Friday, August 19, 2011

Movie Recommendation

It's not typical adventure, but it does involve an expedition of sorts and I ended up liking it a lot.

I'm talking about the 1966 western caper film, The Professionals, starring Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan and Woody Strode, with Jack Palance, Claudia Cardinale and Ralph Bellamy. It's somewhere around 1913 or so and an American millionaire hires our heroes to rescue his kidnapped young Mexican wife. Naturally, the heroes don't have a better offer so they team up and take the job, each with their own talents. Off they go south of the border to rescue the wife from the revolutionary who has abducted her. What ensues is the usual course of events (with some nice not typical touches), but what results is refreshingly played well. I won't tell you exactly what happens because I hate spoiler reviews. Watch the movie yourself and you'll see how it unfolds.

First of all, I'm not one of those who follows the herd on movies. I've never particularly been a fan of The Magnificent Seven and, while I have grown to sincerely appreciate the greatness of The Searchers, it's not my favorite western, personally. I feel much the same way about The Dirty Dozen as I do the M7: an ensemble cast wherein everybody gets to express their characters in cloyingly cute or excessively stoic in their manliness poses throughout the "you're supposed to cheer everything they do" action. I'm not saying these are bad movies at all; I'm saying they don't work on me the way they seem to charm their fans. The team hero movies of the 60s and 70s were as iffy to me as buddy pictures were in the 80s and 90s, most of them produced simply to cash in on the star power and the story suffers.

But The Professionals surprised me, pleasantly. Where it could have been one typical "give me my solo" scene after another, it stops short of that to allow the movie to be the star, i.e. it doesn't sacrifice the story to the characters. Yet, the actors seem to have been just fine and did their jobs well. Lee Marvin is believable, Burt Lancaster never takes his grinning wise-ass over the line, and Woody Strode is a character with as much wood in the game as the others rather than being there as an excuse to make a social statement as was often done with black characters during that time of social transition. Robert Ryan shows what experience can do in his subdued but no less powerful role. I would like to note that here's a cast of guys over forty carrying a movie VERY WELL.

Claudia Cardinale is a delight, in her first Hollywood film, and Jack Palance is allowed to be something less than comic book menacing. It makes me wish he got to do more leading hero roles. Marie Gomez is a lot of fun as the gun-slinging gal who NEVER says no to ANYONE.

This film was shot in Nevada and Palm Springs and Hollywood and it looks great. The same cinematographer would go on to shoot Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid. The action moves along and, as I said before, is never sacrificed or watered down to feed some actor's ego. It is what it is, a caper adventure against an end-of-the-era western backdrop, and it delivers a satisfying time, with an ending that left me really liking this movie.

I recommend The Professionals!

1 comment:

Mike Clelland! said...

THE PROFESSIONALS was a monument to the craggy faced american actor. The MAD magazine parody was heartbreakingly beautiful under the amazing pen work of Mort Drucker.

A single frame with Lee Marvin, Burt Lanchaster - AND - Woody Strode? What set of faces could be more expressive?