Before The Wild Bunch, there was The Professionals, Richard Brooks's marvellous ode to friendship, loyalty, and disillusionment. It may not have the stylistic bravado or fatalistic doom of the legendary Sam Peckinpah film, but Brooks's storytelling is simple and steady and just as insightful. The difference is Brooks is a lot more optimistic. Lee Marvin and Burt Lancaster are buddies who have drifted into oblivion after fighting together in the Mexican Revolution. Marvin, the principled loyalist and munitions expert, lost his wife and his heart. Lancaster, the dynamite expert and unprincipled adventurer, keeps losing his pants. They team up with wrangler Robert Ryan and archer Woody Strode to rescue the beguiling Claudia Cardinale, who has been kidnapped by their old revolutionary buddie Jack Palance. So it's back into bloody Mexico they go on a "mission of mercy" for railroad tycoon Ralph Bellamy, who's paying handsomely for the return of his wife.
But nothing is what it seems in this exciting, existential adventure, which was beautifully shot by Conrad Hall. Sarcastic quips, philosophical musings, and heart-rending reversals underlie Brooks's humanistic sentiments. These are tired, world-weary men who somehow find the strength and the will to pull together for the sake of love and commitment. Through it all, Brooks seems to be lamenting a decline in professionalism much deeper than his story. He's decrying Hollywood and society at large, anticipating Peckinpah's later strategy. --Bill Desowitz
Burt Lancaster and Lee Marvin headline the top-notch, rip-roaring Western action/adventure, THE PROFESSIONALS. Four soldiers of fortune are hired by a wealthy Texan oil baron (Ralph Bellamy) to rescue his kidnapped wife (Claudia Cardinale), who's been spirited acress the Mexican Border by a band ofmercenaries led by Jesus Raza (Jack Palance). The four rugged professionals, each regarded as a specialist in his selected field - an expert marksman and tracker (Woody Strode), the explosives master(Lancaster), horse handler (Robert Ryan) and one skilled in tactics and weaponry (Marvin) - make their way across the treacherous landscape to retrieve the beautiful kidnappee, but discover all is not what it seems in the explosive climax. Excellent performances from an all-star cast, Maurice Jarre's haunting musical score and surprising plot twists make THE PROFESSIONALS a true classic. THE PROFESSIONALS garnered three Academy Award(r) nominations; two for Richard Brooks (Best Direction and BestA