the seductive
Frenchy for corrupting their husbands, though Tom tries to reform
her too. The tide turns when the women take direct action against