Crisis (1950) was Richard Brooks’s first film as director, an engaging dramatization of turmoil in an unnamed Latin American country. Cary Grant plays a traveling American surgeon kidnapped (along with his wife) and ordered to save the life of the country’s brutal dictator, Raoul Farrago (José Ferrer), who suffers from a brain tumor. Despite a threat to his own life, as well as the moral dilemma in that the dictator is an evil man probably deserving of death, the doctor adheres to medical ethics and agrees to perform the operation—but the country’s rebel forces have other plans, and set their sights on kidnapping the doctor’s wife as leverage.
Brooks wrote the script (from a story by George Tabori), effectively dramatizing the plight of the unnamed country as well as the characters of the doctor and the dictator, who engage in nuanced exchanges as their relationship toggles between that of doctor-and-patient and subject-and-dictator. The film’s mature tone is elevated by the fine performances, the use of authentic Latin actors in appropriate parts (including silent film star Ramón Novarro, the original Ben-Hur), and an engrossing verisimilitude to the medical procedures—as well as Miklós Rózsa’s score. M-G-M News (the studio’s publicity arm) trumpeted the following on April 17, 1950:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is making a daring departure from the conventional in the musical scoring of its production of Crisis.
Instead of the background music, which has been composed by Dr. Miklós Rózsa, being played by a full orchestra, the entire score will be played by Vicente Gómez and his guitar.
Gómez, one of the world’s foremost guitar players, also has a role in Crisis, which stars Cary Grant and José Ferrer.
Gómez portrays the revolutionary Guillermo Cariaga, a guitarist who has foresworn his art in defiance of the country’s dictator, but agrees to perform in a cantina scene for the doctor and his wife—hoping to convince the surgeon not to save the dictator’s life. Gómez (as Cariaga) plays the film’s main theme (track 30), a rich, minor-mode Latin piece that surges with the “crisis” that has engulfed the country and its people. Rózsa’s score overall is brief and heard primarily during scenes depicting the revolutionaries and their activities—the country’s passionate people drive the plot—and is essentially dominated by this theme.
The studio’s publicity notes for the film added: “This is believed to be the first time in Hollywood history that a film’s atmospheric music has been played by one instrument, although the recent British-made picture, The Third Man, had a musical score played on a zither.”
Whether that was true or not, M-G-M evidently got cold feet—the finished film uses orchestral renditions of the “Main Title” and “Finale,” in lieu of the earlier versions for two guitars; in the case of the “Main Title,” the orchestral track was added to the guitar recording, while it replaced the guitars entirely for the “Finale.” (In addition, a few source cues are performed by a mariachi ensemble and one by a military band.) All of the music was recorded during the early months of 1950: the “pre-score” music (recorded prior to production to aid the actors, including Gómez for his on-camera performance) on February 2, the bulk of the score on March 21, 24, 27 and 29, and the orchestral revisions on April 27. Most of the score was played not by one guitar but two or three, with colleagues José Barroso and Jack Marshall joining Gómez.
Film critics appreciated the score’s subtle and authentic approach. The Los Angeles Mirror wrote: “Counterpointing Brooks’s diabolically caustic direction is a crisp musical score by Miklós Rózsa played by the solo guitar of Vicente Gómez. It is as distinguishing as all else about the bravura performance.” The Hollywood Citizen-News noted: “Miklós Rózsa’s striking music and Vicente Gómez’s chords that herald the tragic moments in the drama add interest to the film.”
Most—but not all—of the original soundtrack from Crisis survives and is presented to conclude disc 10 of this collection. The music may be familiar to collectors from a 6-track, 9:39 re-recorded suite produced by Tony Thomas and performed by Darryl Denning under the composer’s supervision. This suite was first issued in 1978 on an LP devoted primarily to Rózsa’s solo piano music (Citadel CT-7004), then released on a 1989 Varèse Sarabande CD Club limited edition (paired with Fedora, VCL 8903.2) and reissued on a 1998 Rózsa compilation from Citadel Records (along with The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover and Lydia, STC 77118). In addition, MGM Records issued a single 78 rpm disc featuring two selections performed by Vicente Gómez (“Revolution March” and “Village Square”), but that disc has never been reissued in any authorized format. Gómez later performed source music for Rózsa on the 1955 film Moonfleet, released as FSMCD Vol. 6, No. 20 (with additional bonus tracks on FSM’s release of Diane, FSMCD Vol. 7, No. 3).
- 24. Main Title
- The orchestral version of the main title is presented here as it appears in the film. This features Rózsa’s main theme, which will dominate nearly all of the underscore.
- “Fronton” is the name of a jai alai club in the film’s opening scene. A shady character plants a bomb in a car outside the club, his furtive actions darkly scored by Latin guitar with a hint of the main theme. This is actually the third version of the cue (the written score—for solo guitar only—is dated March 22, 1950); it was preceded by the version heard at the conclusion of the guitar-only “Main Title” (track 35) and yet another (unused) adaptation, for two guitars, written out on March 13. This final version is somewhat different musically from the other two, with perhaps a bit more ominous tone.
