Professionals, The (1966)

The Professionals (1966), written, produced and directed by Richard Brooks.

A great adventure western set in the early twentieth century in Pancho Villa's Mexico. A rich American's lovely young wife has been kidnaped and he hires mercenaries to go into Mexico to get her back. Tough men and women and witty tough guy dialogue throughout.

You seldom see a cast as strong as:

It is familiar 1960s mythology: a plucky band of commandos penetrate the enemy stronghold and succeed against impossible odds. Alistair Maclean had similar plots in The Guns of Navarone (1961) and Where Eagles Dare (1968). A new dimension elevates this one: Burt Lancaster and Lee Marvin are old revolutionaries. They have a history with their opponents and have sympathy for them and their cause. In a way their mission is a nostalgic return home.

Woody Strode is their tracker. Robert Ryan is the horse wrangler and the odd man out. He's not done this type of mission or fighting before and is not quite up to it physically. He cares more for horses than for people, but has the grit to do what's needed when it matters. At age 57 he was the oldest of this set. All were in their 40s and 50s when this was made.

Burt Lancaster was a marvel: massive head and distinctive face, athletic ability and performances always worth watching.

Like many films of the 1960s, my first exposure to this one was the lampoon in MAD magazine ("The Amateurs"), drawn with devastating wit by Mort Drucker. I recall Woody Strode turning to the reader and saying "You notice how they never ask my opinion about anything? Do I have to spell it out for you?" And this one had me rolling on the floor:


Cardinale: I hate my husband! He treats me like dirt!

Lancaster: Yeah, poor kid. All that money and he won't even buy you a bra!

Score by Maurice Jarre. Photographed by Conrad Hall.

The Blu-ray is worth having and is a good upgrade from the DVD, but not a spectacular one. The edge enhancement Joshua Zyber mentions in his review does not bother me much except in a glittery look that sometimes appears on faces, an effect I associate with overly sharpened DVDs. I'm guessing it comes from the edges of skin pores and whiskers.

As an aside, I had a thread about "tough guy" films a while back but was never able to explain what I was talking about. You say "action" and people think of martial arts and flying through the air. You say "thriller" and they suggest zombie films.

In film, the Tough Guy:

Example films would be Emperor of the North Pole (1973) (Lee Marvin again) and Hard Times (1975), Walter Hill's first film, with Charles Bronson and James Coburn. Phillip Marlowe is a Tough Guy even though he has an office, and blaxploitation pictures are full of them.

The thumbnails are from the DVD.