The Professionals (1966 film)

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The Professionals
Movie poster for "The Professionals".jpg
Directed by Richard Brooks
Produced by Richard Brooks
Written by Richard Brooks
Based on A Mule for the Marquesa 
by Frank O'Rourke
Starring Burt Lancaster
Lee Marvin
Claudia Cardinale
Robert Ryan
Woody Strode
Jack Palance
Ralph Bellamy
Music by Maurice Jarre
Cinematography Conrad L. Hall
Edited by Peter Zinner
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • November 2, 1966 (1966-11-02)
Running time
117 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $19,537,346[1]

The Professionals is a 1966 American western starring Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Claudia Cardinale, Robert Ryan, and Woody Strode. The supporting cast features 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.

The movie received three Academy Award nominations and an enthusiastic critical reception.


In the latter period of the Mexican Revolution, around 1916, Rancher and Oil Tycoon J.W. Grant (Ralph Bellamy) hires four men, who are all experts in their respective fields, to rescue his kidnapped wife, Maria (Claudia Cardinale) from Jesus Raza (Jack Palance), a former Mexican Revolutionary leader turned bandit. Grant offers to pay each man $10,000.00 for their services. $1,000.00 up front and the final $9,000.00 once they safely recover his wife.

Team leader Henry "Rico" Fardan (Lee Marvin) is former U.S. Army Officer, having served with the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War, who is a weapons and tactics specialist; Bill Dolworth (Burt Lancaster) is a combat veteran of the Mexican Revolution and an explosives expert; the horse wrangler and pack master is Hans Ehrengard (Robert Ryan); a former U.S. Cavalry Officer turned rancher; and Jacob "Jake" Sharp (Woody Strode) is a scout and expert tracker with traditional Apache skills, particularly with a bow and arrow, and is also a crack shot with a rifle. Fardan and Dolworth, having both fought under the command of Pancho Villa during the first Mexican Revolution both speak Spanish and know the roads and terrain in Mexico. They both had served with Raza under General Villa and have a high regard for him as a soldier. But as hard and cynical professionals, they have no qualms about killing him now.

After crossing the Mexican border, the team tracks the bandits to their hideout. They bear witness as Mexican federal soldiers on a government train are attacked, defeated, and massacred by Raza's small army. 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 and observe Raza and his followers — including a buxom female officer, named Chiquita (Marie Gomez), in Raza's command. At nightfall Fardan, Dolworth, and Sharp, stage an attack on Raza's compound using explosives to simulate a Mexican Army artillery barrage. Ehrengard stayed behind at the train to prepare their departure. Then Fardan and Dolworth infiltrate Raza's private quarters but they are stopped from killing him by Maria, the kidnapped wife. "Amigo," Dolworth concludes, "we've been had."

Fardan and company do what they are being paid for and escape with Grant's wife. Back at the train, the men find that it has been retaken by the bandits. Ehrengard, who had been captured by the bandits, warns them of the ambush set by the bandits. Ehrengard is wounded in the ensuing gun battle. After a shootout, they retreat into the mountains, first on the train and then by horseback. They are hotly pursued by Raza and his men. The professionals evade capture by using explosives to bring down the prepared walls of a narrow canyon, thus blocking Raza's and the bandits' path and delaying their pursuit. It is then revealed that they had not rescued his kidnapped wife but Raza's willing mistress. Grant "bought" Maria for an arranged marriage only for her to escape and return to her "true love", Captain Jesus Raza, in Mexico.

But as Raza and his group of bandits relentlessly pursue the northbound retreating professionals, Dolworth fights the bandits in a rearguard action to allow the other professionals with Maria to escape to the United States border. In a hit and run battle Dolworth kills all of Raza's men, save Raza and Chiquita. The bandit leader Raza is wounded in the leg. Raza, along with fellow bandit Chiquita, attempts a last ditch attack on Dolworth. But she is shot and mortally wounded by Dolworth in the gunfight. Dolworth, himself narrowly escapes death as she points a pistol at Dolworth's head and pulls the trigger on the empty revolver, as she lies dying in Dolworth's arms. Weakened by loss of blood, Raza falls of his horse and is captured by Dolworth.

