Sunday, January 23, 2011
From the Rental Vault: The Professionals
Set in 1917, The Professionals tells the story of the wealthy Joe Grant (Ralph Bellamy) who hires four hard-edged fellows to sneak into Mexico and rescue his kidnapped wife, Maria (Claudia Cardinale). The group, led by Henry Fardan (Lee Marvin), includes explosives expert Bill Dolworth (Burt Lancaster), tracker Jake Sharp (Woody Strode) and horse expert Hans Ehrengard (Robert Ryan). They travel across a blistering desert to reach the rebel stronghold where Maria is being held by bandit captain Jesus Raza (Jack Palance). Fardan and Dolworth know both the area and Raza, having fought at his side for Pancho Villa during revolutionary activities several years earlier.
Marvin and Lancaster are given the best characters and do as much with them as you'd expect from these two talented actors. It's kind of amazing when you realize just how much of a tough guy Marvin was able to portray with his normal, almost soft-spoken voice. Lancaster's cynical mercenary Dolworth gives him ample chances to put a bitterly wry spin on their situations, as well as flash his trademark just-this-side-of sanity grin. Robert Ryan is shortchanged among the leads, although Ehrengard offers some flashes of the Deke Thornton character he'll later play in The Wild Bunch. Woody Strode's role may seem a little small, but for 1966 it represented a major part for an African-American actor. Cardinale and Palance show a lot more layers than their characters initially promise.
The Professionals seems to teeter on the rails a bit during the final third; Lancaster's solo stand against the pursuing Raza and his men gets talky and only pays off at the very end of the movie. But it offers classic Western-with-realism wrapped up in a snappy action picture that doesn't seem anywhere near as long as its nearly two-hour running time.