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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Columbia Picture's epic adventure THE PROFESSIONAS (1966) is a classic
western and ranks among my top ten favourites. But for some strange
reason this exciting colourful romp is often omitted from "great
westerns" discussions. Perhaps it's the setting - or the fact of it not
having the quintessential unknown cow-town that is marshaled by an
idealistic but embattled lawman who along with his crotchety old deputy
is in constant conflict with the powerful local rancher and his
cowhands. And climaxing with the rancher sending for the fast gun to
take on the Marshall. Of course with many variations these things are
usually the ingredients of the classic western. But not so with THE
PROFESSIONALS. Here we have an almost complete Mexican setting and four
men - each with their individual skills - contracted to rescue a big
rancher's wife being held by bandits south of the border. Based on the
novel by Frank O'Rourke this completely engaging, beautifully
constructed action packed adventure was written for the screen and
expertly directed by Richard Brooks. The Oscar nominated Panavision
cinematography came from the great Conrad Hall.
With an offer of $10,000 each, mighty rancher(Ralph Bellamy) hires four specialists - lead by Lee Marvin - to rescue his kidnapped much younger wife Maria (Claudia Cardinale) from the clutches of bandit leader Jesus Raza (Jack Palance). "Jesus - what a name.... for the bloodiest cutthroat in Mexico" declares Bellamy. Burt Lancaster is the explosives expert. Robert Ryan is the Wrangler and Woody Strode an expert with Long Bow. On the journey Lancaster is asked his plan with the explosives. With a wry smile he explains "Well I'll tell ye brother.....if we ever do get back to this canyon, I'll light this fuse...... we'll have ten seconds to get the hell out....and then dynamite, not faith, will move this mountain into that pass.... peace brother". When they eventually do manage to infiltrate the bandit's lair they set the charges and blow the place up but to their shock they find that Maria and Raza are lovers after all ("Brother we've been had") and doesn't want to be rescued. Forcibly taking her with them anyway they make a dash for the border with Raza's men in hot pursuit. After an exciting train chase and a terrific canyon gunfight they finally make it back to the rancher's meeting point with Maria and a wounded Raza. The picture ends with Marvin preventing Bellamy from killing Raza ("You haven't earned the right to kill him" Lancaster declares) and then sending Maria and Raza back to Mexico together on a buckboard.
Performances are terrific! Although Lancaster has top billing, Marvin has the leading role. He is the main protagonist around whom all the action centres and he turns in a splendid stern faced portrayal of the conscientious director of the operation. But disappointing is Robert Ryan who gives a rather subdued performance in a surprisingly underwritten role. Lancaster, on the other hand, is a total delight to watch and steals every scene he's in. This marked a very welcome return to form for the actor and brings to mind his much loved swashbuckling roles in "The Flame & The Arrow" (1950) and "The Crimson Pirate" (1952). Excellent too is Jack Palance in the unusual role of Raza the Mexican bandit leader and also the stunning Claudia Cardinale in her first American movie. Adding great atmosphere to the whole thing is the infectious music by Maurice Jarre. The french composer's score abounds with wonderful indigenous Mexican folk tunes giving the picture an engaging south of the border feel.
THE PROFESSIONALS is a top notch western adventure. A sublime and well polished example of the genre that has lost none of its sheen in almost forty five years.
Memorable exchange from THE PROFESSIONALS ;
Marvin to Lancaster, who is clad only in long-johns "You'll have to give up this practice of always losing your pants.....it's undignified". And Lancaster's response " Yeah... it's drafty too".
Although there's plenty of action in this Western, I believe that the
plays second fiddle to the script. Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Wood Strode
and Robert Ryan are first rate as the four professionals engaged on a
mission which is not all it seems. They are hired by rich mining man J. W.
Grant (played by Ralph Bellamy) to bring back his kidnapped wife (played by
Claudia Cardinale). She has been captured by Jesus Raza (played by Jack
Palance). "Jesus. . .what a name for the bloodiest butcher in Mexico",
one of the characters.
The dialogue between the characters is crisp and often funny. In one situation where Lancaster has been hung upside down in his underwear by Raza's men, Marvin asks him why he keeps losing his pants. Occasionally the dialogue turns serious. Robert Ryan is shivering in the cold desert night and asks who can live in such a "hellhole". Marvin replies that you have to be as tough as steel. "Like you and Dalworth," Ryan replies. "No, men like Raza."
The professionals have a mission, but they respect their adversary. Perhaps they even like him. When they retrieve the wife, Marvin prevents Lancaster from killing Raza. Later, when Lancaster pins Raza down in a narrow canyon they visit about old times.
