Wednesday, July 21, 2021

LEGENDS OF WESTERN CINEMA WEEK: No Name on the Bullet, 1959

This review of the 1959 western No Name on the Bullet is a contribution to the Legends of Western Cinema Week hosted by Rachel at Hamlette's Soliloquy, Heidi at Along the Brandywine, and Olivia at  Meanwhile, in Rivendell this July 19 - 24, 2021.

The online celebration of a favourite genre is an ongoing summertime treat.

Audie Murphy

Meet John Gant as portrayed by Audie Murphy in No Name on the Bullet. John Gant is a gunfighter of repute whose presence in the town of Lordsburg gives rise to anxiety and trouble among the many worthy citizens who may or may not be the object of Gant's professional skill. Real and imagined crimes of the past haunt their waking and sleeping hours.

Charles Watts, Jerry Paris, Willis Bouchey

Sheriff Buck Hastings's (Willis Bouchey) hands are tied. Gant is a known assassin but he subtly pushes his victim into a gunfight which can only be labeled self-defense, not murder. Gant is hired for his skill and he is a thorough professional. 

Buck: "You watch some of our respected citizens from now on. You're gonna learn something. --- Everybody steps on somebody's toes sometime."

Audie Murphy, Charles Drake

"Doc" Luke Canfield (Charles Drake) considers Gant a stranger not to be pre-judged, then a greater risk than imagined to the town he loves. Luke wants to find out what makes Gant tick. Gant philosophically tries to open Doc's eyes to the idea that they are two sides of the same coin.

Gant: "Take two men. Say they have robbed and lied and have never paid. A man whom one of them has robbed comes to me and says ... "Kill that man who has robbed me." ... And I kill him. The other man becomes ill and would die, except for a physician who returns him to life to rob and lie again. Who's the villain in this piece? Me or the physician? Don't look as though you think I'm insane. You think about it."

Doc: "Gant, I'm a healer. I've devoted my life to it, and I intend to continue. Right now I've got one big public health problem, and I'm looking at it."

Audie Murphy, Whit Bissell, Karl Swenson

Paranoia and guilt cause two businessmen (Whit Bissell, Karl Swenson) to believe their third partner has hired Gant to get rid of them. The third partner (John Alderson) is equally convinced his partners want him gone. Gant has seen this scenario played out many times before. Bribery and mayhem will result while Gant single-mindedly sticks to his task. He need do nothing except advertise his presence.

Stricker: "Money brought Gant here. Maybe it can get him to leave."

Virginia Grey, Warren Stevens

Lou Fraden (Warren Stevens) stole Roseanne (Virginia Grey) from her husband Sam. Their guilt and fear have kept them on the run for years. Lou is a coward and a braggart and he is convinced that Sam hired Gant to complete his revenge. Roseanne realizes that they are not worth the trouble. Lou and whisky is a dangerous combination.

Roseanne: "Sam must hate us even more than I thought. He's gonna let us stay together."

Charles Drake, Joan Evans, Edgar Stehli

Doc's fiancee Anne Benson (Joan Evans) comes to see the threat in Gant as it relates to her invalid and dying father. Judge Benson (Edgar Stehli) through his years of experience claims to understand the character of the man Gant. The Judge is a man of secrets and plans. He predicts the vigilante mob that will form in town and he believes he knows how to stop Gant in his mission.

Anne: "I'm going to kill you, Mr. Gant."

Edgar Dearing, Hank Patterson, Audie Murphy

Two old coots, who tell tall tales and play chess when not sleeping find Gant's presence mildly annoying or of no interest whatsoever when it comes to his mission. They provide a humorous interlude and proof that life goes on despite the momentous fear and guilt experienced by their fellow citizens. It means nothing to Charlie and Ed.

Ed: "Hey, sonny. Would you mind movin' aside a little bit? You're cuttin' out the sun."

Audie Murphy

There is a fatalistic stillness to Murphy's performance of John Gant. The gunman's reputation and the fees he commands speak to a man who never fears failure. I like to contrast and compare Murphy's work here with the seemingly naive Destry, 1954 in George Marshall's remake of his 1939 classic. The films provide an example of how Murphy took advantage of his Hollywood opportunity and grew as an actor over time.

