Tuesday 31 May 2016

Movie Review: The Professionals (1966)

A sturdy western with a stellar cast, The Professionals features an arduous cross-border rescue mission traversing an unforgiving desert, with plenty of time for shifting allegiances, character surprises and well-executed action.

Early in the 1900s with a Mexican revolution still raging, American businessman Joe Grant (Ralph Bellamy) hires a group of four mercenaries to rescue his kidnapped wife Maria (Claudia Cardinale) from the clutches of Mexican revolutionary leader Raza (Jack Palance). The hired men are gunnery expert Rico (Lee Marvin), explosives master Bill Dolworth (Burt Lancaster), scout and archery ace Jake Sharp (Woody Strode) and respected horse trainer Hans Ehrengard (Robert Ryan). Rico and Dolworth used to be part of the revolutionary forces, fighting alongside Raza.

Rico leads the group across arid terrain towards the guerrilla leader's headquarters. Along the way they have to navigate through treacherous canyons, fend off bandits, and survive extreme heat and exhaustion. Once they arrive near Raza's compound Rico has to devise a plan to infiltrate the camp and rescue Maria from under the nose of the ragtag revolutionary army, but many surprises await.

Directed, written and produced by Richard Brooks, The Professionals carries a Magnificent Four type premise, with slightly less charisma but more plot twists. Brooks keeps the action moving and regularly inserts skirmishes with assorted bandits to keep the gunplay quotient up and establish the credentials of the professionals ahead of the showdown with Raza. Good production values and magnificent Coachella Valley scenery captured by cinematographer Conrad L. Hall elevate the film to a visual treat.

The character interaction scenes are not as effective. The four men do not have sufficient definition to convey depth. Dolworth is a free-wheeling womanizer, Hans is older, more feeble and generally out of place. Sharp says little and Rico is the stoic leader. Other than Dolworth being more money-driven and lascivious than the others, Brooks is unable to generate much in the way of personality.

Both the action and the moral dilemmas improve once the group arrives at Raza's compound. The attempt to extract Maria generates the central plot twist, and the subsequent plot elements unfold with renewed urgency. The professionals get to question their purpose, their quest and their motives, and Dolworth, the most mercenary among them, will have the biggest questions to answer.

The impressive cast members share the screen time, with Marvin and Lancaster most prominent. Marvin's Rico fits straight into the actor's screen persona as the unflappable team leader, while Lancaster struggles to convince as a more jovial dynamite specialist with a carefree attitude. Ryan, Strode, Palance, Cardinale and Bellamy are thoroughly competent but don't get much to work with in terms of texture and intensity modulation.

The Professionals are a lively bunch, well worth accompanying on their difficult mission. They may lack some wit and wisdom, but they make up for it in loud and efficient execution.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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