The movie was filmed in Death Valley and in the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. The colorful rocks and barren desert scenery are used to good effect in the film.
Although the plot is simple, the professionals' mission is not what it seems. They feel they've been set up at the very beginning when Woody Strode, a master tracker, finds the tracks of 10 horses who have been circling. They have obviously been waiting for them. This is only the beginning of the twists and turns in this movie. The film's imaginative plot is delightfully refreshing.
The professionals have a code. Sure, they can be bought. For $10,000 these men will risk the desert, bullets and other dangers. However, they won't go to any lengths to complete their mission. The code first manifests itself when Marvin prevents Lancaster from killing Raza. Later, Lancaster finds out "how a woman can be worth a hundred thousand dollars."
This film doesn't really have a serious weakness. The mix between action, humor and outstanding scenic backdrops makes this a much better than average Western. "The Professionals" is extremely fun to watch and the movie finishes with one of the best comic lines I've ever heard in movies. You won't forget it.
This is a great western... at a time when Hollywood audiences were less interested in westerns. It also developed the theme of moral ambiguity found in the Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood "Man With No Name" westerns and The Wild Bunch. Lee Marvin (fresh from his Oscar performance in Cat Ballou) shows once again how strong an actor he is ... and how well he matches up with Burt Lancaster (with his oscar for Elmer Gantry six years earlier). Jack Palance is once again a villain with a winning smile. In addition to the excellent acting and exciting action scenes, the film makes good use of the horses, the train, the weaponry ... as well as the subplot about the old revolutionaries meeting once again after many years. In the end, the plot has a nice twist ... and our heroes must make a moral choice. The film compares favorably to the best John Ford westerns, plus it has colorful scenery and a great sense of humor. You should definitely watch the "widescreen" version if you can. Richard Brooks was nominated for Oscars for directing and writing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
You won't regret catching this one when it's on TV, unless you were
expecting some black-and-white drama filmed in the Czech Republic in
the rain. The story is simple enough, four mercenaries, Lancaster,
Marvin, Strode, and Ryan, are hired by American millionaire, Bellamy,
to steal back his kidnapped wife, Cardinale, from the revolutionary
bandido, Palance, who used to be their compadre under Pancho Villa.
Things get a little more complicated at the end. I'm not sure exactly
who undergoes what kind of conversion in the last few minutes, or what
happens to the gold. But no matter. You have to go with the flow on
What a flow it is too. It's got about everything in it that you'd expect: action, character, humor, a strong plot line, eyeball-coagulatingly gorgeous locations in Death Valley and elsewhere, a fandango-tinged score by Maurice Jarre, galloping horses, exploding sticks of dynamite, smoking trains puffing and laboring away at their full speed of about fifteen miles per hour, the novelty of seeing somebody dressed like a cowboy shoot a pump shotgun, palpable desert heat, Conrad Hall's masterful shots of gorges that are almost mauve and all ready to be blown up to block the pass, Lancaster scampering out the window of somebody else's wife's house in his long johns, treacherous cholos, revolutionary fervor, post-revolutionary tristesse, a fiesta, a mass execution, and Palance trying to speak Spanish. Could you ask for more?
What craftsmanship. It's the kind of film about which you can truly say, "They don't make 'em like this anymore." (Maybe that's because they're just too much unpretentious fun to watch.) The acting echoes the semantic weight carried by the title. Here we have Lee Marvin at his best. He simply looks perfect for the part of the leader of the gang. And wardrobe should have earned a medal. He wears a dark blue shirt, buttoned up to the neck, an old army campaign hat, and beat-up stovepipe trousers over his dusty boots. He often carries a shotgun or a Lewis machine gun slung over one shoulder. Man becomes icon. His approach to the part is his singular combination of businesslike, cynical, basically trustworthy, darkly humorous, and Marvinish. At the end, just when he's given Lancaster up for dead, someone spots a dust cloud on the horizon and asks what it is, a whirling dervish? "That, gentlemen," says Marvin, "is the whirlingest dervish of them all." And when Lancaster finally rides up, full of bullet holes and trailing an unexpected burden, Marvin stands before him, hand on hip, looks away, and wordlessly extends to Lancaster a bottle of whiskey. In an earlier scene, Lancaster says to Marvin, "Well, I'll be damned." Marvin: "Most of us are." As a matter of fact there's quite a bit of 1960s wisecracking that goes on here, and not just by Marvin. Lancaster is preparing a load of dynamite on the side of a cliff and remarks to the others, "You light this fuse, you got thirty seconds to run like hell, and then dynamite -- not faith -- will move that mountain into this pass. Peace, brothers." I grant you that it's a bit hard to imagine a bunch of illiterate lowlifes in 1917 Mexico coming up with lines like that, but so what? What do you want, King Lear?
