The Professionals (1965) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
If you look at the chart below, which shows the top
37 valid responses for a search of the Western genre at IMDb, you'll see
one of the most significant shifts in the history of the movie
industry. Films from 1939-1971 (33 years) are in blue, films from
1972-2004 (the following 33 years) are in yellow.
Since 1972, there has been exactly one true classic added to the genre: Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the demise of the movie Western was the speed at which it happened. The genre was still going strong in the sixties, which produced four of the top eight films on the list, including the top two. Then, as rapidly as the cultural revolution which happened at the same time, the Western genre found itself on Boot Hill. Between 1972 and 1989, there were no Westerns from the all-time top 20 (although, to be fair, The Outlaw Josey Wales should be in the top 20). There was a brief Western revival in 1990-1993, with three top films, and then another decade of drought until last year's Open Range, which barely cracked the list.
The Professionals comes from the last great era of Westerns, and it is quite a good film. It stars the laconic, rugged Lee Marvin and the chatty and charming Burt Lancaster, who play off each other well. The action is solid. The cinematography won an Oscar nomination.
The plot is also pretty damned good. A rich man hires mercenaries to rescue his bride from Mexican revolutionaries who have kidnapped her for ransom. For the first half of the film, that seems to be the real plot, but that turns out to be merely the set-up. It turns out that the Mexican Revolutionary, the wife, the rich man, the rich man's top aide, and a friendly native in Mexico are not what they appear to be. Several surprises ensue.
The film does suffer from some languid pacing in the first half, and a running time of 117 minutes that seems longer, but the IMDb score pretty much speaks for itself. If you enjoy classic Hollywood Westerns from the pre-realism period, this is one of the best the genre has to offer. I don't think you'll find any shocking originality or great surprises, but it gets the job done with a good narrative and well-defined characters.
Auteur Richard Brooks received Oscar nominations for both his directing and his screenplay. In the course of his career, he was nominated five times for his screenplays and three times for his direction. What's more, his most memorable screenplay (Key Largo) wasn't even nominated! His lifetime writing credits are impressive (Oscar nominees in yellow):
He won his only Oscar for his script for Elmer Gantry.
Tuna's comments in yellow:
The Professionals is an epic western with an all-star cast. Four men
are brought together by a wealthy rancher to rescue his kidnapped
wife from Mexican revolutionaries. Each was selected based on skills
and experience. The promise of $10,000 each is enough to lure them
into this dangerous task. The group is lead by Lee Marvin, and
includes Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan and Woody Strode. They are
headed deep into Mexican territory to rescue Claudia Cardinale from
Jack Palance. Of course Palance's large group of organized
revolutionaries on their own turf are no match for our four stars,
but there is a hitch. Cardinale was not kidnapped at all, but is in
love with Palance.
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