|Written by Darren Gross|
|Friday, 01 August 2008|
Based on the novel, “A Mule for the Marquesa,” by Frank O’Rourke, “The Professionals” is a thoroughly entertaining yarn with a group of interesting, shaded characters portrayed by a cast of seasoned pros at the top of their game. Lee Marvin is enjoyably shrewd and sour as Rico, but Burt Lancaster steals the show as Dolworth. Lancaster is an actor whom I’ve always felt was a little bit artificial. His unique screen personality occasionally makes him seem as if he’s acting in isolation. One doesn’t warm oneself by his screen presence, but coolly watches his character’s mind work. Dolworth is of his own mind and a perfect fit for Lancaster. He’s sly, libido-driven to a fault, trustworthy, and has a sense of honor to him that makes him great fun to watch. A protracted sequence in the latter half of the film has Dolworth agreeing to hold off Raza and his revolutionaries single-handedly in order to give Rico and the rest of the men time to get away. It’s surprisingly dramatic, funny, and touching. It’s full of unexpected humanity and humor as Dolworth is forced to defend himself from a former lover, the voluptuous and vibrant, Chiquita (Maria Gomez). In this one sequence, standard movie heroics feel as if they are abandoned and director Brooks (who also wrote the screenplay) allows the scene to play out with a sensitivity that is quite engaging. It feels that by the end of the film, Brooks has fallen in love with the characters and wants us to as well, even Raza.
If a criticism can be lobbed at the film, it’s the shaggy dog nature of the story. Reversals in the last act are consistent with the characters and believable but deprive the film of lasting resonance and leave the audience with the impression that the story was much ado about nothing…despite the carnage inflicted on the revolutionaries. The ending is a rather upbeat affair, which comes as a surprise given the thematic similarities this film and it’s characters who have lived past their time, have with “The Wild Bunch” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Only a few years later, the standard western denouement became associated with characters dying in a blaze of glory. In contrast, “The Professionals” seems almost quaint.
Conrad Hall’s beautiful photography is impressive and richly colored. Hall composes several scenes in dimly lit rooms or train cars where the bright desert, visible through an open doorway, forms an area of high contrast. He skillfully manages to make the interior scenes seem realistically lit and readable, without making the visible exteriors over bright or blown out. Clearly he was a master at using filters and knowing how to light with them so that he could successfully achieve the effect on the film itself. The day-for-night shots are atmospheric and give the desert an ethereal, poetic quality. The BD release is a perfect rendition of the film, managing to present the dark areas of the screen with dense blackness, while preserving the tricky saturation of the darker color palette in those same scenes. The brighter, more picturesque desert canyon scenery is captured accurately with crisp clarity and a wealth of detail. Any grain in the image is either due to the film stock used for an optical effect or is built into the original photography. The standard definition DVD (which was excellent) looks almost out of focus in comparison. Some portions of dialogue are in Spanish with English subtitles, but one feels that this may have been at the studio’s request, back in the day. One can certainly get by without them. They usually appear in the black matte at the bottom of the screen, which is a bit distracting, at times. It would have been better if they’d been placed solely on the image, as they would appear on a release print.
“The Professionals” was originally presented in 3-track magnetic stereo (left, right, center), and the BD features an uncompressed TrueHD 5.1 remix of this track. The track is warm and the directional effects are most vividly used for Maurice Jarre’s music score, which opens the film with a high degree of excitement. Gunplay is occasionally made to sound directional, but is used minimally. The sound effects lack the power and presence of modern mixes, particularly the bass, but it’s an accurate and rich rendition of the original mix. The standard definition DVD included the 3.0 mix as well, but compared side to side with the 5.1 mix, they both sound identical.
The three featurettes included here total up to just under an hour and are worthwhile, especially for Maria Gomez’s memories on making the film. The theatrical trailer was included on the standard definition DVD but has been omitted here