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teaser Crisis (1950)

With the exception of the four thrillers he made with Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant is best known as a charming farceur with a gift for physical comedy. He rarely strayed from his image of the witty, debonair ladies' man but on occasion he would attempt something more ambitious like the troubled Cockney drifter of None But the Lonely Heart (1944) or the kidnapped physician in Crisis (1950). The latter film, made after a string of romantic comedies in the late forties, is one of his least seen movies and features one of his most effective performances in a straight dramatic role. Grant is cast as Dr. Eugene Ferguson, a renowned brain surgeon on vacation with his wife in a South American country. The couple are soon caught in the midst of a political revolution and find themselves at the mercy of an ailing dictator (Jose Ferrer) who commands the surgeon to perform a risky brain operation on him. The situation becomes deadly when the surgeon's wife is kidnapped by rebel forces.

Crisis marked the directorial debut of Richard Brooks who had already established himself as a first class screenwriter at MGM. Producer Arthur Freed had promised Brooks he would get a chance to direct after completing Any Number Can Play (1949) and let him pick his own project. Brooks, acting as writer and director, chose "The Doubters," a short story by George Tabori about a South American dictatorship that bore strong similarities to Juan and Eva Peron's rise to power. Brooks then traveled to Bogota, Columbia for preliminary research and after visiting several other Central American locations mapped out his scenario, which first focused on a widower and his ten-year-old daughter who becomes a kidnap victim. This plot device was later altered after Brooks was unable to cast Spencer Tracy in the lead role. In a chance meeting with Cary Grant at the Santa Anita racetrack, Brooks learned the actor was interested in the role but confessed it would be his first film as a director. Grant replied, "If you can write them I guess you can direct them."

Even with Cary Grant's full support, Brooks had a baptism by fire on the set of Crisis. As a first time director with strong opinions of his own, he was resented by many of the older, more seasoned veterans among his crew. Brooks later revealed in The World of Entertainment by Hugh Fordin that "There were endless battles and a barrage of outrages between myself and Cedric Gibbons. I had tremendous respect for his talent, but I guess politically and socially we were the exact opposites. He knew so much and I knew so little that all my demands or ideas were argued against....I would say to Ray June, the cameraman, 'I don't want this kind of lens.' June would say, 'What do you know about lenses? Can you tell me from here to here what distance we are now or what lens I'm using?' I would say, 'No, I can't.' And he'd say, 'Well, before you talk to me you find out.' But that forced me to learn about lenses.'

The incident that created the biggest hullabaloo was a freak accident that shut down the picture momentarily. A huge camera crane, weighing about a ton and a half, accidentally rolled over the director's foot during a scene with Cary Grant and Jose Ferrer. Brooks was reluctant to seek medical attention for fear of being replaced on the film but Grant assured him, 'If they get a new director, they're going to have to get a new actor. Now, get to the hospital.' Luckily, Brooks didn't suffer any broken bones, just a badly bloodied foot.

Grant's generosity extended to others on the picture as well. For three of the Spanish-speaking roles in the film, Grant successfully campaigned for the casting of Ramon Navarro (He played the title role in the 1925 version of Ben-Hur), Gilbert Roland, and Antonio Moreno, all former silent stars. He even consoled Nancy Davis, the future Mrs. Ronald Reagan, when she lost the role of the surgeon's wife to Paula Raymond. More importantly, Grant rewarded Brooks' hard work by his own thorough preparation for the role: he studied operating room procedures with a surgeon at night, observed numerous hospital surgeries, and interviewed nurses, doctors, and orderlies. The result was one of Grant's most authentic portrayals but the MGM publicity department, anxious that the serious subject matter of Crisis might scare away Grant's adoring fans, promoted the film with the misleading tagline, "Carefree Cary on a vacation!" As a result, the film had a hard time reaching its intended audience but it did launch Richard Brooks as a director and proved Grant was a fine dramatic actor.

Director: Richard Brooks
Producer: Arthur FreedScreenplay: Richard Brooks, George Tabori (story)
Art Direction: E. Preston Ames, Cedric Gibbons
Cinematography: Ray June
Film Editing: Robert Kern
Original Music: Mikl-s R-zsa
Principal Cast: Cary Grant (Dr. Eugene Norland Ferguson), Jos?errer (Raoul Farrago), Paula Raymond (Helen Ferguson), Signe Hasso (Senora Isabel Farrago), Ramon Novarro (Colonel Adragon), Gilbert Roland (Gonzales), Leon Ames (Sam Proctor).
BW-96m. Closed captioning.

by Jeff Stafford

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