The other professionals, with Maria reach the U.S. border to be met by Grant and his own men. They wait just north of the river in an empty building to rest and wait for Dolworth. Sharp and Ehrengard seem to be in no hurry to return Maria to Joe Grant. Just as they had given up Dolworth for dead, Bill arrives at the border with a string of captured bandit horses and Raza in tow. Bill tells Rico that as far as he is concerned, Grant is the kidnapper. Just then Grant arrives with several of his men. He tells Fardan that their contract has been satisfactorily concluded, even before Maria is safely handed over to him.

As Maria tends the wounded Raza on the ground, Grant callously turns to one of his men and says, "Kill him." But before the man can shoot, the gun is shot out of his hand by Dolworth who tells Grant he has not earned the right to kill a man like Raza. The four professionals brandish their pistols and rifles, and then step in to protect Maria and Raza. Maria, apparently, never was kidnapped from Grant by Raza after all. She left Grant to return to Raza of her own free will. The ransom demand was a ruse to obtain money to fund the Revolution. Grant always knew that the kidnapping was a farce. He never had any intention of paying the ransom. The professionals collect the wounded Raza, load him onto a wagon and, with Maria at the reins, send both back to Mexico. Dolworth tells Grant that they both made a bad deal. That Grant loses his wife and the professionals their final payment.

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 gather their horses and gear, mount up, and follow the departing wagon to Mexico.


Production notes[edit]

The remains of the set for the film (Mexican hacienda), Valley of Fire State Park

During the filming of a scene where Maria attempts to escape through a canyon wired with dynamite, Cardinale's stunt double was badly injured. Cardinale, who had never ridden a horse before, performed the stunt herself in the final cut.

The movie was filmed in Technicolor on location in Death Valley and the Valley of Fire, showing the latter prominently. 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.

Portions of the film were shot in the Coachella Valley, California.[2] The railway scenes were filmed on Kaiser Steel's Eagle Mountain Railroad. The steam locomotive seen in the movie currently resides on the Heber Valley Railroad.

The movie was released the year Lee Marvin won the Oscar for Cat Ballou (1965) and the year before his World War II smash hit The Dirty Dozen (1967). Marvin's other most famous role, as Liberty Valance in John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance opposite James Stewart and John Wayne, had been filmed in 1962.

The cast listing at the very beginning of the film remains most unusual in that the billing appears out of order. Lee Marvin is shown first, demonstrating a machine gun while his name superimposes on the screen, Robert Ryan is billed next over a sequence in which he knocks down a man for punching a horse, then Woody Strode is shown subduing an unruly prisoner that he's just brought into a frontier town, and finally Burt Lancaster's name appears over a humorous scene with Lancaster in bed with another man's wife then subsequently hurriedly escaping down a street after being interrupted by the furious husband. Lancaster actually has top billing but is billed under the other Professionals as a visual punchline at the top of the film, then at the movie's conclusion is listed first over Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, and Woody Strode as they ride toward the camera. Lancaster, at the time of the filming, was the biggest star in the cast. He had been a box office draw since starring in the film, The Killers, in 1946. He had won the Academy Award for best actor in 1960 for his work in the film Elmer Gantry.

Box Office[edit]

By 1976 it was estimated the film had earned $8.8 million in rentals in North America.[3]

Award & nominations[edit]

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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Professionals, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved April 16, 2012. 
  2. ^ Palm Springs Visitors Center. "Coachella Valley Feature Film Production 1920–2011". Filming in Palm Springs. Palm Springs, CA. Retrieved October 1, 2012. Download (Downloadable PDF file)
  3. ^ "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976 p 44

External links[edit]