The Professionals is pretty good fun, but ultimately a minor film from Richard Brooks despite the big names attached.
It starts as a buddy film and becomes nearly a revisionist western, or at least something closer to the tenets of a lot of spaghetti western, which I suppose were largely revisionist to begin with: the Mexicans aren’t as bad as advertised and the bad guys become good.
That star-studded case consists of Burt Lancaster and Lee Marvin as Dolworth and Fardan, respectively. Two experts in their field (dynamiter and leader) hired by a shifty right guy to retrieve his wife from the the hands of bandits. Marvin is laconic as ever and Lancaster is winkingly cocky:
Claudia Cardinale makes a pretty taciturn appearance:
But the movie really belongs to Jack Palance. Palance as a Mexican is pretty cheap – the man was Ukranian, but not Mexican as far as I know – but he gives a fun, dynamic performance.
Maybe the best part of The Professionals is that the ending is basically a 45 minute chase, minus a good standoff. It sort of reminds me of Butch Cassidy in that way.
Brooks shoots that chase is some really pretty, kinetic wides. I love this sequence as horsemen race a train:
These three shots are not only beautifully framed, they also gradually change the screen direction, at first keeping us at a distance as things move left to right, and then slowly bring the action right to us. That middle shot – where we’re very nearly on the tracks – is a nice transition to the changing screen direction.
The standoff that I mentioned earlier is between Palance’s Raza and his old friend turned adversary Dolworth. It’s a nice slow moment, where both men know that their lives are changing. It’s often shot in medium wides like these, keeping us distanced, and just a little bit confused as to where they are:
Brooks does throw some wides in there to orient us, but for the most part, the point is that these guys are aware of each other, rather than us being aware of them – so their eyeline is more of what holds them together. There’s a shot in it that reminds me of one of my favorites from Rosemary’s Baby, where Roman Castavet (Sidney Blackmer) smokes a cigar, but all you can see is the smoke wrapping around the corner of the room: