Sunday, August 25, 2013


I first encountered THE PROFESSIONALS (1966) on a Saturday afternoon at the Paramount Theater in downtown Austin. I was ten-years-old and I absolutely loved the movie. So it was only fitting that I spent part of yesterday (Saturday) afternoon revisiting this classic western adventure movie.

A fellow could spend the rest of his adult life playing "quien es mas macho" with the cast of this film. The four men pictured above comprise the team of "professionals" that are assembled at the beginning of the film by millionaire J.W. Grant (Ralph Bellamy). It's the standard guys-on-a-mission set-up with the mission being to journey into Mexico and rescue Grant's kidnapped wife (the oh-so-lovely Claudia Cardinale) from the clutches of the rapacious Mexican revolutionary Raza (Jack Palance, who oozes machismo and menace).

The team is comprised of Burt Lancaster, an explosives expert and former mercenary who fought in the Mexican revolution alongside both Raza and Lee Marvin, the military tactician who is the leader of the team. Rounding out the foursome are Woody Strode as an ace archer and Robert Ryan, the must-have horse wrangler.

The four set off across the Mexican desert where they encounter small bands of Raza's men a couple of times before finally reaching his hacienda stronghold. They stage a daring and imaginative raid, rescue Cardinale and set off back across the desert to return her to Bellamy and collect the sizable fee ($10,000) he's promised each man.

But things are not entirely what they seem to be. There are some neat plot twists and turns, including a standoff between Palance and Lancaster before the satisfying ending in which Lee Marvin gets in an unforgettable last line.

THE PROFESSIONALS is a rousing action adventure film that showcases some of the greatest tough guys of the mid-century cinema. You could strike a match off of the face of any one of these men, that's how tough they are. Lancaster is all swagger and smiles, Marvin is more tightly wound and always thinking, Ryan is durable and dependable and Strode is a wizard with the long-bow. Throw in Jack Palance, who excelled at playing bad guys, and you've got an unbeatable line-up. The testosterone in this movie is turned up to 11 but it never goes over the top like so many contemporary films.

Written and directed by Richard Brooks (who based the screenplay on a novel by Frank O'Rourke), THE PROFESSIONALS features a rousing score by Maurice Jarre and top notch cinematography by Conrad Hall. THE PROFESSIONALS received three Academy Award nominations including Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Cinematography.

Watching THE PROFESSIONALS again yesterday afternoon took me back to that long ago Saturday afternoon when, as a boy of ten, I first thrilled to this exciting motion picture for the first time on the big screen at the Paramount Theater. I had a blast reliving those memories. Highly recommended.


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