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USA 1966
Directed by
Richard Brooks
117 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Professionals

With an all-star ensemble cast  a well-written script (by director Brooks) and impressive wide-screen photography by Conrad Hall there is plenty to enjoy in this relatively old-fashioned Western about four mercenaries (Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, Woody Strode and Burt Lancaster) who are paid by a Texas millionaire (Ralph Bellamy) to rescue his beautiful Mexican wife (Claudia Cardinale) from a ruthless bandito (Jack Palance).

Historically, the film  suffers in comparison with Leone's and Peckinpah's game-changing work (A Fistful of Dollars was made in 1964 but not released in the USA until 1967, The Wild Bunch, which like this film was also set during the Mexican Revolution, was released in 1969). Despite the fact that it is set in 1917 when the Wild West was effectively over Brooks adheres to the traditional approach to the good versus evil dichotomy of the Western myth but whilst efficient in delivering the familiar conventions doesn;t have the other two directors' cinematic style and, most noticeably, flair for action (most of the action sequences are missed opportunities with rather clumsy stunt-work). Maurice Jarre's score only reinforces the film's old-fashioned qualities

What is impressive however, aside from the cast, is Brooks' dialogue which is peppered with ironic wit, with Lancaster in particular getting the best lines as the womanising cynic/realist, Dolworth, a character one takes as a kind of stand-in for Brooks himself (Brooks and Lancaster had worked together previously on Brute Force in 1947 and Elmer Gantry in 1960). Lee Marvin is, of course, in his element as the paradigmatic tough guy. Robert Ryan, on the other hand largely goes to waste, being sidelined as a background character (he could have walked from the set of this film straight onto that of The Wild Bunch) and it's never clear why he is part of this team of hard-noses as he doesn't do anything other than be a big girl, worrying about the horses, his team mates and the woman they've been sent retrieve.




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