Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Professionals (1966)


Rancher Joe Grant (Ralph Bellamy) recruits a small, elite, team (Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, and Woody Strode) of professionals to rescue his wife (Claudia Cardinale) from Mexican revolutionary Jesus Raza (Jack Palance).

If you just look at the cast list above I don't think you need to think long about why this movie has been on my need to watch list for some time. The Professionals is by many accounts the pre-Predator example of extreme testosterone, hard hitting, rough men, who take down anyone who gets in their way. The opening sequence in which each character is introduced is riddled with hard hits, women, and of course machine guns (using the rather comical technique of introducing each character during their associated actors name). Of course when you have such talent you're going to want to highlight it.

While Burt Lancaster may have gotten top billing there's little denying that Lee Marvin's Rico Fardan is the anchor for both the film, and the team. He's the only one of the Professionals we get to know anything about, and we see his struggle with taking down an old alley in Raza. Though of course that's not to say we get to know little of Bill Donworth (Burt Lancaster) who delivers many of the films great one-liners, and serves as the emotional counter, and long time friend, to Fardan. Unfortunately Robert Ryan and Woody Strode (who is never given nearly enough credit as an actor) are well underused and in many respects only serve the function of narrative side-kicks. Ryan's character does provide some moral ground for the group, but even then it's only random. While Strode is stuck with the generic, and over romanticized role, apache warrior/tracker, which gives him some good action scenes, but not much in the way of lines or screen time (as he's often off tracking).

Claudia Cardinale is as beautiful as you'd imagine, and it's nice that her character develops into more than just a damsel in distress. While Raza (Jack Palance) is able to escape a predictably cheesy villain role, and become a sympathetic character for the audience. Yet for all its strengths in performance characters, Richard Brooks has to be the glue to put it all together. While tense and filled with action, The Professionals is a very standard film, and never really escapes the realm of being a bit hokey. The direction is solid, but not creative, with some questionable moves in order to surprise the audience. Of course at its heart it's the narrative that keeps The Professionals together. It's about those who fought for revolutionary ideas, those who still fight, and what becomes of those who no longer do.

While a bit hokey, and not all that creative, The Professionals is a fun and involving western, worth the time and attention of its viewer.

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