Monday, March 18, 2013

Short Take: The Professionals

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

The 1966 Hollywood western The Professionals was extremely well received at the time of its release. It was favorably reviewed and a solid box-office success. Richard Brooks even received Academy Award nominations for his direction and screenplay, which is not something one would expect for a genre film. The only possibility for disappointment is that one may come to the picture expecting more than what it is. It doesn’t aspire to be anything more than an entertaining pulp adventure. A wealthy oilman (Ralph Bellamy) hires a group of desperadoes (Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Woody Strode, and Robert Ryan) to rescue his wife (Claudia Cardinale). She has been kidnapped for ransom by a Mexican revolutionary leader (Jack Palance). The script is elegantly crafted, and the plot twists in the third act are especially well handled. Brooks’ staging, editing, and pacing are just as accomplished. The two major action setpieces--the rescue of the wife from the revolutionary’s compound, and the final shootout with him and his men--are both intricately designed and remarkably lucid. Few directors in Hollywood would have been able to present these sequences without the scenes lapsing into hopeless confusion. Brooks also does a terrific job of integrating the action into the landscapes. He and cinematographer Conrad L. Hall (who also received an Academy Award nomination) have put together a very handsome-looking film. The actors were hired for what they do best, and they do it very well: Marvin is stoic and authoritative, Lancaster is devil-may-care, Cardinale is willful and gorgeous, etc., etc. The film doesn’t strike out in any unusual directions, but for what it is, it’s just about perfectly made. If one is looking for a solid adventure film to kill the time, one couldn’t do much better. The screenplay is based on the novel A Mule for the Marquesa, by Frank O’Rourke.

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