The Professionals (1966)
The Professionals (1966)

Genre: Western Running Time: 1 hr. 57 min.

Release Date: November 2nd, 1966 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Richard Brooks Actors: Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, Woody Strode, Jack Palance, Claudia Cardinale, Ralph Bellamy




he Professionals” is an action-filled, vivifying Western adventure (clearly borrowing a thing or two from Sergio Leone’s edgy reinvention of the waning genre) with excellent characters, superb cinematography, and near-perfect dialogue. It is essentially “The Magnificent Four” – a version of “The Magnificent Seven” with the focus cut down to fewer individuals for tighter character development, with each persona similarly given their own unique skills that are called upon during key points of the mission. A daring rescue, hidden agendas, fragile allegiances, and suspenseful escapes culminate in a detonative battle of morals and bullets for a singular action epic that garnered three Academy Award nominations in 1966, including Best Direction and Screenplay (both by Richard Brooks).

Wealthy Texas man Joe Grant (Ralph Bellamy) gathers together a $100,000 ransom to pay to the feared revolutionary Jesus Raza (Jack Palance) for the return of his kidnapped wife Maria (Claudia Cardinale). Searching for the best soldiers of fortune money can buy, he acquires the assistance of Henry Fardan (Lee Marvin), a no-nonsense mercenary who is known as a proficient tactics and weaponry master. Under Henry’s leadership is Bill Dolworth (Burt Lancaster), a ladies’ man and explosives expert who is always handy in a fight, Hans Ehrengard (Robert Ryan), an accomplished horse wrangler, and Jake Sharp (Woody Strode), an expert marksman and tracker.

Together, the four professionals trek through the treacherous Mexican landscape to retrieve the beautiful captive. Braving merciless bandits and the blazing sun, they proceed with a plan to sneak into Raza’s stronghold and slink away with Maria. Utilizing plenty of explosive distractions and Sharp’s dynamite-laced arrows, the foursome must not only successfully steal back the target, but also struggle with the return trip across the desert border – which could prove more hazardous and deadly than the initial infiltration.

Based on the novel “A Mule for the Marquesa” by Frank O’Rourke, “The Professionals” has a similar flavor to “The Wild Bunch,” with an honorable yet violence-minded driving force, the revelation of the cruel and ironic subjectivity of justice, and the use of the Mexican Revolution as a backdrop for the themes of deceit and betrayal. While the reconnaissance and preparation for the major attack on Raza’s fortress occasionally feel overlong, the meat of the film is nicely paced, embracing nonstop action, perilous plights, and a rousing theme by Maurice Jarre (“Lawrence of Arabia,” “Doctor Zhivago”), which memorably adds intensity to the paranoia of the untrusting group. And the rescue is only the first half of the film – the remainder is an exciting mix of twists and turns and adventuresome panache as allegiances are broken, lies are uncovered, and no one is exactly who they appear to be. It all ends with a wickedly witty comeback and a grandly satisfactory outcome (not willing to take the darker path of the more morbid Westerns to come), marking “The Professionals” as a high point of ’66 and the middle of a winning streak for Marvin, who took home an Oscar for “Cat Ballou” a year earlier and would star in the hugely successful “The Dirty Dozen” and “Point Blank” in 1967.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10