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No Name On The Bullet [DVD]
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Real-life war hero Audie Murphy stars in this tense western as mysterious hired killer John Gant, who rides into town on a mission of vengeance. Many of the town's most prominent figures know they have enemies to spare, and each fears that Gant is there to kill them. While Gant is content to play it slow, the town descends into paranoia as they wait for the killer to make his move.
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"Who's he talkin' about? Who's Gant?" asks Harold Miller, the deputy sheriff.
"You mean you really don't know?" says the barkeep.
"I asked, didn't I?"
"He's a killer," says Sheriff Buck Hastings.
"So what? We've had some pretty good ones. We've been able to handle `em."
"Oh, no," says the sheriff. "A gunman is one thing. Gant's another."
John Gant (Audie Murphy) is a paid assassin, cool, quick, deadly and smart. He's given the name of his target and collects his fee, then sets out for a bit of lawful murdering. He arrives in a town, takes a room for a few days, scouts out his victim's weaknesses, and then goads the man into drawing on him. Gant has gunned down quite a few with this technique and has never been arrested. His services come high.
Now John Gant has ridden into the dusty town of Lordsburg, taken a room at the local hotel, and is biding his time. Every one in town knows Gant is going to kill someone, but no one knows who.
It's not long before venality, cowardice, suspicion and fear consume some of Lordsburg's leading citizens. Quite a few show that they wear a coating of moral slime. Their fear is justified by everything from double dealing, mine stealing and wife theft. John Gant is a paid assassin, but he also seems to be the dark side of humanity's conscience. Just his presence causes suicide, vigilantism and murderous gunfights between factions in the town. Gant just looks on. The one man in town who speaks for decency is the town doc, Luke Canfield (Charles Drake). Canfield is a dedicated young medical man, serious about healing, engaged to the daughter of a retired, consumptive, dying judge. Gant and Canfield find each other interesting. Canfield is intrigued by Gant's intelligence. He finds it difficult to believe Gant is nothing but a paid killer. Gant seems drawn to Canfield's honesty. They talk a little. They enjoy a game of chess. Canfield sees himself as a healer of men. Gant sees himself as a healer of problems. It can't last. We might think it's easy to figure out Gant's intended victim; we just have to remember all the clichés of B movies. We'd be wrong.
No Name on the Bullet is an efficient B western, stuffed full with the familiar faces of B movie character actors. The acting is standard B movie quality, not bad but predictable. What makes the movie stand out as something other than just a time killer is that the plot is more intriguing than you'd expect. Essentially, one passive gunman raises havoc among the leading citizens as they unmask their own flawed motives and actions. This is accomplished within an efficient use of just 77 minutes. The movie doesn't dawdle.
And then there is Audie Murphy, playing a man who finds it easy to justify, for pay, bringing death a little earlier than expected to men who mostly deserve what he deals them. Murphy was no great shakes as an actor, and he learned his craft while doing it. Partly because of his extraordinary combat war record, his struggles with what now we call Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, his early hardscrabble life responsible for his younger brothers and sisters, and his modesty, I've always respected the man. He wasn't a big guy, he had a baby face that sometimes helped and sometimes didn't. He applied himself to the job at hand. He had sufficient screen presence to build himself into an above-the-title and popular lead actor. Most of his movies, in my opinion, are standard Hollywood fodder. In some circumstances, however, he could deliver unusually effective performances. He's at his best, in my opinion, in The Red Badge of Courage(1951), The Quiet American (1958) and The Unforgiven (1960). All three movies are flawed, with The Quiet American being awful (and a cynical and corrupt adaptation of Graham Greene's novel) and The Unforgiven being awfully long, but Murphy is just fine. I think No Name on the Bullet ranks among these in terms of Murphy's performance.
The DVD looks just fine. There are no extras.
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
Such a perfectly mythical opening to a Western movie, and one that I never heard of before. Right away, you sit up and watch and listen, as gun-for-hire Audie Murphy rides into town and just kicks back, while everybody makes wild guesses as to whom he came to kill. Gant, cold-eyed though he may be, is a delicated built, seemingly tender little assasin, and as evil surfaces, as the good citizens of the town go crazy from fear and from well-grounded guilt we in the audience is kept guessing with them, half-way wondering if this man is a killer at all.
The premise of 'No Name on the Bullet' is fascinating and magnificently played out in this lowbudget film. The acting is understated, the pacing is great and the suspense excruciating. Watch it, you won't be sorry.
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But good to watch a film where blood is less important than the actors.