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I discovered this movie only recently and have watched it three times in the last two months. It's the kind of movie that rewards repeated viewings. The story, as others have commented, is moving and inspiring and way ahead of its time, dealing as it does with topics (the philosophical/spiritual quest for meaning in life, alcoholism, psychic healing, class divisions, post-war trauma, greed vs. self sacrifice) that one would expect in a movie taking place in the nineteen sixties rather than one taking place immediately following World War I. It offers the pleasure of Hollywood glamour of a very high order with one spectacular set-piece after another. Over and over, one is amazed at the staging of scenes set at balls, restaurants, night-clubs, Paris streets, factories, etc. Many jaw-dropping, pre-steadycam long takes involve the choreography of dozens of elements, e.g. one long take outside a Paris railway station, or another crane shot in a Paris night club as the camera searches the crowd for the protagonists. Everyone involved with the film seems to be working at his or her peak, from director Goulding to composer Alfred Newman, to all the perfectly cast actors. The screenplay is filled with brilliant cinematic story-telling devices (ironic voice-overs, montage sequences, foreshadowings, symbolism (the use of water and the ocean in so many scenes)that keep a long and complex story moving so smoothly that the two-hour-plus running time is hardly noticed at all. The cinematography by someone named Arthur Miller is gorgeous with lighting effects and moving camerawork that rank in the pantheon of Hollywood's visual creations. This is a great film.
This film, and the book on which it is based, made strong impressions
on me in my youth, but even more so now that I am past middle age. A
magnificent cast - Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney, Anne Baxter, Clifton
Webb, John Payne, Herbert Marshall, help to tell the story of a man who
walks "in another man's shoes" -- and totally to his own drummer --
after the first world war. In his quest for spirituality and goodness,
he is at odds with the materialism and obsession around him. The
different layers of "The Razor's Edge" demand attention: Larry's
physical desire for Isabel, a woman it turns out he doesn't even know;
Isabel's cold-heartedness and desire to possess Larry; and Larry's
search for the meaning of life, while the people he loves disintegrate
around him from lack of values or hope. These are all seen through the
eyes of Somerset Maugham, played by Marshall. Larry's final
confrontation scene with Isabel (Tierney) about Sophie (Baxter) is
bone-chilling -- Power, who had a tendency to be sometimes stiff and a
bit removed from his material, uses that flaw to excellent advantage as
Larry Darrell. It's not a showy role, but he's wonderful, and he's
reading of poetry in Sophie's room is unforgettable.
This has got to be one of my favorite films of all. It ranks in my books up
there with PLACE IN THE SUN, REAP THE WILD WIND and THE
Made in the 40s by 20th Century Fox and Producer Darryl F. Zanuck, it stars Tyrone Power as Larry Farrell, a man on a journey to find the values of life. This fascinating journey takes him all over the world until he reaches a summit in India and there he meets a Holy Man, superbly played by Cecil Humphreys, who helps him understand his questions and then sends him back to the real world where he must then take his place in life. Based on the 1943 book of the same name, by W. Somerset Maugham, it does the story justice with the help of Lamar Trotti in transferring it to the screen. I read the book before seeing the film and was not disappointed. Congratulations also goes to director, Edmound Goulding for bringing the truth of the book to life.
Other noteworthy performances were delivered by the lovely Gene Tierney, as Isabel, again in Cassini dresses, and yet another co-starring Tyrone Power film; John Payne, as Gray, in a different type of role as Miss Tierney's husband, Anne Baxter, as the doomed Sophie, in her Academy Award performance, and was she excellent, Clifton Webb as Elliott Templeton, another of Webb's limp-wristed performances and another Academy Award nomination. Herbert Marshall as Maugham himself. Did anyone get the "gay" relationship between he and Templeton? Then there's Lucile Watson, Frank Gilmore and the delightful Elsa Lanchester in supporting roles. I liked Fritz Kortner as Kosti, the de-frocked priest Larry meets at a bar when he is working the mines.