Some scenes are standouts. A tense moment while the Mexican army tries to pry some information out of a goatherd, while the gang hides in the boxcars of a train parked nearby. Throughout, no score intrudes, but none is needed because the steam locomotive is wheezing rhythmically away behind the dialog, an unsettling metallic ostinato that enhances the suspense better than any tingling tremolo could.
Palance, shot from his horse, manages to struggle to his hands and knees, still in the kill zone. What does he do? Does he immediately dash for cover? No -- he quickly scuttles crablike over to his cigar lying on the sand where it dropped after the bullet's impact, stuffs the cigar into his mouth, and only THEN dives behind a rock.
Woody Strode has only a few lines but doesn't really need many. He's as solid as Mount Rushmore and knows exactly what he's doing. Robert Ryan is no wimp in this movie but is clearly the only one who is moved by compassion throughout, for animals and for human.
Lancaster has an interesting observation about the Mexican revolution. "Maybe it's all one revolution. The good guys against the bad guys. The problem is -- who are the good guys?" Amen. We don't learn much about the revolution, and it's too bad because its history illustrates Lancaster's point rather well. The government at the time was dictatorial and Pancho Villa, one of the rebel leaders, was a hero to many Americans. Then, in an excess of ardor, Villa crossed the border and invaded Columbus, New Mexico, killing a number of soldiers and civilians. Now he was a villain. So we sent an expedition into Mexico to capture and punish Villa. The expedition only got so far into Mexican territory before it ran into a hastily organized Mexican army that was worried about territorial violations. Did that make Villa a hero again? You can see why Lancaster was confused.
Anyway, watch this movie. It's exciting, colorful, and amusing. It's a great shoot against a lot of scenery. And Claudia Cardinale has a voice like smoked Serrano jamon, and a bust line that only a Mediterranean woman could wield. It worked for Palance and it almost works for Lancaster.
Set in the aftermath of the Mexican revolution, this action drama concerns the rescue of a Mexican lady (Cardinale) who is married to a rich, older, white man (Bellamy.) She has been taken from her American home back down to Mexico by notorious outlaw Palance. Bellamy hires a motley crew of mercenaries to retrieve Cardinale, promising them $10,000 each upon her return. The crew is led by tough as nails Marvin and includes free-wheeling dynamite-man Lancaster, sensitive rustler Ryan and archery expert Strode. This foursome sets out across punishing desert terrain to reach Cardinale and bring her back to the U.S. border. The job is at least as difficult as they expected and getting back to the border is as hard, if not harder, than getting to Palance's lair was. The film has an exceptional ensemble cast of pros. The members of the rescue team form an uneasy affection for one another. Stern Marvin and toothy, off-the-cuff Lancaster make a great pair. Ryan adds years of presence to his smallish role and Strode is his usual imposing physical entity. Palance is always a great villain and has some decent moments here. Bellamy does a nice job with his sketchy character. Cardinale is amazingly curvy and attractive even in the dusty surroundings. There is also a healthy dose of strong action, much of it taking place in the impressive domain of Palance. Dots of humor along the way relieve the tension. Time hasn't been particularly kind to Maurice Jarre's offbeat score and the film could have been just a tad shorter, but overall it is an interesting and absorbing action film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'The Professionals' is a greatly entertaining film, excitingly directed
by Richard Brooks who makes its action sequences startlingly real
allowing his stars full scope in developing their characters...
There is some nice cinematography in the movie... The Mexican countryside is a vast place, and we see the beauty of what is otherwise miles of desert...
The motion picture takes place before World War I, during the bloody time period of the Mexican Revolution, when Pancho Villa and other colorful rebel chieftains led their people in the fight against oppression and freedom...
The film is about four men of sharp instinct, men who live by their abilities and expertise: Ryan, the quiet horseman who can kill 'bandidos' but he can never shoot a fine stallion; Strode, the black giant, can hide all his feelings, but his companions can absolutely rely on him... Marvin, the ex-soldier who still wears an army hat, keeps his opinions on life but his code is incorruptible; Lancaster is clearly an adventurer without principles, but always fit for immediate action...
They may all be unrefined and unsociable but they take pride in being professionals: Burt Lancaster is a good-humored speculator, expert with dynamite; Lee Marvin is a gunnery expert and tactician, a fine demonstrator of new automatic weapons; Robert Ryan, an excavalry man, a cattle boss and a wrangler, and Woody Strode, a dependable scout and tracker, specialist with rifle, rope and long bow... Their job is to go into Mexico for a mission of mercy, rescuing a kidnapped wife...
The expedition across the border is enormously dangerous but Ralph a millionaire rancher (Ralph Bellamy) believes that few daring men with great expertise and an adequate motive could get him what he seeks... He also knows that Lee Marvin fought for Pancho Villa and came face-to-face with Jesus Raza (Jack Palance), the bloodiest cutthroat in Mexico, the brutal kidnapper...
The four men make their uncertain way to the fortress of Raza... Their understanding of the country and the people, and their experience with arms and strategy allow them to locate the attractive young woman... They attack the camp at night and destroy all its strategic positions... Suddenly, thrown into the middle of a shoot-out, they are captured by an unexpected event...
'The Professionals' is about few men tempered like steel... Men who have learned the code of professionalism... Claudia Cardinale feels right in the role, her character is about a woman brought to life through her exposure to righteous struggle...
The most horrifying sequence of sound and fury in the film occurs when Raza's revolutionary army attacks a train, and retaliates against government troops... The captain who led the attack orders the hanging of the two officers and shoots the surviving soldiers...
Ryan (witnessing the scene) shows his turbulent emotions toward Raza's brutality... But Lancaster explains the motives... The men on the train were 'experts at torture' who had raided a whole village... burning the town and killing their people... The explanation partly satisfies Ryan... Lancaster clarifies: 'Maybe there's only one revolution since the beginning... The good guys against the bad guys... The question is, who're the good guys?'
With three Academy Award nominations for Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Cinematography and a first-rate cast, the motion picture is a strong flavored star Western, quietly humorous, delivering what viewers want from any haunting and beautiful film... Give it a look.. You'll be glad you did.
There are so many remarkable things about 'The Professionals.' Conrad
Hall was the Director of Photography and was nominated for an Oscar --
he didn't win but he should have. The 1967 Oscar ceremony threw as many
awards as it could to 'A Man For All Seasons.' I love watching big,
beautiful, widescreen westerns and this is one of the best shot. Hall's
use of camera filters, his incredible dust storm and his location
scouting were all impeccable. I don't pretend to understand the
mechanics of camera photography. I do know, however, when something
looks gorgeous. 'The Professionals' is a stunningly beautiful film and
it is a shame that it doesn't get a greater audience today.
The second remarkable thing is the quality of the cast. The top seven actors and actresses billed were top grade lead or supporting actors at one point in their careers: Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, Woody Strode, Jack Palance, Claudia Cardinale and Ralph Bellamy. It would be interesting to try and add up the number of Oscar nominated pictures and performances that the above group compiled throughout their careers. Even if these seven weren't enough, they get wonderful support from the gorgeous Maria Gomez and reliably ubiquitous Jorge Martinez De Hoyos. Jorge Martinez De Hoyos is a classic Mexican "Hey! It's That Guy!" supporting actor and I always welcome seeing him in a picture. He makes much out of a minor part as the goat keeper who wants to 'help.' The lead performances are terrific and well written. This may well be my favorite Woody Strode performance. He (as seemed to happen for him) doesn't get a lot to say, but the value of his character to the group of four professionals is unquestioned and undeniable. When Marvin wants an assault to look like an attack by the Federales, Lancaster may be the guy with the dynamite, but it is Strode firing explosive arrows that makes it happen. Some of his best work where he is a featured player. And I love that when the question of race is brought up by Bellamy, Marvin snorts with contempt that he would have trouble working with a consummate professional of any colour. Strode doesn't lead, but this was a very positive part and showed white and black relying on each other to get a mutual job done. Of the other leads I would add that Lancaster has the best part (much of the humour, action and girls), Marvin is amazing, and Claudia Cardinale is so stunning a beauty it hurts to look at her.
A tougher part was for Robert Ryan. He was maybe too good of an actor for a part that wasn't well written. Ryan is game but I thought his part as the horse handler wasted him. In his later years Robert Ryan was quite sick and he was sick during this production. I don't think he was the problem though. His character is sick for much of the film but as a person, one gets the impression that Ryan was still quite robust. His character doesn't seem to fit in as well or have anything to do. He is adrift. Maybe part of it comes from playing a character who values animal life over human. I say again though that in this movie he is good, but not right for the part.
