No Name on the Bullet
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World War II hero, Audie Murphy, is memorable in his role as a "good" bad guy in this tense tale of retribution. When hired killer John Gant (Murphy) rides into town, no one is sure whose name is on his bullet. Several townsfolk, knowing they have enemies, each believe that the professional assassin is there to kill them. While they wait for him to make his move, paranoia starts taking over in this suspense-filled story of payback on the wide-open plains.
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When infamous killer-for-hire John Gant (Murphy) and his towering reputation ride into the western town of Lordsburg, it ignites a wave of fear and paranoia. As Gant cooly insinuates his presence into the sleepy community, more than a few citizens pause to examine their past deeds, each fearful that Gant's bullet is meant for him. Murphy plays Gant with laconic ease, low-keyed and impassive, although there's always that worrying glitter in his eyes. John Gant bides his time and plays chess against the town sawbones and occasionally waxes philosophical, content to observe the townspeople's rising anxieties. One gets the sense that he's amused by the reaction he engenders. He's pretty forthcoming about the contempt he feels for them.
NO NAME ON THE BULLET is an interesting departure from the typical oater. It opts for unrelenting psychological drama in lieu of the frequent shoot-'em-up, and it offers an atypical ending. It's a thoughtful and fascinating character study. For most of the film, Gant is a passive entity. But his presence alone serves as a catalyst to upheaval within the community. Lots of guilty consciences fester in Lordsburg, and several of these panicked parties decide to take matters into their own hands. One in particular grows so alarmed that he chooses to kill himself. Gant is notorious for his modus operandi of goading his victim into drawing first so that Gant can later claim self-defense. The town sheriff finds his hands tied as this professional assassin has as yet to break the law.
The only man in town that Gant seems to respect is Luke Canfield (Charles Drake), the righteous town physician who can throw a mean hammer. Gant and Canfield like each other - and Gant refers to Canfield as "the only other honest man in town" - but, given their opposing vocations, it's inevitable that they butt heads. A real-life highly decorated World War II hero, Audie Murphy is always best when playing characters close to his own personality and type. Gant is a stone-cold killer and this sparks enough commonality within Murphy that he effortlessly brings him to life. To see Murphy in this role is to get cheesed that he was cast in so many second string movies, because NO NAME ON THE BULLET hints at how good he could've been, never mind that he's routinely expressed his disinterest in acting. But just watch him as he, while seated with palms on the saloon table, quietly faces down a drunk about to make a play. Or later when he, all by his lonesome, intimidates a posse of armed men. He informs them: "I use my gun for money and I don't like to work for nothing. But you trouble me again and I might have to break my rule." The mob sheepishly disperses. Audie Murphy has always had that quiet authority. He convinces me that he really can back down desperate people by dint of mere presence and a few words. Abetted by a menacing reputation, of course.
Note that the DVD presents the film in Anomorphic Widescreen (aspect ratio 2.35:1) and includes the original theatrical trailer.
paranoia, wondering who his target is. An interesting political comment
on fear and mob mentality (especially the cold war kind), and a
surprisingly complex look at morality for a film from it's era.
There's also an unusual bond between hero and bad guy that feels ahead
of its time.
You can bet a different ending would be demanded today.
Audie Murphy as the killer isn't a great actor, but his baby-faced
ordinariness makes the character much more fascinating than an obvious
bit of "tough guy" casting like a Jack Palance would have.
Along with "The Incredible Shrinking Man", this shows Jack Arnold as
one of the more interesting, thoughtful US filmmakers of the late