36 Films: The Professionals (1966)

For 36 days straight, we’ll be exploring the famous 36 Dramatic Situations by examining a film that exemplifies each one. From family killing family to prisoners in need of asylum, we brush off the 19th century list in order to remember that it’s still incredibly relevant today.

Whether you’re seeking a degree in Literature, love movies, or just love seeing things explode, our feature should have something for everyone. If it doesn’t, please don’t get a posse of famous actors together to hunt us down in Mexico.

Part 5 of the 36-part series takes a look at “Daring Enterprise” with one of the best Westerns ever made, The Professionals.

The Synopsis

Four men are hired to head into the dangerous desert of Mexico to face off against the man who kidnapped a wealthy man’s wife and return her safely back to the arms of her husband.

The Situation

“Daring Enterprise” – This dramatic situation requires a Bold Leader, an Object, and an Adversary. It’s essentially the forerunner of the Men on a Mission Movie. It’s high concept, but the key here is that the stakes have to be life-threatening enough to make the enterprise considered daring. Heading into the Mexican desert to attack a heavily guarded compound is dangerous. Heading to a dinner full of idiots, for example, is not.

In the case of The Professionals, despite Willy Strode’s character being the bigger bad ass, Lee Marvin’s Rico Fardan is the Bold Leader. The Object is either reclaiming the beautiful Mrs. Maria Grant or earning $10,000 depending on where your loyalties lie, and the Adversary is kidnapper Jesus Raza (Jack Palance). Or Grant, the pompous millionaire that sets the mission in motion. Or both.

As expected, the film falls under the “Recapture of a Desired Object” sub-category of the situation.

The Film

The prototype for anyone wishing to see how a Western is done to perfection, the movie itself takes the Men on a Mission concept and plays it straightforwardly for most of its first and second act. Even with Jack Palance playing a Mexican named Jesus. With Expendables-esque casting, every major hero of the day has a role to play here. Lee Marvin. Burt Lancaster. Willy Strode. Robert Ryan. It’s a dream team of actors, and their particular skills are translated to each character. A leader in command of every detail. A libidinous dynamite expert. The world’s best tracker/bow and arrow killer. A wise voice of calm in the middle of a tornado.

Their path is blazed through shootouts between rocky crags, a cemetery for nameless men, and a Mexican standoff featuring a machete, three guns, and a bow and arrow.

What’s beautiful and brilliant about this film is that it takes the simple concept of the Daring Enterprise and builds a detailed framework around it with dialog so raw it grows its own stubble, performances of the highest gun caliber, and a plot diversion that changes the game right when the dynamite fuse is lit.

It’s one thing for damned men to be on a suicide mission. It’s another for them to be in over there heads and left out in the desert cold.

But, like any good story about a group of men, things don’t truly heat up until a woman shows up. In an atypical move, The Professionals doesn’t head directly from Point A to Point B, stopping only to collect its reward money. The grand plan is executed halfway through the film, and the considerably more difficult second mission – getting Mrs. Grant safely back to Texas – begins.

Even if she doesn’t want to go.

Bonus Examples: Inglourious Basterds, The Dirty Dozen, The Guns of Navarone

Click here to read all of our 36 Films, 36 Dramatic Situations entries

Supplication – The Most Dangerous Game

Deliverance – The Rescuers

Crime Pursued By Vengeance – Death Wish

Vengeance Taken For Kindred Upon Kindred – The Lion King

Pursuit – Silence of the Lambs

Disaster – Airplane!

Falling Prey to Cruelty/Misfortune – Misery

Revolt – Lucky Number Slevin

Daring Enterprise – The Professionals

Abduction – The Chaser

The Enigma – Se7en

Obtaining – There Will Be Blood

Enmity of Kin – Once Were Warriors

Rivalry of Kin – Grumpy Old Men

Murderous Adultery – Match Point

Madness – Grizzly Man

Fatal Imprudence – The Fly

Involuntary Crimes of Love – Oldboy

Slaying of Kin Unrecognized – Halloween

Self-sacrifice for an Ideal – Hunger

Self-sacrifice for Kin – Harakiri

All Sacrificed for Passion – A Single Man

Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones – The Seventh Continent

Rivalry of Superior vs Inferior – Toy Story

Adultery – In the Mood For Love

Crimes of Love – Dog Day Afternoon

Discovery of the Dishonor of a Loved One – Festen

Obstacles to Love – I Love You Phillip Morris

An Enemy Loved – Underworld

Ambition – Wall Street

Conflict With a God – The Truman Show

Mistaken Jealousy – My Best Friend’s Wedding

Erroneous Judgment – The Contender

Remorse – In Bruges

Recovery of a Lost One – Gone Baby Gone

Loss of Loved Ones – Dear Zachary

A veteran of writing about movies for nearly a decade, Scott Beggs has been the Managing Editor of Film School Rejects since 2009. Despite speculation, he is not actually Walter Mathau's grandson. See? He can't even spell his name right.

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