Professionalism has to do with certain types of people who take their work seriously and perform its attendant tasks with skill, persistence, experience, and, it is hoped, giftedness. Suffice it to say that the team assembled to rescue the wife of a rich westerner in The Professionals (1966) are all exceptional at what they do. One works a bow and arrow (Woody Strode), another a Gatling gun (Lee Marvin), and yet another (Burt Lancaster) plants and explodes dynamite. Taken together, they are high-paid specialists. In addition to the martial arts, they are also businessmen, expecting remuneration of ten thousand dollars apiece at the end of the job. They never waver, until it becomes clear that they have not been told the truth. Instead, they have signed on to go against their very own consciences.
This was not a small film in the mid-sixties. It was nominated for three oscars. And the title, highlighting professionals, as it does, was certainly a loaded term that the more conventional sixties mind appreciated. There were people then who liked to think of themselves in just such as fashion — heroic, daring, and professional. And there is no denying good people in whatever circumstance the psychological supports they rely upon to carry them forward from one day to the next. So, the movie was popular. But there is more to it than that, of course, since The Professionals is also a good yarn. It has a clever plot that provides plenty of juicy, memorable dialogue, as well as eye-catching action. The overarching theme of appearance and reality succeeds. And the film makes great use of western decor, such as mountain passes, and how to maneuver through and around them.
It is always interesting, moreover, in movies with roughhewn characters, whose ethics and morals have been compromised, to discover what line they will not cross. As it turns out, kidnapping is an injustice that they will not touch. Hence, their surprise to find that one of them, Raza (Jack Palance), with whom they used to ride, is being accused of just that. The whole bunch has been schooled in the Mexican American War of the early 1900s, involving General Pershing and Pancho Villa. They know the terrain. To capture Mrs. Grant (Claudia Cardinale), they enter Mexico, then bring her back, to where Raza is wanted, vivo o muerto, for $250,000. This is a high price, as is the ransom for Mr. Grant’s wife, amounting to $100,000. Every so often, in the film, there is talk of buried gold. But the real coin of the realm has more to do with cigars, music, tequila, and old war stories.