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.

Rank Title Rating
1 The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) 8.7
2 Once Upon a Time in the West(1968) 8.6
3 High Noon (1952) 8.3
4 Ox-Bow Incident, The (1943) 8.2
4 Red River (1948) 8.2
4 Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The (1962) 8.2
4 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) 8.2
4 Searchers, The (1956) 8.2
9 Unforgiven (1992) 8.1
9 Wild Bunch, The (1969) 8.1
9 My Darling Clementine (1946) 8.1
9 Stagecoach (1939) 8.1
13 Rio Bravo (1959) 8.0
14 For a Few Dollars More (1965) 7.9
14 Hud (1963) 7.9
14 Magnificent Seven, The (1960) 7.8
14 Winchester '73 (1950) 7.8
14 Shane (1953) 7.8
19 Little Big Man (1970) 7.7
19 She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) 7.7
19 A Fistful of Dollars (1964) 7.7
19 Mark of Zorro, The (1940) 7.7
19 Dances with Wolves (1990) 7.7
24 Big Country, The (1958) 7.6
24 Outlaw Josey Wales, The (1976) 7.6
24 Ride the High Country (1962) 7.6
24 Fort Apache (1948) 7.6
24 Gunfighter, The (1950) 7.6
24 Destry Rides Again (1939) 7.6
30 McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) 7.5
30 El Dorado (1966) 7.5
30 Johnny Guitar (1954) 7.5
30 Shootist, The (1976) 7.5
30 Rio Grande (1950) 7.5
30 Open Range (2003) 7.5
36 Tombstone (1993) 7.4
36 Professionals, The (1966) 7.4
  • The first 33 year period produced 31 of these top-rated Westerns.
  • The next 33 years produced only six, and three of those are near the very bottom of the list.

 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):

  1. (7.96) - In Cold Blood (1967)
  2. (7.78) - Key Largo (1948)
  3. (7.76) - Elmer Gantry (1960)
  4. (7.75) - Killers, The (1946)
  5. (7.69) - Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
  6. (7.58) - Crossfire (1947)
  7. (7.44) - Brute Force (1947)
  8. (7.36) - Blackboard Jungle (1955)
  9. (7.35) - Professionals, The (1966)
  10. (7.13) - Sweet Bird of Youth (1962)
  11. (6.83) - Deadline - U.S.A. (1952)
  12. (6.77) - Last Hunt, The (1956)
  13. (6.68) - Bite the Bullet (1975)
  14. (6.65) - Mystery Street (1950)
  15. (6.51) - Storm Warning (1951)
  16. (6.50) - Lord Jim (1965)
  17. (6.45) - Happy Ending, The (1969)
  18. (6.42) - Brothers Karamazov, The (1958)
  19. (6.39) - Something of Value (1957)
  20. (6.34) - $ (1971)
  21. (6.31) - Any Number Can Play (1949)
  22. (6.22) - Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)
  23. (6.21) - Crisis (1950)
  24. (5.99) - Last Time I Saw Paris, The (1954)
  25. (5.95) - Wrong Is Right (1982)
  26. (5.65) - Battle Circus (1953)
  27. (5.56) - Cobra Woman (1944)

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.

The desert scenery is breathtaking, and it is a pleasure to watch these superstars at work. The only negative is a rather predictable story.


DVD info from Amazon

New Special Edition featurettes:

  • The Professionals--A Classic

  • Burt Lancaster: A Portrait

  • Memories from The Professionals


  • A revolutionary named Marie Gomez shows her breasts from the side. That was a helluva lot of nudity by 1965 standards.
  • Claudia Cardinale, in the European version, shows breasts. In the US version, there is a hint of her left breast, but the good exposure was digitally erased

The Critics Vote ...

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. The few graded reviews are all positive. General consensus: very good Western, but not great.

  • Nominated for three Oscars: best director, best adapted screenplay, and best cinematography.

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, Scoop says, "This is a C+. Solid, old-fashioned Hollywood Western. Western fans should love it, but there is no significant crossover appeal that I can see." Tuna adds, "C+. A good watch for those who like the epic modern Western, were the good guys are not all good, the bad guys are not all bad, and nobody wears color coded hats."

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