Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The final night for Star of the Month Burt Lancaster

We're already up to the final Wednesday in November, which means it's one final night of Burt Lancaster's movies for his turn as TCM's Star of the Month. The overnight schedule includes The Professionals at 1:15 AM. This is another of those movies I thought I had blogged about before, but a search of the blog, as well as a search of the posts on my computer claims no, I haven't. So now would be a good time to blog about it.

The scene is the Amreican Southwest in 1917; a bit later than your standard-issue western, but just before World War I and the social change that would bring. Over on the other side of the border, in Mexico, there's a revolution going on. Sure, the government is bad, but it's just as likely that the rebels are going to turn out to be a problem, too, as we saw in Crisis many years earlier. Industrialist JW Grant (Ralph Bellamy) has had his wife kidnapped by bandits, and taken to a stronghold somewhere on the Mexican side of the border. And dammit, he wants his wife back! To that end, he's willing to hire the best mercenaries, and pay them a substantial sum. Leading them is soldier-of-fortune Henry Fardan (Lee Marvin). Hnery assembles a team of the best fot the operation: dynamite expert and bon vivant Bill Dolworth (Burt Lancaster), who always seems up for an adventure; horse wrangler Hans Ehrengard (Robert Ryan), and tracker Jacob Sharp (Woody Strode). Their mission, as Grant explains it to them, is to go into Mexico, find Mrs. Grant, and bring her back to him, for which they'll be mighty well compensated.

And so, they head off to Mexico, a place that is pretty desolate and tough to live in, as we saw when discussing the movie Bandolero! back in January 2010. But our team of mercenaries braves the conditions and eventually gets to the camp where Mrs. Grant has been spirited away to, which is where they discover the first of their problems. It's the camp of Jesús Raza, one of the more notorious revolutionaries. As a revolutionary, he's pretty well armed, and getting Mrs. Grant out of there is going to be a darn sight difficult. Additionally, with Raza being her kidnapper, there's also the problem that the Mexican government wants Raza, so our Americans dealing with Raza means they're also eventually going to have to deal with the other side of the revolution. But they want their money, and in a nice set piece they rescue the lovely Maria Grant (Claudia Cardinale; where do all these people in Westerns get their trophy wives from?).

At this point, with Maria in tow and Raza and the Mexican government going after them, the team faces its third problem: Maria doesn't want to go back to Grant. Hers is a marriage not born out of love, but out of Grant's rapacious and controlling desire to have a beautiful wife. In fact, Maria loves Raza and is happy to be with him. But our professionals, faced with all the other problems they have, understandably figure that the least bad thing to do is complete their mission and get the money; if Maria wants to escape back to Raza afterwards that's her business. Except that there are going to be complications getting back to the States, with another set in a mountain pass; more difficult is when Maria suggests that Grant isn't going to pay them according to the terms of hte deal he made with them....

The Professoinals is more entertainment than anything else, as it's not rying to address any social issues or make any really dark points the way that a lot of other movies started to do with the destruction of the Production Code in the late 1960s. But there's nothing wrong with a movie being pure entertainment, and in that regard The Professionals succeeds in spades. Lancaster looks like he's having the time of his life making this one, getting to be rakish at times as he gets knocked on his keister wearing just his long johns. Lee Marvin is good, even if he was more enjoyable when he was playing bad guys. Everybody else has smaller roles, but all of them do well. All along the way, The Professionals is lovely to look at.

The Professionals is available for purchase from the TCM Shop.

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