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Audie Murphy had to endure a lot of unflattering remarks about his acting,
much of which he took on the chin as he never thought highly of the
profession in the first place or considered himself to be an actor.
However, he often sold himself short and this movie is a case in point.
Murphy brings his usual quiet authority to a role that goes against type -
refreshing change indeed! As a man whose reputation precedes him, John
Gant, Audie's character, is cold and calculating, scary and intimidating
without even trying. One wonders just how much of the real Audie Murphy
projected. This is one of the few roles that allowed him to shine, not as
an exhibitionist (he was a modest man) but to show that he really could
when given quality material. Universal made a lot of money out of Audie's
movies and in the process didn't encourage him to stretch his acting
abilities with challenging roles but were content to have him churning out
the staple sagebrushes. They missed out on an excellent opportunity and
the process, dealt Audie a not so good deal as his name became synonymous
with 'routine' Westerns and poor acting. Check out this movie and see
how good Audie was and how much more he could have given.
Audie looking good!
Movies like No Name on the Bullet uncover the depth of talent in
Hollywood. The roles are filled almost exclusively by familiar faces
with unfamiliar names - R. G. Armstrong, Willis Bouchey, Edgar Stehli -
with the result that one can concentrate on the story characters rather
than being distracted by "star presence".
Without a top-heavy cast, the story itself also gains focus, and I think the story of No Name on the Bullet is fascinating. What happens when a notorious contract killer rides into town and...does absolutely nothing?
The one star of the movie, Audie Murphy, plays the gunman. I love Murphy, one of Hollywood's misspent talents. Does this also apply to the the character actors I refer to above? Not really.
Character players, though quite talented, rarely attain stardom - Edward G. Robinson, Claire Trevor and Claude Rains are notable exceptions - not through neglect or misuse but by some limitation of range or persona. Audie Murphy's talent was misspent because, though obvious, it was never developed, either by studios, who, myopically, only wanted to exploit his war hero status as a box office draw, or directors who, in Murphy's career, were usually "line directors," good for getting a movie in the can on time and on budget rather than for getting great performances out their players.
Which brings me to director Jack Arnold, who does a journeyman's job, but who I believe is the cause for what another reviewer wrongheadedly calls Murphy's shortcomings. Stilted lines and studied movement are the results of "hands-off" direction. This is OK for the character parts, where skilled players in simple roles don't need much direction, but not for lead roles. Watching Murphy I'm reminded of another sadly underdeveloped star, Alan Ladd, whose talents always shone under a great director, but who didn't get those directors consistently enough, in my opinion, to fulfill his promise. Coincidentally, both Murphy and Ladd died prematurely. Perhaps not coincidentally, both had drinking problems. I wonder if they might have been experiencing similar frustrations.
Since No Name on the Bullet contains complex secondary parts, it's fortunate, that the players cast for these parts are outstanding, so the characters are interesting. Unfortunately, the budget constraints force the runtime of the film to be far too short. The result is a number of unresolved character studies. I want to know more about the blacksmith, the ex-flame and the judge - and more about the gunfighter. I'd also like to see more denouement. The main plot ends too abruptly, as if the producers were saying, "That's all we can afford to give you, Folks." That said, I wouldn't call the ending dumb, again as the wrongheaded reviewer cited above asserts, just shortchanged.
Returning to my opening thesis, that watching a cast of talented character players carry a movie is a special treat, I highly recommend this little gem of a Western.
Audie Murphy (as John Gant) plays it real smooth here. He manipulates
the whole town 'leading citizens' into thinking which one is the one
he's after (that he's been hired to kill), and leaves them all feeling
quite guilty over their past misdeeds. So guilty that the town banker
commits suicide, and a couple of others start shooting one another
without Gant ever having to lift a finger.
This is one of the few times you'll see Murphy play a bad guy, although quite different from the unhinged character you'd later see him play in John Huston's THE UNFORGIVEN (1960). Nothing he did acting-wise, ever topped that one.
