The uncertainty that lingers throughout the cast of No Name on the Bullet is palpable. That notion that any member of the town could be the next target for cold-blooded cowboy John Gant (Audie Murphy) keeps the chills and thrills high throughout this Jack Arnold directed piece. On the cusp of the 1960s, this Hollywood Western showcases how the strengths of a good story and cast can come together and pool their resources, fashioning a tremendous narrative. We follow a group of townsfolk struck with fear, each of them articulating their terror in an abundance of different circumstances, all articulated by some fine performances.
Much of the tension throughout No Name on the Bullet comes from a town wary of its crimes. The inhabitants fear Gant not just for his abilities as a gunslinger, but also for what he represents. A cleansing presence of the Old West, his arrival in town sets off a chain of events that see characters who, on the surface seem rather quaint, break down entirely as they ask for forgiveness in their crimes, real or fabricated, to plead with Gant. Who Gant is there to kill is entirely unknown, but the strength of the writing makes it relatively easy to believe the idea that he could be there for any man, woman, or child that approaches him.
This stance would be impossible without Audie Murphy’s superb performance. A cool, reserved role that sees him duke it out a handful of times with townsfolk who fear and repent his arrival. He’s by no means a villain, though, the town paints him as one and from there the merits of both script and performance shine through rather clearly. Charles Drake appears in a leading capacity also, his role as Luke Canfield a voice of reason amongst a sea of angered, scared members of the public, who want nothing to do with Gant. Arnold’s direction utilises these two leading performers with such grace and ingenuity, weaving them rather seamlessly into an interchangeable backdrop that could have pitted the two anywhere. They have desirable chemistry with one another, the respect Gant has for the level-headed physician is met by the clear peaceful mindedness Canfield offers.
A crucial piece of the western genre, and one that will absolutely appeal to those looking for a well-paced, greatly performed film that lives and dies on how audiences perceive its twists and turns. Strong leading performances and a dedicated bit of direction from Arnold make No Name on the Bullet a charming, forthright western that enjoys some great planning and detail, which make for some comfortable, conventional twists and turns with just a hint of originality splashed in to set Murphy’s leading performance apart from the rest of the anti-heroes that littered this time.