My Friday movie pick is The Professionals (1966), written, directed and produced by Richard Brooks. In it a group of mercenaries (Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, and the awesome Woody Strode) accept a lucrative assignment to recover a Texas millionaire’s wife (Claudia Cardinale) from a Mexican bandit (Jack Palance). But the mission doesn’t go as expected, and little about the setup is as it initially seems.
As with a lot of movies that came out in the 1960s, my first introduction to it was hearing about it after my big brother had gone to the movie theater to see it. (I was too young for the first go-round, so I had to wait to see these movies when they finally came on TV.) My brother had gone with his best friend Randy to see The Professionals. He was probably in the 9th grade. He loved it and re-told the entire story with relish to us little dual personalities. We didn’t get all the great lines he repeated, but we got the gist of what he was describing. And the gist was that this was one humdinger of a western! I couldn’t wait to see it!
In Bless the Beasts and the Children, Glendon Swartout writes about a group of misfit boys who steal out of summer camp on horseback to see The Professionals. They love it too, for “this is the marrowbone of every American adventure story: some men with guns, going somewhere, to do something dangerous. Whether it be to scout a continent in a covered wagon, to weld the Union in a screaming Wilderness, to save the world for democracy, to vault seas and rip up jungles by the roots and sow our seed and flag and spirit, this has ever been the essence of our melodrama: some men with guns, going somewhere, to do something dangerous.”
The heroes of this movie are also misfits, and maybe that is one of the reasons they are so appealing. They also frequently express existential thoughts in between skirmishes:
J.W. Grant: Your hair was darker then.
Rico: My heart was lighter then.
Bill Dolworth: Maybe there’s only one revolution, since the beginning, the good guys against the bad guys. Question is, who are the good guys?
Bill Dolworth: The cemetery of nameless men. We buried some fine friends there.
Rico: And some fine enemies.
Bill Dolworth: That was one hell of a fine battle. Out-numbered and out-gunned and still we held that pass.
Rico: Yeah, but who cares now… or even remembers?
Jesus Raza: Without love, without a cause, we are… *nothing*! We stay because we believe. We leave because we are disillusioned. We come back because we are lost. We die because we are committed.
A superbly written story of honor and adventure, the film features some of Richard Brooks’ best dialogue. (He was actually nominated for an Oscar for this movie!) Here are a few of the classic lines from The Professionals:
Maria Grant: Yes?
Bill Dolworth: Just wondering… what makes you worth a hundred thousand dollars.
Maria Grant: Go to hell.
Bill Dolworth: Yes ma’am. I’m on my way.
J.W. Grant: You bastard.
Rico: Yes, Sir. In my case an accident of birth. But you, Sir, you’re a self-made man.
To me, though, this movie is much more than some clever and witty repartee. It’s about four great characters (and a terrific woman) with guns, going somewhere, to do something dangerous.