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
A wealthy rancher, Frank Carter (Ralph Bellamy), hires four tough gunslingers to rescue his wife (Claudia Cardinale) who is being held captive by Captain Rasa (Jack Palance), one of Pancho Villa's most desperate revolutionaries, in this dynamic and hard-hitting Western set against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution of 1917. The wild West commando team consists of a dynamite expert (Burt Lancaster), an ex-revolutionary and munitions expert (Lee Marvin), a horse specialist (Robert Ryan), and a tracker (Woody Strode). On their mission to return Carter's highly prized wife, they track the Mexican revolutionaries through rough and rugged desert terrain, determined to outsmart, outshoot, and outride anyone they come across--until they meet the the charismatic Rasa and discover that Carter's seductive wife is in love with the Mexican outlaw and has no intention of returning with the band of 'professionals'. Based on the novel A MULE FOR THE MARQUESA by Frank O'Rourke, this beautifully rendered Western features a star-studded cast delivering finely crafted and charismatic performances. Burt Lancaster is at his acrobatic and mercurial best as the rowdy gunslinger.
Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, Claudia Cardinale, Ralph Bellamy