Universal has released the widescreen Technicolor DVD of this and it's the best way to see it. No speckling and only a couple of brief frame blemishes. Sound is excellent, although the only extra is a trailer.
Now if Universal will only see fit to release the following excellent Audiepix westerns on DVD, I'd be a happy man:
SEVEN WAYS FROM SUNDOWN (1960) w. Barry Sullivan; RIDE CLEAR OF DIABLO (1954) w. Dan Duryea; HELL BENT FOR LEATHER (1960) w. Steven McNally; and RIDE A CROOKED TRAIL (1958) w. Walter Matthau
So if you all liked NO NAME ON THE BULLET, then I bet you'll probably like the four I listed up above. They're all solid oaters.
7 out of 10
Nowadays, finding a movie that's a Western is a work of art. Back in the 1950s it seems that every other movie was a Western and only the best have really stood the test of time. This film is original with an excellent plot brought to life with great location, splendidly explored characterisation and solid performances. As soon as Audie Murphy appears on screen, you know that he's no good as he scares the life out of 2 random strangers, just by asking them for directions. As he rides into the town, again, everyone stops and stares at him. It turns out that he's John Gant, contract killer whose M.O is to get his target into an argument. When the target pulls his gun, Gant shoots him in self-defence and can never be prosecuted. So who is Gant in town to kill? This is where the excellent characterisation comes in as you soon find yourself caring about individuals and their circumstances. What the director does well, is keep the audience guessing as to who Gant's target is. The natives become restless and start accusing each other of hiring Gant and many unnecessary squabbles, fights and even killings occur. Murphy maintains a laid back calmness throughout and is utterly believable in this role. I felt like I could see the inevitable conclusion coming a mile off, but was more than pleasantly surprised when this didn't happen. This is a cracking Western that works in just about every department and is surely one of Audie Murphy's best performances.
Audie Murphy had finally gotten a role where he could show his dark side. Picking up bits from Dan Duryea and Barry Sullivan's affable bad guys in previous films he had made with them, his John Gant is a smooth professional killer, an arbiter of fate, who in this film at least,seems to kill only those who truly deserve it. Cat calm and just as ruthless,he's afar cry from the baby face "Man gotta do what a man got to do" types he played in other Universal westerns. His real life prowess as the Hero lessened the suspense of those films, in this it brings a much needed tension; who can stop him? If he had played the good doctor and Charles Drake was the gunslinger everyone would know the resolution before the fadeout. Here, in a dark reversal of "Shane"'s ending, the fast gun rides out of the picture,his job completed,the hypocrisy and failings of the "good people" exposed,and the frontier is a little more civilized. This film,along with "The Red Badge of Courage,and the original "The Unforgiven" are the roles that showed that Mr. Murphy could've been a contender as an actual actor.
No Name on the Bullet is possibly Audie Murphy's best western. Only Destry is on a par with it. These two films demonstrate clearly that Murphy could give a creditable performance on the rare occasions when he was given a good script, cast, and director to work with. In this film Murphy plays John Gant, an apparently easy going man who, in fact, is a hired killer with a deadly reputation. When he comes to town many apparently-respectable citizens with concealed guilt become panicked, each thinking that he is the one whom Gant is in town to kill. If you think you don't like Audie Murphy westerns, give this one a try. It will probably surprise -- and impress -- you.
"No Name On the Bullet" marks a role reversal for star Audie Murphy.
Normally the soft spoken hero, this time out he is a cold blooded hired
killer with little or no redeeming qualities.
John Gant (Murphy) a hired killer, rides into town one day and is soon recognized by the towns people. His modus operandi has preceded him. It seems that he rides into a town, checks into a hotel and then just sits around for days taking stock of the situation and sizing up his next victim, who is known only to him. He then goads his victim into a fight and shoots him down in self defence.
