Four adventurers are hired to save a millionaire's kidnapped wife,
but they soon realize the situation is much more complicated.
The Professionals (1966)
Written and Directed by Richard Brooks
Starring Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, Woody Strode, Jack Palance, Claudia Cardinale, Ralph Bellamy
Based on the novel A Mule for the Marquesa by Frank O'Rourke
Oscar Nominations - Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay,
Westerns are tricky sometimes. It's hard to be original, because the entire genre is built on a foundation of tropes. The damsel in distress, the outlaw with a heart of gold, the gunslinger in black, and so many more. The shorter ones tend to be better too, as the lengthier they are, the duller they tend to be. Even if you have an ensemble comprised of reliable performers like Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Claudia Cardinale, and Jack Palance, the result may not be what you expect. That isn't to say The Professionals is a bad movie. Far from it. It's just nowhere near as good as it should be.
The movie starts out much like The Dirty Dozen, with Lee Marvin assembling a team of ass-kickers to help arrogant millionaire Grant (Bellamy) get his wife Maria (Cardinale) back from Mexican bandits who've abducted her. This is a set up we've seen a million times, so it's not hard to sniff out a double cross. Turns out Maria and the bandit leader Raza (Palance, in horrendous brownface and a big black mustache) were in love, and Grant stole her from Raza. Now, our team of adventurers must wrestle between their morals and the promise of ten thousand dollars. Once we actually get to Mexico, things get exciting, but it takes forever to get there. The whole script is made up of cliches and pithy sayings, and the characters are already fully developed before the film starts. If you have half a brain, you can tell that Burt Lancaster's character is the outlaw with a heart of gold the second he shows up. It's just nothing special.
I'm giving The Professionals credit for its good performances, gorgeous cinematography, and satisfying conclusion. I just wish the journey to that conclusion had more to brag about. It just feels made up of echoes of better movies. And I won't lie. Palance in brownface really bothers me, especially when they've got actual Hispanic actors as his cronies.