Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Crisis (1950)

CRISIS was one of a small handful of Cary Grant films I'd never seen, so when it turned up this weekend on Turner Classic Movies, I decided it was time to cross this title off my Grant list at long last.

CRISIS was the first film directed by Richard Brooks, who also wrote the screenplay. It's the tale of a brilliant brain surgeon (Grant) and his wife (Paula Raymond) who decide they'd better cut short their vacation in a sunny South American country due to political unrest. As they are leaving the country, they are detained and brought to the palace of Raoul Farrago (Jose Ferrer), the country's dictator.

Farrago has a potentially fatal brain tumor, and he can't -- or won't -- leave the country for expert medical treatment. He also can't entice a surgeon to come to his country. Which means Grant is the lucky man chosen to conduct the surgery, and it probably won't go too well for the doctor and his wife if the operation isn't a success. Matters grow dicier when a revolutionary leader (Gilbert Roland) pressures the doctor to let Farrago die on the operating table.

This was quite an interesting movie, with Grant's doctor coping ably with, as the title says, a crisis. The fact that the character is a self-confident brain surgeon with quite a healthy ego of his own makes the "don't mess with me" way he copes with his predicament, and his dictatorial patient, quite compelling. It's a really fine performance by Grant which in some ways paved the way for the types of roles he played for Alfred Hitchcock, as well as the more mysterious doctor he played in his next film, the unusual -- and excellent -- PEOPLE WILL TALK (1951).

The film happens to have been produced by Arthur Freed's musicals unit at MGM. In THE WORLD OF ENTERTAINMENT, a comprehensive look at the making of all of the unit's films, Hugh Fordin writes that director Brooks spent time watching brain surgery at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital; he also engaged a surgical nurse to train Cary Grant so that he would look authentic in the medical scenes. Grant later joined the nurse training the other cast members for the operating room scenes.

The only part of the film I didn't find believable was how did a man as smart as Grant's surgeon end up vacationing in such a dicey country, anyway? Didn't they have State Department warnings back then?

Otherwise CRISIS seems fairly realistic and remains quite undated, with dictators unfortunately never having left the scene of world events. At certain points the movie might be classified as film noir, with its shadows, mysterious characters, and the dictator's wife (Signe Hasso) serving as a femme fatale of sorts; there's a particularly outstanding shadowy shot of the doctor walking through an empty town square late at night. (The black and white cinematography was by Ray June.) There's a neatly ambiguous ending that I liked quite a bit.

Paula Raymond appeared in a film in 1938 under her real name, Paula Wright, and then was off the screen for several years. In 1944 she had an interesting credit, dubbing the singing voice of Hedy Lamarr in EXPERIMENT PERILOUS (1944), but it was another few years before she began playing bit parts and small roles in films including NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (1948), ADAM'S RIB (1949), HOLIDAY AFFAIR (1949), and EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE (1949).

With CRISIS, Raymond had her first role as the female lead. The role doesn't require a great deal -- this is Grant's picture all the way -- but her performance is fine. Her appearance and film persona in this reminded me a bit of Laraine Day, Grant's costar in MR. LUCKY (1943) who would also have been a good choice for this part.

Later in 1950 Raymond starred opposite Robert Taylor in the highly regarded Anthony Mann Western DEVIL'S DOORWAY (1950), and she also played the second female lead in the Esther Williams movie DUCHESS OF IDAHO (1950). She worked with Mann again in the excellent "historical noir" THE TALL TARGET (1951), in which Dick Powell plays an agent trying to prevent the assassination of Abraham Lincoln before his inauguration. Raymond continued to have a busy, if not especially noteworthy, career in films and television up until the mid-'60s. She passed away in 2003.

This was a very early film in Jose Ferrer's long career, and he's compelling as a man who is accustomed to ruling with an iron fist yet is increasingly disabled by his tumor.

The cast also includes Leon Ames, Ramon Navarro, and Antonio Moreno. According to an article at TCM, Grant campaigned for Roland, Navarro, and Moreno, all one-time silent film actors, to appear in the film.

Miklos Rozsa composed the score. Vicente Gomez, playing a rebel, has an effective guitar solo.

The film runs 95 minutes.

CRISIS is available on DVD-R from the Warner Archive.


Blogger Melissa Clark said...

"Crisis" is an interesting movie, I agree, and not the usual Cary Grant fare. He is great in it, though.

I read somewhere (or maybe heard in a Robert Osborne intro) that originally the doctor Grant plays was supposed to be traveling with his daughter, not his wife. However, that was changed since the studio thought if Cary Grant was in the movie he needed to have a leading lady and some amount of romance -- even though romance is definitely not what this movie is all about!

Thanks for a great review, Laura.

7:08 AM  
Blogger DKoren said...

Wow, never heard of this one, but it sounds really intriguing! Not to mention it has Gilbert Roland in it, which is always a bonus for me. Love him.

9:16 AM  
Blogger grandoldmovies said...

Sounds like a different and unusual film, with an atypical but interesting role for Grant. Thanks for your review.

6:02 PM  
Blogger kittenbiscuits said...

I'm so glad you liked this movie. It is a great surprise, isn't it? I don't know if it's just me, but isn't Paula Raymond a bit of a Laraine Day-alike?

Great review!

7:48 PM  
Blogger DorianTB said...

Laura, CRISIS is one of those films I keep hearing or reading about, and I keep meaning to catch up with it. Your review has encouraged me to keep an eye out for it, and hearing that the music is by one of my favorite composers, Miklos Rozsa, only sweetens the pot!

4:40 PM  

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