Saturday, February 19, 2022

#2,711. No Name on the Bullet (1959) - The Wild West


Audie Murphy was one of the most decorated U.S. soldiers of World War II. Having lied about his age, he enlisted in 1941 when he was 16, and three years later was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for single-handedly holding off an entire German company.

After the war, Murphy became an actor, most notably playing himself in the 1955 autobiographical war film To Hell and Back. Over the years, he appeared in a number of westerns, and 1959’s No Name on the Bullet is one of the best.

When John Gant (Murphy) rides into Lordsburg, more than a few of the townsfolk start to worry. That’s because they know Gant is a hired gun, and his arrival means someone is going to die.

But Gant is also smart; he always provokes his target into drawing their gun first - usually in front of witnesses - so that when he outdraws them, he can claim he acted in self-defense.

The Sheriff, Buck Hastings (Willis Bouchey), would like nothing more than to throw Gant in jail. But since there are no warrants out for the gunman’s arrest, his hands are tied. Luke Canfield (Charles Drake), the local doctor, tries to reason with Gant, while a few of the town’s more nervous citizens, including Earl Stricker (Karl Swenson) and Thad Pierce (Whit Bissell), want to put a bullet in his back; both assume Gant was hired by their former partner Ben Chaffee (John Alderson), who they had cheated out of his share of a local mine. Ironically, Chaffee himself is convinced that Stricker and Pierce hired Gant to kill him!

With Gant in no hurry to reveal his target, all of Lordsberg is on edge. And when paranoia sets in, people start to die.

Audie Murphy may have been a great soldier, but he was only a so-so actor, and while he didn’t set the world on fire with his portrayal of John Gant, this 1959 movie didn’t really suffer much as a result. Murphy received top billing, but it’s the chaos his character stirs up - mostly by sitting around and doing nothing - that makes the film so memorable. In fact, there are more scenes without John Gant than with him. Charles Drake essentially becomes the lead as he tries to deal with Gant and calm everyone else down.

As Sheriff Hastings says at one point, most men have made an enemy or two, which means Gant’s target could be just about anyone. The film spends the majority of its time focusing on the hired gun’s potential victims and how they’re dealing with the possibility their time may be up. Along with Stricker, Pierce, and Chaffee, there’s Lou Fraden (Warren Stevens), who ran off with another man’s wife (played by Virginia Grey). Hell, even the Sheriff admits he may have crossed a few people over the years! And some of the good citizens of Lordsburg have no intention of waiting around to find out if it’s them Gant is after. The tension in No Name on the Bullet intensifies with each passing scene until it finally reaches a boiling point, resulting in violence and even murder.

Who John Gant’s intended victim might be makes for an intriguing mystery, but it’s watching the townsfolk turn on each other, and let their paranoia get the better of them, that transforms No Name on the Bullet into a first-class motion picture.
Rating: 9 out of 10

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