Posted by: Gregoryno6 | December 30, 2021

No Name on the Bullet.

This is among the best of the psychological westerns, a genre that emerged in the 1950s and over the decades since has come to pretty well dominate the category. The early good-guys-white-hats-bad-guys-black-hats cowboy movies didn’t feature a lot of ambiguity or moral complexity. No Name on the Bullet carries a solid dose of both.

Take two men. Say they have robbed and lied, and have never paid. The man whom one of them has robbed comes to me and says, “Kill that man who’s robbed me.” And I kill him. The other man becomes ill and would die, except for a physician who returns him to health to rob and lie again. Who’s the villain in this piece? Me or the physician?

Audie Murphy was out of his usual hero’s role in No Name. As John Gant he rides into Lordsburg wearing the smell of death. Gant is known as a man who kills for a price. He wouldn’t be in Lordsburg if he didn’t have business there. Gant admits as much – but withholds his target’s name.

Gant plays with the townsfolk like a cat with a box full of mice. Only the doctor, Luke Canfield (Charles Drake, right) approaches Gant without fear, and Gant accepts the doctor as an equal. The two of them, Gant indicates, are better men than the ordinary rabble of Lordsburg.

Canfield thinks he’s discovered Gant’s human side and is sure he can dissuade him from completing his task. Gant find’s the doctor’s hope rather amusing; he responds with that parable about the two thieves. Canfield is confounded by Gant’s calm philosophy of murder.

No Name on the Bullet reminded me a lot of Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter. An agent of change enters the landscape and the delicately balanced relationships of a small town are sent tumbling. It’s humanity’s oldest story. But No Name on the Bullet cuts its own course. The conclusion is satisfactory while raising questions the viewer will have to answer for themselves.

Afterthought – not too long after No Name on the Bullet reached the big screen, John Le Carre’s first novel Call For The Dead introduced readers to the equivocal world of the Circus. Far be it from me to spout off like some tv presenter type of idiot, but it seems that postwar doubts were becoming an influence in popular culture around that time. The line between good and evil was beginning to blur…


  1. I watched this on YouTube (I believe) a couple of weeks ago. It is, indeed, an interesting psychological western. Murphy did a good job with a demanding role as a sort of paid grim reaper.

    • I haven’t seen many of his movies that I can recall, but I’m aware of his outstanding record in WW2. This would have been an unusual role for him, being the bad guy.

  2. I think his best performance was in the 1960 film The Unforgiven, which starred Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn. It’s a great western, based on the novel of the same name by Alan Lemay. Catch it if you get a chance.

    Another good western, featuring Murphy and Jimmy Stewart, is Night Passage. In this one, Murphy plays a sort of “good” bad guy, the Utica Kid, who’s reunited with his brother (Stewart) under unusual and violent circumstances. The movie also has one of my favorite screen villains, Dan Duryea.

    • Thanks for those tips, Paco! There is once again absolutely zip that appeals on the big screens locally. I will track these down if I can.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: