Friday, March 20, 2009

Cinematic Gems #3: The Professionals

A rip-roarin' western with a wealth of action and humor, 1966's The Professionals is star-studded, pure entertainment. Written and Directed by Richard Brooks (one of the great filmmakers--he's responsible for Elmer Gantry, In Cold Blood, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), who also received Oscar noms for his screenplay and direction, the film follows a band of soldiers of fortune hired by a slimy oil baron (Ralph Bellamy of Trading Places) to rescue Maria, his kidnapped wife (the lovely Claudia Cardinale) from the clutches of Mexican mercenary Jesus Raza (Jack Palance, Oscar winner for City Slickers and one-armed push-up-er). The crew consists of explosives master Bill Dolworth (the great Burt Lancaster, in another charismatic performance); expert tracker Jake Sharp (western veteran and Sergeant Rutledge star Woody Strode); horse handler Hans Ehrengard (The Dirty Dozen's Robert Ryan); and weapons guy Henry "Rico" Fardan (Lee Marvin, never better). But does Maria really need rescuing? 

The film received a third Oscar nom for the breathtaking cinematography from Conrad Hall (the master who shot Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Cool Hand Luke, and American Beauty), which melded well with an incredible score from Maurice Jarre (Doctor Zhivago, The Train, Ghost). The film plays great even with those who don't love oaters--it's chock full of plot twists, romance, action, adventure, you name it--and it moves at a brisk pace. Who needs the Magnificent Seven when you've got the Magnificent Four?

Be sure to watch it in widescreen, as the sweeping vistas lensed by Hall will be lost in pan and scan. The film was recently released on Blu Ray, and is a must for any true cinephile. 

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