Richard Brooks was at the helm of more than a few classics, ranging from Cat on a Hit Tin Roof to The Professionals, Elmer Gantry to In Cold Blood. He started off in the 1940s writing screenplays and in 1950 finally got his first crack at a feature film, the simply titled Crisis.
Vacationing in an unnamed South American country with his wife, Helen (Paula Raymond), American doctor Eugene Ferguson (Cary Grant) is planning to head home when he is stopped and taken into custody by police and army officials. He is told nothing and forced to travel by train to the capital city where he meets the country's ruler, a vicious dictator, Raoul Farrago (Jose Ferrer), who desperately needs his help. Farrago has a brain tumor that is quickly crippling him, but he has no surgeons in-country capable of pulling off the extremely difficult surgery. In steps Eugene, a brain surgeon from John Hopkins. Will he be pressured into performing the surgery? Farrago's opponents intend to do their best to convince him otherwise.
Even with his first film, Brooks shows a knack for putting together a quality story. It has the look and feel of a film noir -- albeit set in South America in a revolution-torn country -- while keeping it on a personal level. Bigger things are certainly at stake, but the story comes down to one character deciding if he will help another. Set almost entirely in Farrago's palace, I get the distinct impression this was a stage-based story, but I would be wrong. Yet will all the good things and positives you can take away from 'Crisis,' I came away mildly disappointed with the end result.
Right at the top of his fame, Cary Grant does a good job portraying Eugene as a doctor. You believe him as a highly-respected surgeon. But too often, it looks like Grant is sleepwalking through his part. For someone who was kidnapped and forced against their will to do something, he never seems genuinely angry. Perturbed, maybe a little upset? Yes, but his passive aggressive response doesn't work. Grant was always smooth on-screen, and that's no different here, but there is little to no energy or emotion in the part. Ferrer on the other hand relies almost solely on energy and emotion. He can be a little too much at times, but it works for the portrayal of a dictator who rules with an iron fist and is always concerned about fighting off any uprisings against his government.
The portrayal of a revolution-ravaged South American country is a worthy one, honest without being too theatrical. The only downside is when "big" conversations come up, Ferguson and Farrago talking about free will, individual rights and freedom...check that, Freedom. It gets to be a little pretentious at times, the American arguing with the brutal dictator. Neither man is going to change the other one's mind so the scenes drag. Showing Farrago's country, I wanted to see and hear more. We're dropped into a country under martial law but hear little about how it came to be this way, or even see why he's such an awful, bloody dictator. Yes, I'm not completely slow. I can figure it out, but when we're supposed to root against a character -- even hate him -- it helps to see why we should feel that way.
Heading toward an ending that will inevitably be an unhappy one, the last 30 minutes are much more interesting than the build-up. Grant's Ferguson must decide if he will go through with the surgery having been approached by a revolutionary group (headed by Gilbert Roland) to "accidentally" have the surgery go south. No one would know the difference, but Ferguson's hippocratic oath says otherwise. The ending features a couple good twists, one better than the other. The final shot is a doozy, an ironic ending that surprised me for sure. For a movie released in 1950, it was ahead of its time.
'Crisis' is a decent enough movie and story, but I just struggled to get into it. I was never too interested in Cary Grant's character, and the whole thing went downhill from there. Raymond is very good as his wife Helen with Signe Hasso as Farrago's devoted wife, Ramon Novarro as Colonel Adragon, a loyal officer in Farrago's army, and Leon Ames as an American oil driller rounding out the cast.
Crisis <---trailer (1950): ** 1/2 /****