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Saturday, September 28, 2019

WESTERN NOVELS—A MULE FOR THE MARQUESA


  WESTERN NOVELS
A MULE FOR THE MARQUESA 
Frank O’Rourke’s novel A Mule for the Marquesa underwent a name change to The Professionals when it moved from page to screen. Movie tie-in versions and subsequent reprints all retained the punchier title. The Professionals begins as a straightforward Western actioneer, but packs a kick by the time the last page is turned. A group of Mexican revolutionaries have kidnapped Angelina Grant, the fiery Mexican wife of American cattle baron Augustus Grant. The arrogant, very rich, Grant recruits a band of five larger-than-life soldiers of fortune—led by ex-cavalryman turned arms dealer Henry Fardan—to cross the desert and rescue his wife. Each man is a hardened expert in logistics, combat, explosives or improvisation. The caper—five men against a hundred—is ingenious, exciting and vividly told.

While he wrote dozens of other Western, sports, and detective novels, Frank O’Rourke specialized in writing caper novels with western locals. The Professionals is a prime example of this talent. A number of his other books, including The Bravados and The Great Bank Robbery, also made their way onto the silver screen. Of his traditional Westerns, Warbonnet Law contains his strongest character, range detective John McMahon. His most memorable character, however, is Andres Shotgun Arau who battles his way through the 1910 Mexican revolution in The Shotgun Man. His companions are a beautiful woman, a .97 shotgun and a hidden fortune with killers on his trail. 

The Professionals is second only to The Magnificent Seven as my favorite Western film. Watching Lee Marvin and Burt Lancaster relish chewing the scenery together while trying to out macho each other in The Professionals is sheer late night viewing entertainment. The movie led me to the book, and to the discovery of the sheer Western storytelling power of Frank O’Rourke.

Writing under his John Benteen pseudonym, revered Western writer Ben Haas based his iconic Western adventure character, Fargo—with only a few changes to avoid problems—on both the Henry Fardan of O’Rourke’s novel and the portrayal of Fardan by Lee Marvin in The Professionals, the movie based on the book. After seeing his portrayal of Fardan in The Professionals, it is effortless to imagine ex-Marine Lee Marvin as the rock-hard fighting man, ex-Rough Rider, wildcatter and mercenary of the Fargo adventures.

With a screenplay adaptation and direction by Richard Brooks, The Professionals (1966) is stunningly filmed across the salt flats of Death Valley and Desolation Canyon. Matching the harshness of the landscape, Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Woody Strode Robert Ryan and Jack Palance are at their hard-ass best. Claudia Cardinale gives a smoldering performance as the dark-haired kidnapped wife, while the perfectly cast Marie Gomez knocks your eyes out as Chiquita—truly a woman to lead a revolution. 

Nominated for three Academy Awards, The Professionals was the first Western to feature nudity, although it is a long-range view and tame by later standards. The Professionals is filled with shooting, betrayal and explosions, with tough men and tougher women. Like the novel it is based on, the movie is a no-frills, straightforward, six-gun and dynamite actioneer—a totally satisfying viewing experience and an antidote to modern CGI overload.

2 comments:

  1. I’m always learning something new from you Paul-Thanks! Now I have to search out the movie

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thx...It's definitely worth the effort...

    ReplyDelete

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