The Professionals (1966)

Directed by Richard Brooks

There is something about westerns and widescreen that attracts great cinematography. Conrad Hall handles the job on The Professionals and the movie looks great: dusty, dry, hot and very large.

The movie on the other hand is nothing very wonderful or very awful. It’s a good average western, probably a must for fans of the genre but for others not really a pressing need.

It’s a “collect a bunch of big Hollywood names and put them all in a movie” kind of movie.

A wealthy man’s wife is kidnapped and taken by rebels into Mexico. A team of professionals — mercenaries, more or less — is put together by the rich guy to bring his wife back. They are offered a bunch of money, accept, and are off.

The rich man is Ralph Bellamy. The team is Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan and Woody Strode. The wife is Claudia Cardinale and the bad guy, the Mexican rebel, is Jack Palance. With stars like that, how could you go wrong?

The movie doesn’t, but it doesn’t go particularly right either. The story, despite a twist in the final act, is more or less predictable. And this “western,” while it’s a western, is really an action movie set in a western landscape. There are one-liners and things blow up.

It’s an older movie (1966) however, and so the real action is a bit slow getting started. There are some minor action scenes in the first half of the movie, but it spends that first half largely on taking its leisurely time introducing the characters.

In some ways it wants to take advantage of the movie’s star power so it tries to milk public perceptions of the various stars and give them what they want. Marvin is dry and unflappable; Lancaster is physical and a fast-talking, hard drinking lover. And so on.

As unimpressed as this review reads, I do like the movie. I loved it years ago when I first saw it and I was very much younger. But then, I suppose, as a young man I was the audience this movie was made for.

Since then, anytime I’ve seen the movie I’ve liked it. But these days, I find it drags a bit. It may simply be I’ve seen too many action movies over the years; it may be the movie doesn’t age well (though westerns are generally not affected as much as other movies in this respect).

I think it simply boils down to The Professionals is an average western-action film. If you’re in the mood for it, it will deliver. If not, it won’t win you over.

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