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The 36 Dramatic Situations: The Professionals (1966) and Daring Enterprise

The professionals
By  · Published on August 13th, 2010

This article is part of our 36 Dramatic Situations series.

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 badass, 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

Check out our entire series of 36 Dramatic Situations, 36 Movies.

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