With Gant's arrival several townsfolk begin to get nervous, each believing that they are his intended victim. It seems many of the good citizens have skeletons in their respective closets. Is it the respected town doctor, Luke Canfield (Charles Drake), his father Asa the blacksmith (R. G. Armstrong), gambler Reeger (Simon Scott), "respected businessmen" Stricker (Karl Swenson) and Pierce (Whit Bissell), miner Ben Chafee (John Alderson) or Lou Fraden (Warren Stevens), who has run off with another man's wife (Virginia Grey)?
Well, each begins to think that the other is trying to have him/her killed and they begin to fight among themselves. Only the sheriff (Willis Bouchey) has the courage to stand up to Gant, but Gant shoots his gun hand in a showdown. Through it all Dr. Canfield along with his fiance Anne Benson (Joan Evans) and her terminally ill and crippled father, retired Judge Benson (Edgar Stehlt) try to make sense of it all. Canfield comes to earn Gant's respect for his courage in trying to prevent any violence. The suspense builds, some die until we learn that Gant's victim is........
Normally when you watch an Audie Murphy western, you would expect him to abandon his intended victim and ride away. Not so here. The cold and calculated manner in which he goads his victim into a fight leaves no question that Gant is all bad. Murphy pulls it off. He was gradually becoming a better actor with each film. His performance as Gant is downright chilling. He would follow that up with another good performance in "Unforgiven" a big budget western with Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn the following year.
Universal always populated the Murphy westerns with a cast of seasoned veterans. This film is no exception. Drake appeared in many of Murphy's films on both sides of the law. He gets to be the hero in this one. Stevens as the gutless wife stealer stands out as does Grey as his distraught wife who sees that she has made a big mistake. The ever reliable Bouchey is excellent as the sheriff who is powerless to stop Gant. Stehlt is good as the terminally ill judge and Evans makes an attractive heroine. In fact, there's not a single weakness in the entire cast. Sharp eyed western lovers will spot Bob Steele (mostly from the back) in the card playing sequence.
In No Name on the Bulllet, Audie Murphy got to star in one of the most
unusual and best westerns in his career when he was cast in this off
beat tale of a hired killer. As John Gant, Audie reverses type and
becomes a coldblooded, yet very philosophical hired killer.
His modus operandi is simple. He gets hired by someone to do someone else in and he goes to wherever his target is, baits him into a fight and then shoots him dead. It's pretty well known in the west that's how he operates.
So Murphy arrives in a particular town, everyone knows he's there to see that someone dies. The town grows crazy with panic and speculation as to who his target might be.
It's a nice original concept for a western and the credit has to go to scriptwriter Gene L. Coon who all Star Trek fans remember as the writer on the original series.
Some of the townspeople are blacksmith R.G. Armstrong, doctor Charles Drake, banker Whit Bissell, mine owner Karl Swenson, judge Edgar Stehli, bartender Charles Watts, and store clerk Warren Stevens. Just who has Audie come to dispatch.
All of these players fill out the roles of the panic stricken townspeople very well indeed. But it is Murphy's film and one of the best westerns ever done and I believe his personal best.
When hired killer Audie Murphy rides into town, everyone gets nervous. Not so much because he's a killer, but because they all have something to hide. This is a wonderfully suspenseful, very low budget western, directed by Jack Arnold, from near the end of Murphy's period as Universal-International's resident cowboy star. His filmography may not be so distinguished as that of Gary Cooper or John Wayne, but it's an awful lot better than many have made it out to be. This fine-tuned gem is a heck of a lot better than North To Alaska.
One of Audie Murphy's two best Westerns, along with "Duel at Silver Creek." Audie departs from his usual role as a Good Guy, to play a part that is more bad than good, but has admirable qualities as well (honesty & responsibility chief among them). He underplays this role, which is one of the reasons that the movie works so well. It has little action for a B Western, but the action comes in a surprisingly violent sequence. The plot avoids many of the usual Western clichés, instead providing thought provoking dialog. Why do the TV channels repeatedly show Audie's mediocre movies & avoid showing his best? I rate it 8/10.
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