While the spaghetti westerns dominated the cult market and rough movie houses, the frequent efforts of the Hollywood machine offered safe, reliable ensembles. The Professionals is one such piece. With all the hallmarks of the genre, no ensemble in the world could counteract the effect Eastwood and Van Cleef had on the gun-toting streets of these dusty communities. As impossible it may be to stand up to such titans, director Richard Brooks gives it an honest shot, assembling some of the recognisable faces of the fast-fading genre, combining Lee Marvin and Burt Lancaster as they hit the road together in the hopes of rescuing a trophy wife from the clutches of typical Mexican bandits.
Brooks makes some immediate concessions to the genre. He sacrifices constant shootouts and sleazy deals for moments of tension and foreshadowing. Nice they may be, they do suck some of the erratic, sudden fun from the typical western. Many of the films within this era rely on the messy shootouts or the strong characters, and The Professionals doesn’t have either. Neither the guts or shady crooks to fulfil the double-crosses and lingering animosity that boils to the surface, nor the Hollywood wow factor that embeds itself in the likes of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Brooks does not offer an awkward middle ground, and there are themes throughout that present themselves as tolerable or moderately interesting, but there is never a moment that allows The Professionals to feel, well, professional.
Without some fine display of brilliance, the film becomes rather placid and accepting of its mediocrity. Thankfully outweighing the bad with good, Marvin in particular works tirelessly to hold this one together, The Professionals is an acceptably fun time. There is not much to say about its narrative for it is so simple, and the dialogue doesn’t exactly encourage deep analysis or discussion. Entertainment value is the key to the success and lasting legacy, but The Wild Bunch and The Searchers before it had pangs of entertainment, and they were also able to craft timeless, engaging narratives in a similar vein to this. Still, perhaps we should not be so belligerent of The Professionals, for it is a harmless piece. Not shining through in an overpopulated genre is not the worst downfall to deal with.
It is a fine film. The Professionals depends wholly on its characters, and whether or not an audience runs away with them seems to be of no concern to Marvin and crew. A western that will work far better for some, the slow-burning tensions that linger through an ageing posse put together to rescue a damsel in distress. To an extent, it is the traditional formula the narratives twenty years before it had followed, and that may be the biggest issue of all. What do The Professionals do that has not been done before?