Ray Dorey along with Alfred Newman wrote the theme song "Mam'selle" for the film. This is the best of the times. You can't get better. Power was superb in this. He was an underrated actor because he was such a handsome man. Yet, his abilities as an actor were terrific. He brought the intelligence of Maugham's writing to focus. Miss Baxter showed you the stuff good performers are made of with her shaded performance in this film. Also watch Marshall's reactions. His eyes are fantastic. They way his looks go from actor to actor. And look for the gay undertones between he and Clifton Webb as the eccentric uncle who delves in the upper crust life. Even to the extreme of having a coat of arms embroidered on his underwear. In the final minutes of the film Marshall speaks to Isabel after Larry leaves her for good, saying, "Goodness is, after all, the greatest force in the world . . .and he's got it." This speaks for the film and it's greatness. I think Marshall should have been nominated for his underplayed performance. He is credited with many fine roles in his career. See this classic. It's on VHS. Not to be confused with the pale remake with Bill Murray.
"The razor's edge" has outstanding merits and, unfortunately, remarkable
defects. Balancing the ones and the others, it stands as a sound, beautiful
instance of classic movie.
The story, based on Somerset Maugham's novel, is certainly original, although some twists of the plot are hardly believable, others are naive and predictable. The spiritual quest by Larry (Tyrone Power) is an interesting theme. However, his yearning for living among workers and poor people is far-fetched, and fails to be touching. The director's job is just adequate. The cardboard backdrops are awful! The scenes placed in the fake Himalaya are laughable. The representation of French people is inaccurate and too picturesque. By the way, French people NEVER spoke a foreign language in those years (in truth, not much has changed nowadays).
Fortunately enough, the merits of the movie overwhelm the flaws. The script is brilliant. A thorough psychological study of the characters is made, through lines at times dramatic, at times permeated with typical English sharp wit. A great acting is a major strength of the film. The whole cast, minor roles included, makes an excellent job. Anne Baxter deserved to win the Oscar for the best supporting actress. Gene Tierney is fantastic: her Isabel, fully believable and realistic, is the most interesting character of the movie.
Gene's acting is willingly understated, but extremely subtle and accurate. Look at the glances she flashes to the drunk Sophie (Anne Baxter) at the tavern. Look at Isabel's expression when Sophie vulgarly sits down on the table, turning her back to Isabel and flirting with Larry. We feel that a mortal hate is soaring. The clash between Isabel and Sophie is a great scene. Baxter beautifully shows Sophie's tragic weakness, But Gene's icy attitude is even more effective. After all, let's take Isabel's point of view: we realize that she's perfectly right. It's true that Sophie is a hopeless drunkard. It's true that Larry wants to marry her just as an act of pity. And Isabel fights for her love. Why shouldn't she?
Yes, Isabel is selfish, spoiled, even ruthless... and so? For all his generosity, sense of duty and so on, Larry neglected Isabel just to avoid such an enormous self-sacrifice as to take a job! And then Isabel shouts "Love me, Larry, love me!" Come on, Larry! How on the earth can you resist to such an appeal? Why aren't we audience allowed to replace you, undeservedly over-lucky fellow? Alas! Larry is "completely out of mind", as Isabel puts it. By the way, Larry's incoherences, in a world of people ever following their own way (snobbery for Elliott, comfortable wealthy life for Isabel, poised literature for Maugham, debauchery for Sophie), by no means are a flaw of the movie. They rather make a fine artistic effect, even improving the realism of the story.
And how I like the scene when Herbert Marshall as Maugham makes a detailed description of Isabel's perfect beauty, loveliness, grace (Gene-Isabel staring at him with a half-dreaming, half-mocking smile). That's a much appreciated gift for all us devoted fans of Gene Tierney.
Yes, I don't hide the defects of "The razor's edge". But it is certainly entertaining, interesting, even profound at several moments. A beautiful film.
Darryl Zanuck gave in to Tyrone Power's request for some serious acting
roles and not another costume part in his first post World War II film
after returning from the Marines. The Razor's Edge is a bit overlong,
but Tyrone Power and the rest of the cast is shown to best advantage.
The Razor's Edge is the story about a returning World War I veteran's quest for spiritual meaning in his life. Author W. Somerset Maugham wrote this during the 30s and his themes then found a good audience in 1946. He appears in the movie, played by Herbert Marshall, and it is his eyes through which we see the action unfold.
It starts at a party in the Midwest at the beginning of the Roaring 20s. All the principal characters are introduced there including Larry Darrell, played by Power, who wants to postpone his engagement to Gene Tierney. Power explains about his lack of spiritual fulfillment and his desire to do some global soul searching. Tierney's not happy, but she thinks all he wants to do is sow some wild oats and she reluctantly acquiesces.
