I continue to study the Western genre. I have now launched a podcast about the making of Western films. Listen here
I watched The Professionals again the other night, a long overdue second viewing. The first half of Richard Brooks’ film is pretty much perfect. From the character introductions, to the brilliantly written and delivered dialog, to the way to the adventure builds to the mid-picture action set piece, it’s a guide for how to make a good Western. I especially love Lee Marvin’s performance and feel that every actor should study his understated style (it may end up being required watching for all my future productions).
I do have some complaints about the second half of the movie. If you haven’t seen it, I advise watching it before reading further.
Though I like the ultimate conclusion with Claudia Cardinale ending back up with Jack Palance, the movie gets there in an awkward way. After learning that she wasn’t really kidnapped by the Mexican bandit leader and thus kidnapping her themselves. the men go on to risk their own lives and kill a bunch of others to figure out a half hour (of screentime) later what they already knew. However much I like Burt’s standoff in the canyon from a cinematic perspective, does it make any sense for him to kill all this men, including the luscious warrior woman, and nearly Raza himself? And all of this is almost for nothing when minutes later, Burt comes to the conclusion (which I believe he’d already arrived at) having listened to Raza’s speech and holding the violent beauty until she dies, that this whole mission was a mistake. I can’t figure out if it’s a performance thing, if this development would work for me if there was a bigger change in Burt and his pals or if it’s just a script problem. All I know is that I don’t buy it, especially when he and Marvin decide to forego their payment without even consulting with the other two professionals (Robert Ryan and Woody Strode). The movie practically ignores their feelings about the situation at hand. I don’t think Brooks and company even cut to shots of them when the final decision is made… odd. Again, I like where it ends up but I don’t like how it gets there.
This morning, I told my girlfriend how I would have rewritten the last section of the film. For what it’s worth, here are a few things I’d change:
-Make it clear that all four professionals are struggling with completing their contract and separating Cardinale from her true love.
-Have Burt stay back to delay the Mexican leader but his true intention isn’t to kill all of his men. He plans to have the conversation about what’s happened. In the end, this makes the most sense anyway since he’s the least ruthless of the bunch. He has to kill a couple desperados but talks sense with Raza and convinces him to send his other men back.
-Cut to final scene. Just as it is now, Burt shows up with Jack Palance to Marvin’s surprise. They talk together in a conversation that includes Ryan and Strode this time around. Grant shows up. Here’s where my version differs again…
-Grant gives them the money, elated. They insist on the completion of the contract. When Grant goes to retrieve Cardinale, not only does he discover Raza but when he tells her to come with him and plans to finish the bandit, Cardinale pulls a pistol on him, one that was given to her by the professionals. Grant protests. Marvin says the contract was to deliver her, it said nothing about what would happen next. Grant orders his men to shoot Raza and Cardinale, if she won’t give up the gun and come with him. The professionals, all four of them ready for this, draw down on Grant’s men and make it clear they’re not going to let him kill her or Raza for that matter. Like in Brooks’ film, the men are intimidated by the professionals, allowing Cardinale and Palance to ride away on the wagon. The four men mount up and ride off too (and there’s a good chance Burt is going to spend the night with the warrior woman). The end. For those who are more idealistic, have them not take the money. However, these are ultimately soldiers of fortune and I think they would.
That’s how I’d do it. But I still greatly admire this movie how it is.