Jack Arnold (1912-1992)

Jack Arnold, the versatile director of classic science fiction was a prolific and profitable member of Universal Studios at the time. Arnold's career runs the gamut of such fan favorites as The Incredible Shrinking Man and Creature from the Black Lagoon, diverse comedies with Bob Hope (Bachelor in Paradise), Tony Randall (Hello Down There), and Peter Sellers (The Mouse That Roared) plus over thirty years of classic television programming from Wagon Train to The Love Boat. Among this diverse field of entertainment, Arnold both produced and directed the intriguing western No Name on the Bullet.

Gene L. Coon (1924-1973)

The story for No Name on the Bullet is by Harold Amacker and it is his only film credit. The screenplay is by Gene L. Coon, beloved of Trekkies. Director Arnold and writer Coon's stamp can also be found on the 1957 western Man in the Shadow, three episodes of the series It Takes a Thief, and eight episodes of the Blake Edwards' series Mr. Lucky

No Name on the Bullet presents interesting themes and characters, each concept is highlighted by the other and the film is a sparse and thought-provoking outside-the-box western of its era.

Of note:

 Audie Murphy and Charles Drake films: Gunsmoke, 1953, To Hell and Back, 1955, Walk the Proud Land, 1956, No Name on the Bullet, 1959, and Showdown, 1963.


  1. I saw this a couple of years ago, and was really impressed. It's such a clever idea, and it's pretty well executed. It's not the greatest Western ever made, but it's a very good way to spend some time.

    I did figure out the real target early - but it was fun watching all the others run about in panic. I've not seen many Murphy movies - he's largely forgotten in the UK, even by TV schedulers - but this was a lovely performance. I especially loved his last line ...

    1. Indeed. No Name on the Bullet ended just as and when it did. Too many filmmakers these days tend to prolong such things. A tidy and different western from Universal.

  2. I want to mention the passing of a guest star from THE BIG VALLEY. JOHN GABRIEL played a gypsy in the ep HIDE THE CHILDREN. The main guest star was the lovely and talented LOUISE SOREL. John Gabriel is best known from one of "your" soaps-RYAN'S HOPE. He played DR. SENECA BEAULAC from 1975 to 1985 and again from 1988 to 89. John was on THE E TRUE HOLLYWOOD STORY of GILLIGAN'S ISLAND because he had played THE PROFESSOR in the unaired pilot episode. John was 90.

    1. I remember talented and handsome John Gabriel well from Ryan's Hope. Also from The Mary Tyler Moore show.

  3. I like the premise: everyone in town thinking Murphy’s out to get them for reasons of their own. Would like to see what a contemporary filmmaker would do with it.

    I know Murphy was a celebrated war hero before he came to Hollywood, but did he have any acting experience? Or did Hollywood just want to bank on his name?

    1. Murphy's background did not include any show business. His notoriety brought him to the public attention and it was James Cagney's production company that suggested he give Hollywood a try. He had nothing to lose so why not? It wasn't long before he ended up at Universal and became a leading player in mid-budget westerns. He also wrote poetry and music so there must have been a wellspring of creativity trying to get out.

      A lot of critics don't think he was an actor because it wasn't what he set out to be (injuries kept him from officer training which would have come his way because of the commendations). However, if you look at his earliest movies to the rest of his career you can see someone who ran with the opportunities. Particularly his work with John Huston in The Red Badge of Courage and The Unforgiven.

  4. I liked what you said about Audie Murphy's character having a "fatalistic stillness". That's an impressive quality to pull off for an actor, and it proves your point that Murphy's acting abilities steadily grew over the years.

    1. I get more than a little miffed at those who dismiss the abilities Murphy displayed throughout his career. Surely his popularity with western fans would have faded had he not had "the goods."

  5. It's one of the best Western film titles ever! I agree that Murphy grew as an actor. I had a hard time accepting him as a semi-bad guy in Northwest Passage, but he's much better in No Name on the Bullet. Plus, I never miss a chance to watch Whit Bissell. Surely, he was the busiest actor in Hollywood in the late 1950s and 1960s.

    1. If the hubby and I weren't lazy so-and-so's who won't get off the couch, we'd have a drinking game for every time we spot Whit Bissell. At least we both shout his name at the same time.

