The Professional (Le professionnel) (1981)
The Professional (Le professionnel) (1981)

Genre: Spy Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.

Release Date: October 21st, 1981 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Georges Lautner Actors: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Desailly, Cyrielle Claire, Marie-Christine Descouard, Elisabeth Margoni, Jean-Louis Richard, Michel Beaune




ommander Josselin Beaumont (Jean-Paul Belmondo) of the French Secret Service is on trial in Malagasy, Africa for terrorism and the attempted murder of President Njala. As a prisoner to be made an example of, he must endure treacherous conditions for two years, including torture, drugging, and the mercilessly hot climate. With a little fortitude, escape is always on the horizon; when an opportunity presents itself, he joins forces with a native prisoner to overcome the guards and flee to a tiny village where, luckily, he already has a stash of money, a passport, and heavy weaponry.

When Josselin returns to Paris, it’s made clear that shortly after he was sent on his mission, the political circumstances changed drastically, negating the need to assassinate the Malagasy leader. Instead of pulling Beaumont out, the Minister sells him out to the African government for bureaucratic gain. Now that the professional killer is back, he’s determined to get revenge against his betrayers. It seems that even in foreign films, the government is the enemy.

Inspector Rosen (Robert Hossein) from the Intervention Bureau assumes responsibility for tracking down the rogue agent and taking care of the nuisance, even if he must resort to questionable tactics. His assistant, a callous female sergeant with a penchant for molesting women suspects, has unusual methods of torture when it comes to interrogating Beaumont’s wife Jeanne (Elisabeth Margoni), who Joss visits briefly. His original mission isn’t complete, however, and he makes sure the Minister and his men know it – when Njala visits France for diplomatic purposes, the French government scrambles to heighten security and prevent the two-year-old assassination order from being fulfilled.

Beaumont uses the presidential whore Doris Frederiksen (Marie-Christine Descouard) for information and sets about creating problems for the Secret Service. Cleverly, one of the chief objectives is to prevent his rivals from getting any sleep. Meanwhile, Rosen exploits Joss’ longtime friend Edouard Valera (Michel Beaune) to arrange a meeting that will ultimately lead to an Old West showdown with the nemesis cop. And even if Beaumont can circumvent that maneuver, at the heart of the plot is cunning Colonel Martin (Jean-Louis Richard), the man calling the shots when dealing with the African diplomats. And then there’s the blonde-haired Inspector Farges (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), who takes pleasure in manhandling Jeanne, and Njala himself, who will get an opportunity to regret only sentencing Joss to indefinite imprisonment. They all unknowingly await a turbulent climax in a heavily guarded palace.

“The Professional” (originally “Le professionnel”) is based on the award-winning novel “Death of a Thin-Skinned Animal,” which boasts a title far more inspiring than the theatrical choice. The film features a spectacular score with a famous theme tune (entitled “Chi Mai”) by Ennio Morricone, thoroughly enlivening the near-perfect espionage and macho atmosphere, smartly fused with melancholy drama and cold-blooded revenge. Beaumont is like James Bond, but part Sean Connery and part Roger Moore, occasionally resorting to a tongue-in-cheek attitude and gimmicky quips, but never abandoning a level of more realistic seriousness. He engages in fast-paced car chases, shootouts, and hand-to-hand combat, and uses his surroundings and extensive training to entertainingly outsmart his peers.

Also like Bond, Beaumont is a man who knows his way around women, making time for his wife (though 007 had the sense not to stay married), his mistress Alice Ancelin (Cyrielle Clair), and even Doris if the timing was more convenient. The title sequence is similarly reminiscent of the early Bond episodes, minus the naked girl silhouettes (yet with a scene of actual nudity, it goes beyond the suggestive nature of the aforementioned ladies’ man’s adventures). By the unforgettable conclusion, “The Professional” is clearly one of Belmondo’s best actioners, and a shining example of France’s take on political thrillers and spy flicks. It’s also easily one of the star’s most accessible features for American audiences.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10