Cast & Crew
After the 1917 Mexican revolution, American millionaire J. W. Grant offers to pay four professional soldiers-of-fortune $1,000 apiece to rescue his Mexican wife, Maria, who was kidnaped by guerrilla-bandit Raza. The men employed are dynamite expert Bill Dolworth; professional soldier Henry Rico Fardan; wrangler-packmaster Hans Ehrengard; and black tracker-scout Jacob Sharp, an expert archer. They ride deep into Mexican desert territory until they reach Raza's encampment. A careful plan of strategy is worked out to split-second timing as they secretly break into Maria's room, fight off her guards, and carry her back into the desert. Then they learn that Maria was purchased by Grant, but she is Raza's lover and has no intention of returning to her husband. The adventurers, however, are determined to collect the reward, and they make for the border with Maria. Raza and his men eventually catch up with the four men and Maria at a narrow rock canyon. Dolworth sends the others on ahead and stays behind to await a showdown. Raza is badly wounded in the gunplay, and Dolworth rides on to the border. Once they all rendezvous, Maria exposes her husband's ruthlessness and begs to be allowed to return to Mexico. Raza arrives to claim Maria, and the four professionals hold Grant and his men at bay until the lovers have safely started back to their desert stronghold.
Jorge Martínez De Hoyos
Edward S. Haworth
William Randall Jr.
Charles J. Rice
Frank [a.] Tuttle
Best Writing, Screenplay
Shot on location in Death Valley, Lake Mead and the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, The Professionals was not a smooth film shoot by any stretch of the imagination; rain, snow, sleet, the blazing sun, intense desert heat and even a flash flood created complications for the film crew during the eighty day production schedule. Another wild card in the mix was actor Lee Marvin who was so drunk for a scene atop a giant rock that assistant producer Tom Shaw had to intervene for fear that Burt Lancaster would "take Lee Marvin by the ass and throw him off that mountain." On the positive side, The Professionals was a personal success for Lancaster who had just come off a huge box office failure, John Sturges' comedy Western, The Hallelujah Trail (1965). Lancaster's performance as the explosives expert in Brooks' epic is similar in some ways to his cynical mercenary in Vera Cruz (1954), another Western set amid the Mexican Revolution and one which keeps Lancaster's true intentions a secret until the final fadeout.
The Professionals was based on the novel A Mule for the Marquesa by Frank O'Rourke (which oddly enough is listed in the landmark Oxford English Dictionary as one source for the phrase "from soup to nuts"). The film snagged three Oscar nominations: Best Director (for Richard Brooks), Best Color Cinematography (for Conrad L. Hall) and Best Adapted Screenplay. Brooks, who also wrote the screenplay, could have played it safe and just delivered a damsel-in-distress scenario but instead he invested his characters with plenty of surprising quirks and secrets. For instance, the kidnapped wife has her own agenda, just as much as any of her rescuers or the bandit leader, creating an unusual tension. Brooks later said he was "surprised by the success of The Professionals" but perhaps he shouldn't have been. Plans were announced in 2000 for a remake (at one point involving James Bond scripter Bruce Feirstein and possibly director John Woo) but no further information has been provided to date.
Critic and historian Glenn Erickson (he discovered the lost original ending to Kiss Me Deadly, 1955) identifies The Professionals as one of what he's labeled "Mexican Adventure" films. He points out others like The Wild Bunch (1969), Vera Cruz and The Magnificent Seven (1960), noting that "The subgenre of Westerns about gun-toting Americans adventuring in Mexico can be seen as an ever-changing record of U.S. attitudes toward U.S. military intervention overseas, our real 'foreign policy', as it were." If Westerns have always been to some degree about the idea of a frontier then these Mexican Adventure films--and indeed most Westerns made during the 60s and 70s--are also about dealing with a frontier that was slowly closing and one reason these films are often set early in the 20th century instead of late in the 19th century.
Producer/Director: Richard Brooks
Screenplay: Richard Brooks
Art Direction: Edward S. Haworth
Cinematography: Conrad L. Hall
Editing: Peter Zinner
Music: Maurice Jarre
Cast: Burt Lancaster (Bill Dolworth), Lee Marvin (Henry 'Rico' Fardan), Robert Ryan (Hans Ehrengard), Jack Palance (Capt. Jesus Raza), Claudia Cardinale (Maria Grant), Woody Strode (Jake Sharp), Ralph Bellamy (Joe Grant), Joe De Santis (Ortega).
C-118m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.
by Lang Thompson
The Professionals on DVD
Synopsis: Maria (Claudia Cardinale), the wife of Texas millionaire Joe Grant (Ralph Bellamy) has been kidnapped by the powerful Mexican revolutionary Jesus Raza (Jack Palance). Grant hires three supreme talents to bring her back: Weapons expert Rico Fardan (Lee Marvin), horse master Hans Ehrengard (Robert Ryan) and bounty hunter/bowman Jake Sharp (Woody Strode). Rico enlists a fourth comrade, dynamiter Bill Dolworth (Burt Lancaster). They accept Grant's generous terms and prepare to pull off an almost impossible job: Cross into Mexico, defeat an army and escape with the lady in question.