A year later she's in Paris and she finds Ty living on the fringe and she realizes he was serious. Now Tierney is hopping mad so she marries steady and reliable John Payne. Now the plot unfolds.
As I've said in other reviews of his films Power was either the straight arrow hero or a hero/heel type. He's a straight arrow in this one as noble as you can get without crossing over into Dudley DooRightism.
Gene Tierney had essayed bitchiness in Leave Her to Heaven and she refines it to a high art here. Even though she's married to Payne, she still has a yen for Ty and her machinations are what drives the rest of the story.
John Payne, I have always been convinced was brought to 20th Century Fox as a singing Tyrone Power for musicals. So it is interesting to see them together. It is unfortunate that Payne wasn't given a better role because his part as Tierney's husband who loses his fortune in the Stock Market Crash wasn't better written. Payne proved on a lot of occasions he was a capable enough actor to handle more complex parts.
Clifton Webb plays fussy Uncle Elliott Templeton and got an Oscar Nomination, losing to Harold Russell in the Best Years of Our Lives. Webb was the closest thing for years to an out gay actor and a lot of his roles reflect that part of him, like this one. My favorite scene is after Ty Power goes to India and in that Shangri La like lamasery feels he has been made spiritually aware, with the symphonic crescendos rising, the action cuts away to a Paris tailor shop where Clifton Webb is complaining that the tassel on his robe doesn't sway, but that it bobbles.
Anne Baxter won a Best Supporting Actress Award for a playing a friend of Tierney's in the mid west. Baxter is a happy girl, marrying a young man she's deeply in love with. Her husband and baby are killed in an automobile crash. Baxter's study of physical and moral decline and degradation is some of her best work, maybe even better than Eve Harrington in All About Eve.
The story is a bit dated now, but it's still a fine film and one that shows Tyrone Power capable of far more than swashbuckling.
The Razor's Edge (1946)
A stately, dramatic, richly nuanced film about love, true love, and the love of life. It's about what matters, and what doesn't, in a high society world George Cukor could have filmed, but this is by director Edmund Goulding, coming off of a series of war films, and with the great Grand Hotel from 1932 in his trail. Some people will find this a touch stiff or slow, or rather too nuanced, but I think none of the above at all. It has the richness of the Somerset Maugham novel it is based on, and Goulding had just filmed (the same year) Of Human Bondage, another Maugham novel. In both cases, the writer contributed to the screenplay, and the combination of the two of them seems really perfect.
Tyrone Power is an interesting lead man, as the idealistic and handsome Larry Darrell, and in some ways his restraint and almost studied dullness at times is maybe what the film needs for its rich, calm trajectory through the twenty years it covers. He's as stable and "good" as the wise, knowing figure of the author, who appears in the form of actor Herbert Marshall. Gene Tierney as Power's counterpart and eventually counterpoint plays the spoiled woman with cool, dramatic perfection. She's got energy and edge and beauty from every angle, and she maintains just that slightest duplicity in every scene, so you are kept on your toes.
The only forced and almost laughable section is the one that demands we think profound thoughts...the guru in India being guru to our hero. Unfortunately, it lasts for fifteen minutes, and though there is a spiritual necessity to the experience he has there, this spiritual aspect is implied just as fully in the worldly scenes that follow. I can picture a far better movie without this insert, and I can picture the director picturing it, too. Someone knows why it got patched in, and for whom, but this is what we have.
It has to be said the filming, as conservative as it is in many ways, is spot-on gorgeous. The brightly lit, ornamented, busy sets are actually inhabited by the camera, and the figures move together not only across the field, but front to back as well, in triangles and curves of visual activity, yet with fluidity--it's all contained and lyrically delicious. This is done without ostentatious mood, without sharp angles and bold lighting, but instead with spatial arrangements, always full, no emptiness, no great shadows, always something more to see. A great example, easy to find, is the very last scene, just before the shot on the boat when the end titles run. Watch how Marshall walks the long way around Tierney, and then she walks around him, and the camera keeps them framed side to side, front to back. It's nothing short of brilliant, and yet, in style, so different than say Toland doing Kane or, at another extreme, Ozu doing Tokyo Story. But no less spectacular.
At one point, a minor character, a defrocked priest, says to Darrell in a working class bar, "You sound like a very religious man who does not believe in God." The movie is really about godliness, or what Maugham calls "goodness" in the end. And some people have it, and share it, and make the world better, God or no God.
