The Professionals (1966) 4.72/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 85.4
Genre: Western
Duration: 117 mins
Director: Richard Brooks
Stars: Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan

“Maybe there’s only one revolution since the beginning. The good guys against the bad guys.” Three years before The Wild Bunch, Richard Brooks wrote, directed, and assembled a middle-aged western heavy mob of his own with Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, and Woody Strode squaring off against a Mexican revolutionary played by (err..) Jack Palance, who has kidnapped a wealthy American’s wife (Claudia Cardinale). Marvin and co. play four specialists (guns, explosives, horses, tracker) who are put together to traverse the Mexican desert, rescue said wife, and bring her back across the border alive.

Although The Professionals is not as overtly philosophical as Peckinpah’s later film, it has some wonderful moments of quiet reflection where times past and the politics of the modern world are considered in mature and touching ways. Rather than being seen as increasingly obsolete, however, the seasoned experience of the four heroes is taken more traditionally as a virtue, as their combined expertise is put to work in a series of well crafted and memorable set pieces.

The Professionals is a technically superb movie on nearly every level. Conrad L. Hall’s photography creates an awesome  backdrop worthy of the epic action and the use of the “day-for-night” technique gives the night time shots a striking beauty. Maurice Jarre’s score is as rousing as any from that vintage and used well throughout. However, the real strength of the film is the script and story. The plot was hugely original for its time and the manner in which it develops is disciplined and clever. The scenarios which the protagonists act out are its equal and the dialogue is as good as if not better than anything the western has offered up.

Needless to say, the cast is uniformly splendid and while Ryan and Strode have less to do than the other two, they throw in with some wonderfully memorable performances. But this film is all about Marvin and particularly Lancaster who were rarely better. Marvin gives one of those thoughtful man-with-the-will-of-iron turns but with more emphasis on the former than we typically saw from him. This sets the tone for the film more than anything else. Lancaster, on the other hand, sets the theme, the momentum, and the energy with a profoundly magnetic turn as the “the whirlingist dervish of them all!”. Charming, chilling, rousing, and full of shrewd intelligence, his Dolworth is easily one of the most under-appreciated western characters and as we watch Lancaster swinging from trains and scaling 100 foot canyon walls (without a safety harness), the character and actor become one and the same. What an actor. What a man. What a professional.

Although, it has unfortunately been somewhat forgotten over the years, The Professionals is one of the very best westerns of its era. It takes a refreshing break from town marshals and nasty cattle ranchers to explore the more peripherally relevant themes of the wild west but, best of all, it throws a handful of movie legends together with a script and movie big enough to do every bit of their monumental personalities justice. “So what else is on your mind besides 100 proof women, 90 proof whiskey, and 14 carat gold?” Pure class!

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