The Professionals comes from a long line of matinee thrillers with athletic stars like Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn, the kind of movies that just make one's blood circulate better. Fresh from the failure of Lord Jim, writer-director Richard Brooks immediately doubled back into straight adventure territory. His tale is The Magnificent Seven de-mythologized: This band of mercenaries are definitely not noble warriors riding to the rescue of grateful peasants. Simplistic themes are displaced by the cynical outlook of men who have seen too much of real war and revolution. Initially, at least, their only aim is to fulfill a contract and earn a whopping paycheck.
Brooks cast his adventure with hardened veterans at the top or just over the peak of their acting careers. Lee Marvin has his keen-eyed stare and monotone purr down cold, and walks with the kind of swagger that says he means business without showing off. Burt Lancaster knows he has only a few years left in which he'll be able to perform his signature screen acrobatics; his essential vitality is doubly impressive in athletic feats like sprinting and rope climbing. His toothy grin used to be a parody of male arrogance and vanity; now it's the friendly how-do-you-do of a man proud to be a survivor and still fit to tangle with the young guns.
Woody Strode's wiry commando was considered a big step in the breaking of the color barrier. His magnificent presence on the screen is a race statement better than any Richard Brooks could have written. Robert Ryan has the least exciting role but his authority and integrity anchor the film; if he's riding with these guys, they must be okay. The fact that each member subordinates his personal feelings to the mission makes us identify with the team all the more.
The fun part is watching these men in action. They size up the opposition like big-league talent scouts and leap into fights like linebackers eager to get off the benches. Brooks' terse dialogue affects a certain degree of macho cool, but takes care not to become too cutesy, as would quickly become tiresome in 'hip' westerns. Some of the best material uses no dialogue at all. The Professionals takes place in rocky desert country, and these guys become part of the landscape, clinging to slabs of stone like lizards and leaping about in ways almost guaranteed to produce broken limbs. When the jeopardy looks real, we're seeing true Hollywood professionalism. The Professionals is also an All-American production. Instead of going to Mexico, Brooks elected to shoot in the deserts and mountains of California and Nevada. I'll bet the Unions were eager to show that U.S. location shooting doesn't have to cost millions. Key Mexican cast members were imported to insure ethnic credibility.
The ravishing Claudia Cardinale is a sexy Mexican firebrand with an Italian accent and a penchant for sweaty plunging necklines. When Marvin's guerrillas finally free her from her captors, the story takes a jarring narrative twist: The mercenaries realize that they have been betrayed by their own employer. The mission is a fraud from the get-go, with honest soldier-adventurers once again abused by lies from above. The essentials of Richard Brooks' story haven't changed since Vera Cruz: American cowboys cross the border for money or an abstract principle, and kill a lot of Mexicans. When Lancaster and Marvin talk about lost causes in Cuba and the soured hopes of earlier revolutions, we are perhaps meant to think of the Vietnam conflict. Brooks has made a vaguely subversive statement, but one that dedicated soldiers can get behind.
Jack Palance's bandit chief will be a joke to Spanish speakers but he's a good fit as the wily revolutionary who can't quite catch Marvin and company. He's abetted by a good performance from Marie Gomez as a lusty camp follower, and who also has an early MPAA-approved semi-nude scene. Ralph Bellamy is acceptably emphatic as the panicked tycoon who turns out to be less sympathetic than we first thought. Bellamy and Lee Marvin exchange terse remarks about what makes men what they are, giving Brooks' film its most quotable quote.
Sony Pictures' Special Edition DVD of The Professionals adds three reasonable featurettes by Laurent Bouzereau to their earlier 1999 release. Burt Lancaster's daughter and others contribute to a memoir of the major star. The other two pieces examine the movie with interviews that include the great cameraman Conrad Hall, who passed away in 2003. I compared the new transfer to the old disc and found little difference in picture quality - both are excellent. There is a newly created 5.1 track, said to be from original theatrical elements as opposed to a fake-stereo job. Maurice Jarre's percussive, Mexican-flavored score creates so much excitement, there's no need to hype the action with fast cuts to keep the film at full pitch. It's a lesson that most modern action pictures have forgotten.
The original trailer is included, with its signature "X" motif formed by crossed bandolier belts: "EXcitement!"
For more information about The Professionals, visit Sony Pictures. To order The Professionals, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
The Professionals on DVD
In this desert, nothing's harmless until it's dead- Bill Dolworth
Nine more of their horses are still left. You gonna shoot them, too?- Hans Ehrengard
I guess we'll have to. We can't spare the food and water.- Rico
We could cut them loose.- Hans Ehrengard
What's so funny?- Hans Ehrengard
People. We just killed ten men, nobody bats an eye. But when it comes to one of God's most stupid animals . . .- Bill Dolworth
There's only been one revolution since the beginning - the good guys versus the bad guys. The question is - who are the good guys?- Bill Dolworth
Yes?- Maria Grant
Just wondering... what makes you worth $100,000.- Bill Dolworth
Go to hell.- Maria Grant
Yes ma'am. I'm on my way.- Bill Dolworth
You bastard.- J.W. Grant
Yes sir. In my case an accident of birth. But you, you're a self-made man.- Rico
The cast and crew stayed in Las Vegas while working on this project. Actor Woody Strode wrote in his memoirs that he and Lee Marvin pulled several pranks, including shooting an arrow at the famous smiling cowboy neon sign damaging it briefly.
Filmed on the Mexican border.
Released in United States 1966
Released in United States May 1989
Shown at Film Forum in New York City May 30 & 31, 1989.
Released in United States 1966
Released in United States May 1989 (Shown at Film Forum in New York City May 30 & 31, 1989.)