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Film / The Professionals

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The Professionals is a 1966 American Western starring Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, Woody Strode, and Claudia Cardinale. The supporting cast includes Jack Palance and Ralph Bellamy and the film was written and directed by Richard Brooks, whose screenplay was based upon the novel A Mule for the Marquesa by Frank O'Rourke.

In the latter period of The Mexican Revolution, Rancher J.W. Grant (Bellamy) hires four men, who are all experts in their respective fields, to rescue his kidnapped wife, Maria (Cardinale) from Jesus Raza (Palance), a former Mexican Revolutionary leader turned bandit.

Team leader Henry "Rico" Fardan (Marvin) is a weapons specialist, Bill Dolworth (Lancaster) is an explosives expert, the horse wrangler is Hans Ehrengard (Ryan) and Jake Sharp (Strode) is a scout with traditional Apache skills, particularly with a bow and arrow. Fardan and Dolworth, having both fought under the command of Pancho Villa, have a high regard for Raza as a soldier. But they are hard and cynical professionals so they have no qualms about killing him now.

However, once they get across the border they discover that all is not at it seems to be.

Not related to the late '70s/early '80s UK television series The Professionals. Or the 1994 film The Professional.

The Professionals provides examples of:

  • Anti-Villain: Ruthless as he may be, Raza gets more and more sympathethic as the film goes on.
  • Automaton Horses: Averted; Hans Ehrengard is put on the team because he's a horse wrangler, both sides make sure to bring spare horses during the chase, and a horse has to be shot after it's lamed while crossing a stony desert.
  • Avengers Assemble: The film includes a sequence where each character is named and briefly described in voice-over while being seen doing what they do.
  • Bandito: Revolutionary banditos under Captain Jesus Raza.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: Dolworth does it to J.W. Grant's man at the end of the film.
  • Body Language
    • Used for a Bait-and-Switch when Maria pushes away the maid who tries to brush her hair, making her look like a resentful captive. Raza then enters the room and dismisses the maid, removes his shirt as if to have his wicked way with her...then sits down on the bed with his back to Maria who rests her head on his shoulder. Fardan and Dolworth who are watching the scene promptly exchange a surprised look.
    • On encountering a group of banditos in a pass, Fardan tells his men to fire if the leader during parley tries to cover his gun hand with his sombrero (to conceal his Quick Draw, which is exactly what happens).
  • Bounty Hunter: Jake Sharp is shown in his introductory scene working as one.
  • Brick Joke: When Fardan picks up Dolworth from the prison he's still in his underwear after having to flee an outraged husband before he could put on his pants. Fardan tells him the job might cost him his life, but not his pants. Later he gets captured by Raza's men who strip him down to his underwear again.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: Many, many scenes. Fardan rescuing Dolworth in the canyon is the outstanding example.
    Bandito: Put down your gun, mister.
    Fardan: If I do that, how do I know you'll still be friendly?
    Bandito: Do I gotta kill you to prove I like you?
  • Cattle Baron: J.W. Grant. He thinks his money can buy him anything.
  • Cigar-Fuse Lighting: Dolworth does this with a stick of dynamite when they're fleeing Raza's camp.
  • Covert Distress Code: The scout leaves a cross carved on a wall like the usual graffiti to signal to those coming that everything is OK. Fardan explains to Ehrengard that if there was danger, the cross would be inverted. Dolworth realises he's Being Watched and as he's in the Grave of Nameless Men, turns a crucifix upside down to warn the others just before he's captured. Later Ehrengard has been captured and is told at gunpoint to call in the others, and mentions an upside-down cross to warn them. He's shot at once as the banditos holding him prisoner were expecting this trope and told him to only say what they told him to say.
  • Demolitions Expert: Bill Dolworth is hired specifically because the teams needs an explosives expert to even the odds.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: Fardan dons a sombrero and poncho to infiltrate Raza's camp. He also grabs a discarded bottle of tequila as an excuse to get close to the machine gunner he's planning to kill.
  • During the War: WWI is raging in Europe; though in this case it's a Great Off Screen War.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Does this via a montage during the Title Sequence. Fardan is introduced demonstrating a machine gun; Ehrengard beats up a man abusing horses; Sharp clobbers a convict he's arrested; Dolworth... jumps out his lover's window in his long johns as her husband returns.
  • Ethical Slut: The voluptuous and cheerfully slutty Chiquita, Raza's right hand woman.
    Dolworth: Chiquita. How's your love life?
    Chiquita: Terrific!
    Dolworth: Don't you ever say no?
    Chiquita: Never!
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Grant is a lot of things, but he treats Jake Sharp the same as the rest of the team. In fact he seems worried Fardan might be racist when they first meet.
  • Exact Words:
    • The goatherder says he's loyal to Maria and would not betray her. Of course as she's not being held under duress, this doesn't mean what Fardan's team thinks it means.