'The Professionals' is an adventure film and Western filmed in the style of 'The Magnificent Seven' and a model itself for 'The Wild Bunch' which followed. It straddles the worlds of old Western and new Western. It has a moral ambiguity and over-arching plot which makes me think of the film as a kind of Western/Film-noir. When you look at the cast though, Lancaster, Marvin, Bellamy, Palance and of course Ryan were all noir stalwarts of varying degree. Maybe some of that quality is what attracted them to the script.
This is a great Western that doesn't quite reach the top tier where films like 'The Wild Bunch' sit, but it is high on the second level for me. The ending may not strike some as satisfying and I've seen it argued that this was an attempt with other Westerns to illustrate American interventionist foreign policy of the time. Those conclusions can be discussed by others because I think of the assault on the Hacienda, the time-buying duel in the canyon, Burt's use of explosives in the pass and a terrific opening credits instead. This is a great Western that has been unduly forgotten. I really wish it has won the Oscar for cinematography -- Oscars can make films more marketable and enduring. If you're a fan of Westerns, you're no fan until you've watched 'The Professionals.'
This is one of those great, all-star movies where what happens is almost inconsequential because getting there is so much fun. Marvin and Lancaster give sharp-edged, self-assured performances, Palance is delightful as always, and the rest of the cast does their job in yeoman fashion. It has the edge and cynicism that marked the decline of western movie production, but it has enough fun with the audience, and itself to stand out from other westerns made at the same juncture. Richard Brooks deserves a lot of credit for keeping the genre going because few westerns made around this time were or are memorable. This movie is not always mentioned with the all-time great westerns...but it should be.
I just recently revisited this great Western classic and rediscovered
why I think this is the best of its genre. The setting, the
plot/subplots, the casting, the writing are in a class unto themselves.
First of all, what else can you say about the match-up of Lee Marvin
and Burt Lancaster? Two phenomenal actors with a great screenplay and
story line to propel their already lofty skills to an even higher
level. The supporting cast of Jack Palance, Claudia C., Woody Strode,
Robert Ryan, etc. contributes to the overall storyline by portraying
their individual roles, each entirely different, with skill, depth and
What starts out as a fairly self-explanatory rescue and retrieve mission ends up getting increasingly complicated. As Burt Lancaster's character noted, "there's something a little dicey about this arrangement"! As the melodrama ensues, the inevitable capture and retrieval occurs and the tension mounts as the chase begins.
When the retrieval part of the mission nears its ending, the pace slows down to where the principal combatants, Jack Palance and Burt Lancaster, render their philosophical reasons for their respective actions. Palance, the Mexican revolutionary, tells of the revolution being like the goddess at the inception and like a whore as time wears on, where lust slowly overshadows love and passion surmounts compassion. But this time, he says, "I'm on this mission for love". Burt's reply of "I'm in it for the money, what else?", has the typical mercenary ring to it, but you get the feeling it may not portray his true feelings. This depiction of revolution(s), at a time (late 60's) when revolutionary zeal was the current political motif, sheds a remarkably lucid view: what does it all mean in the end?
But true to the Code of the Professional, Burt, Lee M. et al, must fulfill their obligations to the letter of the contract. And when you see the film in its entirety, you will see how they achieve that obligation and may be surprised at the final fulfillment!
A rich Texas landowner (the elderly Ralph Bellamy) hires three men (Robert Ryan, Burt Lancaster and Lee Marvin) to go into Mexico and return his beautiful wife (the ultra-erotic Claudia Cardinale) to him after she was kidnapped by a gang of ruthless thugs led by Jack Palance (made up to look Hispanic). The three accept the challenge, wanting to get paid handsomely of course, but as they advance and get closer to Cardinale a thin line develops and it becomes unclear if everything is really the way it appears to be. The scope of a quickly changing West before a backdrop of the Mexican Revolution only adds to a movie that nearly touches greatness. Writer/director Richard Brooks (Oscar-nominated in both categories) began to knock on the door with a potentially very dark Western here and in 1969 director Sam Peckinpah would knock that door down with the amazing "The Wild Bunch". Brooks, not known for this genre, created a legitimate winner here with this production. Sometimes though the characters lose out because of the beautiful cinematography by Conrad L. Hall (Oscar-nominated) and the fact that Cardinale is just illuminating when on the screen (she is the only actress with any substantial screen-time). Her amazing beauty overshadows all the males throughout. Thought-provoking, action-packed and highly interesting, "The Professionals" is a sometimes forgotten would-be masterpiece from the usually impressive genre. 4 stars out of 5.
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