The Professionals (1966)




(director/writer: Richard Brooks; screenwriter: from the novel A Mule for the Marquesa by Frank O’Rourke; cinematographer: Conrad L. Hall; editor: Peter Zinner; music: Maurice Jarre; cast: Burt Lancaster (Bill Dolworth), Lee Marvin (Henry ‘Rico’ Fardan), Robert Ryan (Hans Ehrengard), Jack Palance (Capt. Jesus Raza), Claudia Cardinale (Maria Grant), Woody Strode (Jake Sharp), Ralph Bellamy (Joe Grant), Joe De Santis (Ortega), Jorge Martinez de Hoyos (Goatkeeper), Marie Gomez (Chiquita); Runtime: 117; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Richard Brooks; Columbia Pictures; 1966)

“It’s one of Brooks’s more eloquent and witty films.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Kidnapping flick down Mexico way, that was slightly eclipsed in three years by the similar themed one by Peckinpah entitled The Wild Bunch. It also follows the same trajectory as Valentino’s silent The Sheik (1921). Writer-director Richard Brooks (“Elmer Gantry”/”In Cold Blood”/”Bite the Bullet”) bases the film on the novel A Mule for the Marquesa by Frank O’Rourke, a catchall phrase meaning “from soup to nuts.” It’s set on the Mexican-Texas border in 1917 after the Mexican revolution, at a time the Old West is changing.

Texas millionaire J. W. Grant (Ralph Bellamy) offers to pay four professional soldiers-of-fortune $10,000 apiece to rescue his beautiful Mexican wife of fours years, Maria (Claudia Cardinale), rather than pay a ransom of $100,000 and have her killed anyway. She was kidnapped by guerrilla-bandit Capt. Jesus Raza (Jack Palance) and is being held in his Mexican desert stronghold. The professionals are led by former fighter for Pancho Villa and weapons expert Rico Fardan (Lee Marvin), horsemaster Hans Ehrengard (Robert Ryan), and tracker/bowman Jake Sharp (Woody Strode). For the fourth comrade, Fardan recruits his old pal from their fighting days in the revolution, dynamiter, adventurer and lover boy Bill Dolworth (Burt Lancaster). The almost impossible mission calls for them to get through Raza’s well-armed army of over 150 and escape with Maria across the harsh desert. After rescuing her from Raza, someone Fardan and Dolworth knew from their revolutionary days, the boys learn that she wasn’t kidnapped but ran away from Grant to be with her longtime lover Raza and refuses to go back. The mercenaries are in a quandry about how to handle such a delicate situation, and decide to listen to their hearts.

The film did a brisk box-office, and is one of the better modern-day Westerns. Though it’s all implausible, the all-star cast sparkle and make the action sequences forceful. It’s one of Brooks’s more eloquent and witty films. Also, the photography by Conrad Hall is smashing (shot on location in Death Valley, Lake Mead and the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada). It was nominated by the Academy for Best Direction, Best Screenplay, and Best Cinematography.