|Directed by||Richard Brooks|
|Produced by||Richard Brooks|
|Written by||Richard Brooks|
|Based on||A Mule for the Marquesa|
by Frank O'Rourke
|Music by||Maurice Jarre|
|Cinematography||Conrad L. Hall|
|Edited by||Peter Zinner|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$19.5 million|
The Professionals is a 1966 American western film written, produced, and directed by Richard Brooks. It starred Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, and Claudia Cardinale, with Jack Palance, Ralph Bellamy, and Woody Strode in supporting roles. The script was adapted from the novel A Mule for the Marquesa by Frank O'Rourke.
The film received three Oscar nominations and an enthusiastic critical reception.
During the Mexican Revolution, Rancher J.W. Grant hires four men, who are all experts in their respective fields, to rescue his kidnapped wife, Maria, from Jesus Raza, a former revolutionary leader-turned-bandit.
Henry "Rico" Fardan is a weapons specialist, Bill Dolworth is an explosives expert, the horse wrangler is Hans Ehrengard, and Jake Sharp is a traditional Apache scout, skilled 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 as cynical professionals, they have no qualms about killing him now.
After crossing the Mexican border, the team tracks the bandits to their hideout. They witness Raza's small army attack a government train manned by soldiers, then execute all aboard in cold blood and steal the train. The professionals follow the captured train to the end of the line and retake it from the bandits. Some move on to the bandit camp to observe Raza and his followers -- including a female soldier, Chiquita -- and to hatch a plan to rescue Maria from the camp. Come nightfall, the professionals put their plan into action. Ehrengard stays with the train which will be their means of escape. Dolworth uses dynamite to blow up the water tower in the camp. Sharp launches dynamite sticks strapped to his arrows to make it appear the camp is being shelled by a much larger force. Fardan knocks out the machine gun sentry on the roof of the quarters where Maria is being held. Dolworth joins Fardan at Maria's quarters, and they sneak in together to rescue Maria. Seconds later Raza also enters through another door to the warm embrace of Maria - the two are clearly lovers - leading Dolworth to conclude, "we've been had". The two knock Raza out and forcibly take Maria with them, but Fardan orders Dolworth not to kill Raza.
Back at the train, Ehrengard has been overwhelmed by a bandit force, who lay in wait to ambush Fardan, Dolworth and Sharp upon their return. The professionals use Maria as a human shield to convince the bandits to hand the train back to them, as Raza has given strict instructions that Maria must not be harmed. First by train then upon horseback, the professionals and Maria retreat into the mountains, pursued by Raza and his men. The professionals evade capture by using explosives to bring down the walls of a gully, thus blocking the bandits' path and delaying their pursuit. Maria confirms the professionals' suspicion: they have not rescued Grant's kidnapped wife but Raza's willing mistress, the two having been lovers since their youths. Grant "bought" Maria for an arranged marriage only for her to escape and return to her "true love" in Mexico.
As Raza and his bandits pursue the retreating professionals, Dolworth fights a rearguard action to allow the other professionals to escape with Maria. In the battle, Raza is wounded. As he and Chiquita attempt to escape, but she is shot by Dolworth. Weakened, Raza is captured by Dolworth.
The professionals, with Maria and Raza, reach the U.S. border to be met by Grant and his own men. Grant tells Fardan that their contract has been satisfactorily concluded, even before Maria is safely handed over to him. As Maria tends the wounded Raza, Grant says to one of his men, "Kill him." Before the man can fire, the gun is shot out of his hand by Dolworth. The professionals step in to protect Maria and Raza. They collect the wounded Raza, put him on a wagon and, with Maria at the reins, send both back to Mexico.
Grant calls Fardan a bastard, to which Fardan retorts: "Yes, sir, in my case an accident of birth. But you, sir, you are a self-made man." The professionals follow the departing wagon to Mexico.
The movie, which was shot in Technicolor, was filmed in Death Valley, Valley of Fire and around Coachella Valley in California. The rail scenes were filmed on Kaiser Steel's Eagle Mountain Railroad. The steam locomotive seen in the movie currently resides on the Heber Valley Railroad.
During filming, the cast and crew stayed in Las Vegas. Actor Woody Strode wrote in his memoirs that he and Marvin got into a lot of pranks, on one occasion shooting an arrow into Vegas Vic, the famous smiling cowboy neon sign outside The Pioneer Club.
The musical score was composed by Maurice Jarre.
By 1976 it was estimated the film had earned $8.8 million in rentals in North America.
It was the ninth most popular movie at the French box office in 1966, after La Grande Vadrouille, Doctor Zhivago, Is Paris Burning?, A Fistful of Dollars, Lost Command, A Man and a Woman, For a Few Dollars More and The Big Restaurant.
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The film received three nominations at the 1967 Academy Awards. Writer and director Richard Brooks, for Best Director and Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay) and cinematographer Conrad Hall, for Best Cinematography.
The film won two Motion Picture Magazine Laurel Awards in 1967, for Best Action Drama and Best Action Performance for Lee Marvin. In Germany, it was one of only four movies to receive a Golden Screen Award (the others were Doctor Zhivago, Merveilleuse Angélique and You Only Live Twice) in 1967.