The Professionals (1966) dir. Richard Brooks
Starring: Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale, Woody Strode, Robert Ryan, Jack Palance
A new high-definition Blu-Ray edition has given new life to Richard Brooks’ classic action Westerner. The 1966 film now looks as clean and crisp as the first print struck from its cut negative.
With the Blu-Ray treatment Conrad Hall’s gorgeous and innovative lighting is seen in full glory. The film is famous for what's known in cinematographers’ circles as its ‘day-for-night’ photography. Day for night means exposing a daytime scene to look like night. It usually produces a dull image. But Hall’s work in "The Professionals" is not a cheat, in fact it's key to the overall look and tone of the film - night scenes look as if it's dusk, with a crystal blue sky in the background but dark all around.
“The Professionals” has the misfortune of being made a year before the seminal “Bonnie and Clyde” and three years before “The Wild Bunch”. Like “The Wild Bunch” “The Professionals” is set in early 20th century – an era with automobiles and automatic weapons. “The Wild Bunch” expressively used its extreme violence as a metaphor for the changing and outmoded days of the traditional western gunslinger, while "The Professionals" is just a genre film. And so, with Brooks' film practically next door neighbours to Peckinpah’s classic, the grass seems that much greener on the other side.
The film treads on the popularity of similarly themed 60's films about ragtag groups of soldiers of fortune – “The Magnificent Seven” “The Guns of Navarone”, “The Dirty Dozen”. In this film, Lee Marvin plays Rico Farden who is hired by local landowner J.W. Grant to rescue his kidnapped wife Maria (Claudia Cardinale) from a group of Mexican bandits. Rico brings on his demolition expert Bill Dolworth (Burt Lancaster), horse wrangler Hans Ehrengard (Robert Ryan), and tracker/marksman Jacob Sharp (Woody Strode). Together they ride from Texas to Mexico to rescue the girl and battle the Mexican bandits all the way home.
The performances are solid. Teaming up the strapping uber-male stars Marvin and Lancaster works. Marvin is the confident and commanding leader and Lancaster is witty and charming George Clooney-type. Woody Strode is a welcomed figure in any movie he’s in, and Ms. Cardinale’s pouty face and ample bosom barely unhidden under her fashionably unbuttoned dress is simply deliciously. Is there a more ideal western heroine?
Perhaps it’s unfair to compare “The Professionals” with “The Wild Bunch” because Brooks’ film doesn’t pretend to be more than a genre action film. And it certainly doesn’t aspire for cultural significance. Yet Brook’s film was nominated for a few Oscars including writer and director Brooks as well as Conrad Hall’s cinematography. The film doesn’t quite live up to these award nominations, but it’s still a top notch, well executed film and on Blu-Ray a stunning film to look at. Enjoy.
“The Professionals” is available on Blu-Ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.