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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Professionals (1966)



Dir: Richard Brooks - Cast: Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Claudia Cardinale, Jack Palance, Robert Ryan, Woody Strode, Ralph Bellamy, Marie Gomez 

One of the most successful 'great' westerns of the mid-sixties, and with three Academy Award nominations also one of the critically most acclaimed. But its reputation has faded a little. It nevertheless seems to have it all: explosive action, a lot of tough and cool guys, and Claudia.  

The story is set in 1917. Lee Marvin is Fardan, a mercenary asked by a business man J.W. Grant to lead a small group of professionals into revolutionary Mexico, to rescue Grant's wife (Claudia), who has been kidnapped by revolutionary leader Raza (Palance). Both Fardan and explosives expert Dolworth (Lancaster) have a history with Raza, but decide to fulfill their task even when they discover that the lady prefers Raza to Grant and probably wasn't even kidnapped to begin with. 

The film is well-paced and beautifully shot (by Conrad Hall) on magnificent locations (among them Death Valley and the Valley of Fire), but the script is pretty thin (and also pretty implausible if you think about it). Brooks tries to intellectualize it with a curtain fire of grim one-liners and pedestrian philosophies, for instance (after a couple of horses are shot):

"People. We just killed ten men, nobody bats an eye. But when it comes to one of God's most stupid animals..."

or:

"Maybe there's only one revolution, since the beginning, the good guys against the bad guys. Question is, who are the good guys?"

These one-liners are often funny and suggestive, but have little resonance throughout the movie and make it feel a little top-heavy, as if it tries to be more important than it really is. But it's a rousing adventure movie with some thunderous action moments and an incredible cast. Both Marvin and Lancaster get a lot of screen-time while Ryan (as the sensitive horse-wrangler) and Strode (as the stoic scout) are more in the background. In spite of the male star power, the film belongs to the women. Claudia is as sultry and seductive as ever and there's also Marie Gomez in a small but show-stealing role as Chiquita,  the woman who won't ever say no. Marvin's final riposte after the dirty businessman who hired him has called him a bastard, is a direct hit and has become a classic line:

"Yes, Sir. In my case an accident of birth. But you, Sir, you're a self-made man."

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