      Night Passage is the only time I want to slap Dan Duryea. I wish Audie could have pulled that favourite actor back from the brink in that one. James Nielsen wasn't up to the task.

  6. Paddy Lee, I hope it has been a good day for you. I really enjoyed your write-up on a favorite movie of mine NO NAME ON THE BULLET(filmed 1958, released 1959), which stars the fine actor Audie Murphy, who is another long-time favorite of mine. I first remember viewing this movie on Memphis, Tennessee's WREC Channel 3 EARLY MOVIE in 1968.

    I think NO NAME ON THE BULLET is an entertaining and clever movie, which concentrates on intensity, instead of shoot-outs and pivots on the low-keyed threatening presence of gun man John Gant(Audie Murphy). I like your use of "fatalistic stillness" to describe Audie's performance. The supporting cast is top-notch and I think that someone who isn't that keen on Westerns would enjoy this movie.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly, Walter. The interesting script and performance would surprise those whose expectations of a western are stuck in stereotypes. This is one of those where the filmmakers take you in unexpected directions.

    2. Paddy Lee, I agree with about being taken into unexpected directions, which is okay with me, but some fans out there may have reservations with the ending of NO NAME ON THE BULLET, but that is okay, also. To each their own, because most everyone's likes and dislikes are different, which is what makes the world go around.

      For the most part, I like NIGHT PASSAGE(filmed 1956, released 1957), but it could have been a better movie, I think, if Anthony Mann hadn't dropped out as director. One of those "what if" situations that we , as fans, can't do anything about.

      Because of your good write-up, I hope others will take time to give Audie Murphy's movies a look see.

    3. I do hope that the next time newbies see an Audie Murphy title coming up that they will give it a look. The internet has introduced me to many who did not grow up with the movies being ubiquitous on local television. We were lucky to get a variety of classic movies thrown at us and it was a wonderful way to get to know so many artists and creators, plus find our way through decades of entertainment.

    4. Paddy Lee, I like your use of the word "ubiquitous." Yes, all I had to do was turn on the tv and there were plenty of movies and tv shows to view locally and on network prime time. In my neck of the woods, I grew up on a small ranch in the hinterlands, our best bet for viewing were the 3 channels out of Memphis, Tennessee. That was over 130 miles away, so those stations had pretty strong air signals. KAIT Channel 8 Jonesboro was closer at 85 miles, but it was a low-power station, so reception wasn't that good, except for early in the morning, or late at night. Early Saturday mornings, Channel 8 did show Gene Autry and Roy Rogers movies.

      The TV stations that I watched, as a youngster during the 1960's and 1970's, were the CBS-affiliated WREC-TV Channel 3 Memphis, Tennessee; NBC-affiliated WMC-TV Channel 5 Memphis Tennessee; ABC-affiliated WHBQ-TV Channel 13 Memphis, Tennessee, and by the early 1970’s PBS-affiliated WKNO-TV Memphis, Tennessee; ABC-affiliated KAIT-TV Channel 8 Jonesboro, Arkansas; and if I turned the outside antenna southward I could get NBC-affiliated KARK-TV Channel 4 Little Rock, Arkansas. Let me tell you, they aired a lot of movies: morning, afternoon, prime time, and late. Westerns galore with Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea, George Montgomery, Audie Murphy, Fred MacMurray, William Elliott, Rod Cameron, and others. Since this is a Western thread, I won't go into everything else. Those were the days.

      I would like to say thank you to all of the local tv programmer and scheduling people, because they gave us a lot of great and good viewing. That is why I like to mention on which tv stations I first remember viewing a movie, or tv show. It is my way of a thank you for a job well done.

      I've rambled on way too much. Take care.

    5. I enjoyed your "rambling." We had one clear channel in Nova Scotia when I was a kid. An extra aerial helped bring in one more channel and my folks could watch Laugh In.

      When I was 11 we moved to Freeport in Grand Bahama Island for a year. My sisters and I were introduced to multiple channelsFlorida, plus TV that didn't shut off at midnight. Movies every day! The same one every weekday on one channel. The one thing I became convinced of was that Jimmy Stewart was married to June Allyson, and he was either a ball player, a musician, or a pilot. (Ha-ha)


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