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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Professionals: Special Edition (1966)

Bill Dolworth: $100,000 for a wife?
Henry "Rico" Fardan: Certain women have a way of changing some boys into men. And some men back into boys.
Bill Dolworth: That's a woman worth keeping.

- Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin

Review By: Nate Meyers  
Published: April 04, 2005

Stars: Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, Woody Strode
Other Stars: Jack Palance, Claudia Cardinale, Ralph Bellamy, Joe De Santis, Rafael Bertrand, Jorge Martinez de Hoyos, Marie Gomez, Jose Chavez, Carlos Romero, Vaughn Taylor
Director: Richard Brooks

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, nudity
Run Time: 01h:57m:22s
Release Date: April 05, 2005
UPC: 043396039094
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

When listening to filmmakers discuss their art, it's easy to lose sight of how their talent is also their profession. Admittedly, the motion picture industry is a profession that is hardly professional—with emotions triumphing over reason, rampant nepotism, workers being treated as dirt, and no clear-cut way to reach the top. Come to think of it, maybe Hollywood is more like Wall Street than one would initially suspect.

On its surface, Richard Brooks' The Professionals is a rip-roaring adventure in the Old West, where men were men and women were in need of rescue. In its heart, however, this adaptation from Frank O'Rourke's novel, A Mule for the Marquesa, is a metaphor about filmmaking—and a damn entertaining one at that. All the ingredients for a classic Western are here and Brooks' solid handling of the material—he also wrote the screenplay—delivers expert filmmaking.

A rich man, J.W. Grant (Ralph Bellamy), hires a group of men to retrieve his Mexican wife, Maria (Claudia Cardinale), from the wretched revolutionary, Captain Jesus Raza (Jack Palance). Henry "Rico" Fardan (Lee Marvin) used to fight for Pancho Villa alongside Raza, but now works for the U.S. military, earning meager pay. His job is to lead an expert wrangler, Hans Ehrengard (Robert Ryan), and a skilled tracker and marksman, Jacob Sharp (Woody Strode), into the Mexican desert against Raza's ragtag army of bandits. Knowing that this job is too much for them, Fardan enlists his old friend Bill Dolworth (Burt Lancaster), who also fought for Villa, to use his knowledge of explosives as a means of evening the playing field.

Set to the rousing themes of Maurice Jarre's score, the four men ride into the unknown with impeccable skill as they battle with banditos and eventually catch up with Raza's men. It isn't going to be easy overtaking Raza, as evident from his attacking a train and executing all of its soldiers—truly, for 1966, the violence here is staggering. Yet with Fardan's careful planning, the men raid Raza's grounds, retrieve the stunningly beautiful Maria for her husband, only to discover that things are not as they seem.

The plot doesn't follow the traditional good guy/bad guy formula of a Western. Rather, the code of the film is that any man who is a professional is, in some way, good. Perhaps it's a morally dangerous road to travel—after all, the Nazis were quite professional—but there's an air of rugged individualism in this fast-paced tale that sweeps me up in its romanticism. The themes are explored primarily in the second half, when Raza chases the quartet to regain the luscious Maria, with biting dialogue and unrelenting narrative drive. Brooks and his editor, Peter Zinner, show that you don't need hyperactive cutting to make a chase scene enthralling.

As a Western, The Professionals is far less impressive than its contemporaries (Leone's Dollars trilogy, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch), but as an exercise in craftsmanship, it is topnotch. Conrad Hall's beautiful cinematography is every bit as good as his Oscar-winning work on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I've never cared much for day-for-night photography, but his use of it opens up the exteriors to place these characters on a vast plain that is simply awesome. Jarre's score is one of his most memorable, firing up the audience's heart rate in a way reminiscent of Bernstein's theme to The Magnificent Seven. There is no more fitting crew for this film than the one assembled by Brooks, for each person involved is a consummate professional.

This includes the cast. Apart from the distracting presence of Claudia Cardinale as Maria (distracting for three reasons: the first is that she's clearly Italian, the other two reasons are located on her torso), each actor here is perfect in his role. Burt Lancaster's Dolworth is devilishly charming, mixing wit with skill. Lee Marvin's gruff Fardan is the embodiment of professionalism, with a no-nonsense attitude that is directed toward honoring the contract first and foremost. Robert Ryan's Ehrengard offers quiet devotion to his work, balancing the more flamboyant performances. Woody Strode's presence as Jake adds an element of controlled danger. And Jack Palance's Raza (with a good portion of his dialogue in Spanish) is the perfect counterpart to these four men, being both sinister and understandable depending on your knowledge of his character. I'm gushing a bit here, but if you can find me an ensemble like this in the here and now, then there's a snowball in hell.

The Professionals is a delicious adventure from Richard Brooks, a sort of last ride for the John Ford/Howard Hawks style of westerns. The genre has undergone many changes since this film's first release in 1966, including a recent hibernation, but the work here is joyous escapism and a sly revelation of its creator's view of the movie industry. In an age where amateur filmmaking is becoming trendy, it dares to say that one ought to act like a professional.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, Conrad Hall's cinematography looks quite nice. I haven't seen the previous DVD release, so I don't know how this transfer compares to that one. Detail is sharp, depth is strong, contrast is solid, skintones are accurate, and colors are vibrant. Some print defects and scratches are noticeable, though not distracting and are probably the result of the film's age. Professional work!

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: A newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix sizzles with life, starting instantaneously with the opening credits and Jarre's score pulsating from all channels. Directionality and separation occur often, but not more than the material will allow for. Dialogue is well balanced and always audible. There is also an audio track on English 3.0 across the front sound stage, for those wanting a mix representative of the original theatrical presentation. It also has a lot of pep to it, but not as much as the 5.1 track does.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Classic Westerns
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:19m:07s

Extras Review: The supplemental materials kick off with the original theatrical trailer, presented in 2.35:1 widescreen. There is also a Classic Westerns trailer advertising other DVDs available from Columbia TriStar. One point of interest is the inclusion of Robert Rodriguez's Once Upon a Time in Mexico as a "classic."

The three newly created Laurent Bouzereau extras are a welcomed inclusion. Burt Lancaster: A Portrait (12m:37s) features interviews with his daughter, Joanna, and biographer, Kate Bufford, who talk about his career and personality. Some of Joanna's comments are nice bits of information about the man, though there are no stunning insights into his life or work. The documentary Memories From The Professionals (23m:19s) features interviews with Claudia Cardinale, Conrad Hall, and actress Marie Gomez (who plays Chiquita in the film). All of them discuss the fun of making the movie, giving their impressions about its major stars and director Brooks. Hall has the most interesting story of the bunch, discussing how he nearly quit the production. Splicing their interviews with behind-the-scenes footage, the documentary is a solid bonus. The final featurette, The Professionals: A Classic is an appreciation by director Martin Campbell (of GoldenEye fame) who explains why it is such an inspiration for him. I echo some of his sentiments here. Although each special feature is interesting, none of them are outstanding. They're fittingly professional, but there's no real passion in them.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

The Professionals delivers on its title. Quality filmmaking and acting take what could have been a dull repetition of the motions and make it into a gorgeous visceral experience. Aided by nice extras, this DVD special edition presents the movie with newly remastered audio and video that bring the images and sounds to a new life in home entertainment.


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