    • Fardan gave his word to Grant that he would rescue his wife from a kidnapper. The kidnapper turns out to be Grant, who invented the story because his wife ran back to her lover Raza and he wanted Fardan to snatch her back. When Grant confirms this, Fardan has no problem letting Maria escape with Raza again.
  • Fanservice: We get a topless bathing scene from Chiquita, while Maria can't seem to wear a top that doesn't show off her cleavage. Her top gets wet as well when she pours water on herself in the Thirsty Desert.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Rico is choleric, Dolworth is sanguine, Ehrengard is melancholic and Jake is phlegmatic.
  • Friendly Enemy:
    • Dolworth has to Hold the Line against Raza and Chiquita and they spend their climactic gunfight talking like old friends while still doing their level best to kill each other. Raza's bravery and Motive Rant even convinces Dolworth to see Raza as a Worthy Opponent worth sparing.
    • Dolworth also has a strong case of Dating Catwoman with Chiquita, and the two flirt shamelessly with each other. Her death at his hands is enough to cause him a minor Heel Realization.
  • Gideon Ploy: When infiltrating the hacienda of Jesus Raza, the eponymous professionals set off explosions to make the banditos think they are being attacked by the Mexican army, who would start such an attack with an artillery bombardment. This sends everyone to the walls instead of looking inward.
  • Hold the Line: Dolworth stays back at the pass to give the others time to reach the border. To everyone's surprise, he makes it back.
  • Honor Before Reason
    • Fardan stops Dolworth from shooting an unconscious Raz, even though Raza has the most incentive to chase after them.
    • Ehrengard convinces Fardan not to shoot the horses, saying they'll head for the nearest river instead of circling back to the bandito camp and alerting them that their owners are dead. Turns out that's exactly what happens.
  • Insult Backfire: A truly epic one.
    Grant: Bastard!
    Rico: Yes, sir, in my case, an accident of birth. But you, sir, you are a self-made man!
  • I Surrender, Suckers: When rescuing Dolworth, Fardan pretends he's been talked into lowering his gun rather than take on the three Mexicans facing him. Then Jake shoots two with arrows while Fardan takes down the other.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: It saves Dolworth's life.
  • Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: Grant is clearly a rude entitled bastard at first glance but he desperately wants his kidnapped wife back and will pay through the nose to get her back. Then, it's revealed he strongarmed her into marriage and she simply escaped, erasing any sympathy for him.
  • Knight in Sour Armor:
    • Rico and Dolworth were once ardent supporters of the Mexican Revolution but are now cynical and bitter mercenaries willing to kill an old comrade for money. As the film progresses, they slowly regain their honor.
    • Raza himself admits his cause it not what it should be, but it's important to keep on fighting regardless.
    "You want perfection, or nothing. The Revolution was never perfect. We fight because we believe, we leave because we are disillusioned, we return because we are lost, we die because we are committed."
  • The Load: Ehrengard, especially in the second half when he's wounded. The gang even leaves him behind for their raid on Raza's compound.
  • New Old West: Comments are made about the Great War raging in Europe and the heroes have to face the traditional dangers of the West combined with more modern threats such as machine guns and artillery pieces. Farden also carries an M1911 semi-automatic pistol in addition to a revolver.
  • Noble Demon: The movie makes no bones that Raza is a brutal killer but there's no mistake he loves Maria and the revolutionary cause.
  • Playing Possum: After Dolworth shoots Chiquita, who used to be his former lover, he goes over to the dying woman to give her some water. While he's cradling her in his arms, she puts her revolver under his chin and pulls the trigger, but the gun is empty. Neither of them take this personally, with Chiquita just saying it's not her lucky day.
  • Private Military Contractors: Rico is first shown demostrating his machine gun on sale to the American military.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: The Spanish dialogue goes untranslated.
  • The Remnant: Raza's men are still fighting the Mexican Revolution.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilised: Raza openly murders captured soldiers in his first scene.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Grant.
  • Short-Range Shotgun: Averted. Shotguns are shown as being effective at the same range as pistols. Dolworth takes out one opponent with an impressively long-range shot with one.
  • The Stoic: Jake.
  • Thirsty Desert: A problem for the professionals as they journey south to find Raza's compound. Ehrengard faints from the heat at one point.
  • Twilight of the Old West: To the point of machine guns and automobiles being available.
  • Unwanted Rescue: Maria wasn't kidnapped, she escaped and reunited with Raza, her lover, after being forcibly married to Grant. She is consistently trying to get free of Rico and his crew.
  • You Wouldn't Shoot Me: When charging through the valley to attack Dolworth, Raza tells Chiquita to stay behind him, but he says that Dolworth won't shoot her and rides ahead. She's wrong (in fairness, she fires several shots at him before he has a chance to fire back).