An American surgeon (Cary Grant) and his wife (Paula Raymond) are detained against their will in a fictional South American country to save the life of the country's dictator (Jose Ferrer). Compelled by a sense of duty, the physician performs a successful surgery despite his abhorrence of the dictator and his government.

Before the surgery, the physician negotiates safe passage out of the country for his wife. However unbeknownst to him before the surgery, she is kidnapped by revolutionaries. They convey word to the doctor that their ransom demands that he cause the dictator's death. This demand betrays the physician's previously felt allegiance with the revolutionaries whom he believed to have been acting from ideals of liberty and justice.

The dictator does die, although not at the hand of the physician. Ironically he dies because he does not follow the physician's advice. Believing that the physician complied with their demands to kill the dictator, the revolutionaries allow the couple to return to the United States.


The film is a dark but ultimately, if ironically, heroic tale. We see a physician hold steadfastly to traditional fiduciary ideals in the face of good reasons to do otherwise. The surgeon cares for his patient, the dictator, even though he is forced to care; even though his patient is brutish, self-centered, and unkind to the nation's people; even though his patient has threatened the doctor's life, humiliated his wife, and held them both captive.

Despite all, the physician continues to put his patient's best interests ahead of his own and above all, to cause his patient no harm. As such, the film lends itself well to discussions of contemporary assaults on these traditional ideals and how, if at all, one should sustain them.

By making explicit some of the internal and external political dimensions of the physician-patient relationship, the film also contributes to contemporary analyses. It is never clear in the film who holds the power--the dictator or the surgeon. Clearly the dictator would seem to have the upper hand because he has the power to detain and even kill the doctor, but he needs the doctor in order to stay alive. In fact, under anesthesia and during post-operative recovery he is entirely vulnerable. So the physician, although a captive, is never powerless himself. Indeed, the patient dies only when he asserts himself against the physician's advice.

The complicated theme of social control in medicine is further articulated in the film as the physician is made a pawn between the ruling dictatorship and the revolutionaries. By saving the dictator's life, the physician is helping to perpetuate an unjust government. Inevitably in their pursuit of power, the revolutionaries (once depicted as idealistic) are reduced to similarly cruel and self-serving means. And the physician plays his part, again unwillingly, in reaching their goal of toppling the dictatorship. The film ends too neatly with the implication that, once safely beyond the reach of such confused, south-of-the-border political forces, all will be well for the practice of medicine, marriage, and life as usual.


This was Brooks's first film as director. The film is sometimes shown in computer-colored version.




Metro Goldwyn Mayer

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