Crisis was Richard Brooks’ directorial debut, and is an interesting thriller. An American neurosurgeon Gene Ferguson and his wife Helen (Cary Grant and Paula Raymond) are on vacation in an unnamed Latin-American nation during a time of unrest and revolution. The dictator Farrago (Jose Ferrer) is dying of a brain tumour, but as he’s unable to get help in or leave the country during the crisis, he detains the Fergusons, holds them at luxurious gunpoint in his villa, and demands that Gene saves his life. Also caught up in the turmoil are Farrago’s wife (Signe Hasso, in a good Eva Peron-ish role) an American oil company bigwig and unofficial ambassador (Leon Ames), and charismatic revolutionary Gonzales (Gilbert Roland). Gene bristles at being forced into this situation, but agrees to do the surgery for a steep fee. The revolutionaries tell him to botch the operation, and to ensure Gene’s compliance they take Helen hostage, but an intercepted message means the doctor has no idea his wife’s life is at risk if surgery succeeds.
Since we’re confident that Dr. Gene will do the right thing, and he assumes Helen took a train to safety, there’s little suspense about what choice he’ll make; it’s all about what the results will be. Along with the thriller plot there are revealing political discussions and debates about leadership styles between the idealistic American and the pragmatic tyrant. Farrago argues that liberty and democracy are easy where people are educated, civilized and orderly. Not so in his nation, he says, where a movie ticket lineup becomes a riot in no time. Opposition leader Gonzales sounds no better when he laughs about the people being children who need to be told what to do. Both leaders promise miracles but see their followers as useful idiots, and caught in the middle are people like the famous guitarist who protests by refusing to play.
It’s interesting to see Grant play such a stern, prickly and guarded character who fears for his wife’s safety and doesn’t trust either side in this coup. He has a special loathing for the Colonel who apprehends them (Ramon Novarro), mainly because the man was rude enough to cut into a phone call between Gene and Helen. There’s a great bit where Gene does a complete run-through of the surgery with the medical team, a translator, a mannequin and lots of diagrams. Farrago looks on proudly, initially using the demonstration to show off his power over an American expert, but the dictator soon gets queasy as he watches Gene slice and drill his way into the “dummy’s” skull.