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The Professionals (1966)

by on 2012/06/21

“Nothing’s harmless in this desert unless it’s dead.”

* * * *

Claudia Cardinale. She’s pictured on the cover. She’s named in the box copy. And she’s a kind of fictive Holy Grail. But The Professionals sure as heck isn’t her tale. To borrow a quote from the movie’s script, “Might as well throw in a woman. Any size, any age, any color. Any woman.”

The tale does, however, belong to the title’s mercenaries, a great cast nicely stacked with film noir and western veterans.

They include Ralph Bellamy (Rosemary’s Baby), Burt Lancaster (Criss Cross), Lee Marvin (Seven Men from Now), Jack Palance (Shane), Robert Ryan (The Naked Spur), and Woody Strode (The Quick and the Dead).

In the early Twentieth Century, near the end of the Mexican Revolution, four aging adventurers — demolisher, planner, tracker, and wrangler — are hired to rescue their employer’s wife. She’s been kidnapped by a “bloodthirsty cutthroat” who’s hiding in the dangerous Painted Mountains. Simply put, they travel together “there and back again”.

Dwindling opportunities, high pay, and a short timeframe convince them all to take the job nonetheless. Trouble is, they’re not convinced the culprit — a former comrade-in-arms — is capable of the crime, regardless of how formidable he might seem.

As far as the plot is concerned, there’s a good twist at the midpoint, and a bit of a tweak to it right before the end. Yet these moments do little or nothing to change the narrative arc. Essentially, the core team of four men journey to their destination, then do it again in reverse. Though obstacles slow them or pause them mid-course, no unusual branching appears, just varying degrees of resistance.

At times the quest feels fast and loose and, alternately, more deliberate. From my descriptions so far, you’d may think this effort was a cut-down, mobile Magnificent Seven . . . not so much. We get very brief vignettes introducing each of the anti-heroes, but the selection process is never actually shown. For all intents and purposes, things begin with a briefing scene.

I was also reminded of various movies by the music. Composed by three-time Academy Award winner Maurice Jarre (Witness), it sounded appropriate, if slightly disappointing. Less distinctive than evocative of other scores, it too reminded me of Elmer Bernstein’s Magnificent Seven, as well as television’s Bonanza, and some of John Barry’s early James Bond work. Even the most “exotic” of its decorative aspects made me think of A&M groups the Baja Marimba Band and Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass.

Later, in the hours after I’d finished watching, I came to a realization. I suddenly understood why my parents were so keen to watch The A-Team in the Eighties. Notwithstanding the criticisms one could level at the show, it’s undeniably a product of such popular Sixties “boys club” adventures, with no nudity, swearing, or realistic violence, for an hour every week.

The Professionals fits firmly into that group, a predecessor despite it being a western. It has much in common with the (preceding) Guns of Navarone and Magnificent Seven, and the (later) Dirty Dozen and Wild Bunch. Sexism notwithstanding, it’s a solid transition between traditional and revisionist, with familiar, uncomplex structures containing the new world’s disillusioned heroes.

Or, to put it a different way, the perfect blend of Freemason field trip and funeral.

* * * *

Rated PG (Canada) / PG13 (United States)

117 minutes

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  1. Month in Review: June 2011 « Geek vs Goth

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