- 25. Jai Alai Marcha
- A military band (presumably source music) plays as Dr. Eugene Ferguson (Cary Grant) and his wife Helen (Paula Raymond) leave the jai alai club.
- 26. Proctor’s Advice
- Virtually no music is heard for nearly half an hour as Dr. Ferguson is kidnapped and compelled to examine and diagnose the country’s dying president, Raoul Farrago (José Ferrer). This piece was written—but not used—for a dinner scene between the Fergusons and American oilman Sam Proctor (Leon Ames), who counsels the surgeon against helping the brutal dictator. Rózsa provided a slow rendition of the main theme for Gómez’s and Borroso’s guitars.
- 27. Paso Doble
- Later that evening, the Fergusons go out to a cantina, where this mariachi-flavored source cue is heard.
- 28. Fandango
- A second, longer source cue plays at the cantina under dialogue; muted trumpet intones the melody over a bolero-like rhythm.
- 29. Canción de la Revolución
- The virtuoso guitarist Guillermo Cariaga (played by Gómez), a revolutionary abstaining from his art in protest of Farrago, performs at the cantina for the Fergusons—anticipating a day when will Farrago be dead. Gómez pre-recorded the piece in the studio and performed on camera to match. The selection is slightly longer on the CD than in the film, although it was longer still when recorded (only this one take survives). The music explicitly presents the main theme of Rózsa’s score as the revolutionaries’ music within the story.
- 30. Viva la Revolución
- A closing source cue at the cantina possesses a heroic flavor (featuring the main theme for mariachi band) as the crowd cheers Dr. Ferguson, who has stood up to Farrago’s men in their effort to remove him from the cantina.
- 31. Flowers for Fernández
- A riot breaks out when the president’s wife (Signe Hasso) crosses paths with a memorial service for Fernández—a university professor and former revolutionary leader who had been assassinated. Rózsa’s cue for the two guitars (each with overdubs to add density) surges with the revolutionary spirit of the angry people, intensified by greater rhythmic complexity than elsewhere in the score.
- 32. Un Voluntario
- The revolutionaries kidnap Helen (whom Dr. Ferguson had sent out of the country on a train) to use her as leverage against the doctor performing the operation. Guitar score is heard as rebel leader Roland González (Gilbert Roland) dictates a threatening letter to Dr. Ferguson, then asks for a volunteer (hence the cue title) to deliver it. (Only the first half of the cue survives, heard here.)
- 33. Muerte de González
- The film’s climax finds the revolutionaries overruning the presidential palace, celebrating the death of Farrago (from his own agitation, which caused a hemorrhage); a subtle appearance of the “Dies Irae” (at 0:42) offers the only lament for the fallen dictator as his body is dragged through the palace. The new leader, González, almost immediately begins spouting dictator-like proclamations to Ferguson, before himself being felled by a stray bullet. Guitar score captures the turmoil of revolution. (Only the first and larger portion of the cue survives, heard here.)
- 34. Finale
- The dying González begs for the doctor’s help—“Same old cry,” Ferguson laments. An orchestral statment of the main theme provides a short tag at the end of the film (heard with slightly different editing in the finished film).
- 35. Main Title (guitar version)/Fronton (wild)
- This is Rózsa’s original guitar version of the main title, segueing (at 1:21) to an alternate, longer recording of “Fronton.”
- 36. Paso Doble (pre-recording)
- Rózsa recorded this version of track 27 prior to filming; Jakob Gimpel (one of Jerry Goldsmith’s early music instructors) performed piano alongside Gómez on guitar. This pre-recording did not include the contrasting minor-mode midsection eventually heard in the film.
- 37. Fandango (pre-recording)
- Gimpel played this pre-score version of track 28 on piano; Gómez can also be heard playing his guitar faintly in the background. Although similar in tempo, harmonic structure and mood to the piece used in the film, it is somewhat more grandiose and developed.
- 38. Finale (guitar version)
- This is Rózsa’s original two-guitar version of the “Finale.”
- 39. Revolutionary March
- This full version of the film’s main theme played by Gómez was released on an MGM Records 78 rpm disc in 1951. Much longer than the film version (track 29), it might be thought of as a “concert” arrangement suitable for a guitar recital.
- 40. Village Square
- This piece on the “B” side of Gómez’s record does not appear in the film. It was, however, included in the suite prepared by guitarist Darryl Denning and recorded under Rózsa’s supervision. It may have been written for the scene in which Dr. Ferguson and his wife arrive under escort at Farrago’s palace (between tracks 25 and 26) and pass through a teeming public square; a development of the march theme, sounding more overtly ominous, was used instead but the cue no longer survives apart from the film. —