Producer Darryl F. Zanuck fashioned a major production for Tyrone Power upon
his return to 20th Century Fox after a stint in the military service. No
expense was spared in terms of production values, and special care was taken
to cast each role to "perfection."
With master story teller W. Somerset Maugham joining in writing the screenplay from his sprawling, multi-character novel, and Edmund Gouling doing the direction and Alfred Newman the score, it was a setup that couldn't miss.
The cast works at a thoroughly respectable level, and the film emerges likewise. Yet, it falls strangely short of the genuine masterpiece Zanuck obviously planned.
There is a rather cold center to "The Razor's Edge," which prevents one from being able to completely empathize with and feel for these characters and their respective plight. While they are interesting, the characters fail to ignite a deep emotional response in the viewer. One ends more observing this enactment, which has the feel of a somewhat slick presentation.
It also represents the best of what 20th Century Fox had to offer in the mid-forties. Power next went on to do "Nightmare Alley," for which he received some of the best notices of his lengthy film career.
The Razer's Edge is not a light film, dark and inspirational, and
requires your full attention.
Clifton Webb's best performance, even better than Laura, perhaps. Ms. Tierney's best performance, even better than Laura, as well.
When I was growing up in Junction City, Kansas, Ms. Tierney, was at Menninger's Mental Health Hospital. She was working in a dress shop, in Topeka, Kansas, as part of her therapy.
I have always loved The Razer's Edge, Herbert Marshall, is splendid, and provided the key support, for Webb and Tierney's performances.
They all seemed to feel this picture was important, and did their best to bring the words to live on the screen. Ensemble acting by the group made this film, fly and become a hidden treasure in film history of its time, 1945-46. Perfect film for returning warriors from WW2, as a bridge of hope, to find themselves and repair the wounded souls of war.
Alfred Newman's musical score, is one of his best. Bravo to them and what a treat for students of film, to learn from its presentation.
British storyteller W(illiam) Somerset Maugham's 1944 speculative novel
Razor's Edge," as did his earlier semi-autobiographical "Of Human Bondage,"
won a devoted following when it hit the book shelves, and so 20th
Century-Fox wasted no time in securing the screen rights to this mammoth
war-era adventure into existentialism. It was a difficult, elephantine
undertaking but they somehow managed to carve out a screenplay and present
the whole package within two years of the novel's first
Awesomely produced and directed, the resulting movie, for the most part, propels Maugham's central theme -- that there is good and bad in all human beings. The focus centers in on the long, spiritual quest of Larry Durrell, a basically virtuous individual who, surrounded by wealth, beauty and privilege, abandons his enviable but superficial trappings to pursue a more humble, meaningful life. Oddly enough, it's the superficial elements of the story and the more pretentious characters that hold up "The Razor's Edge," while the spiritual scenes grow flat and weary, often times stopping the action dead in its tracks.
In casting Tyrone Power as the protagonist, one finds THE major flaw in its presentation. Tagged as a pretty boy for most of his career, he managed to show only glimpses of dramatic aptitude from time to time ("Witness for the Prosecution" comes to mind). Earnest and utterly sincere in his approach, Power simply lacks the power (sorry) and the depth to carry off this complex, confused, anachronistic soul-searcher. His Durrell seems better suited amongst the shallow and superficial. One only wonders what a Robert Donat or Fredric March might have done with such a role.
Surrounding Power, however, is a stellar list of names that gussies up this production, and it is in them that we find the film's emotional impact. In particular, Gene Tierney offers one of her finest performances as Isabel, the grasping, captivating socialite obsessed with Durrell, who shows her true colors in the end when goodness and all else fails to win her the love of a man. Like Power, Tierney is a flawless, incredibly photogenic beauty who tended toward posturing instead of acting. Here she is allowed to capitalize on her tendency towards elegant frippery, offering a cool, intriguing portrait of a woman who can and will never have enough.
We are also blessed with the presence of Clifton Webb, the epitome of smug elegance, who is true to form here as the meticulous, wasp-tongued prig who is not use to being told "no." As in the classic "Laura," Webb is handed the film's most delicious lines as his character goes about buffering his unhappiness with scorn and witty sarcasm. He would warm over this character recipe many times in movies, but darned if you don't keep going back for second helpings. He is delightfully hateful and absolutely mesmerizing. Anne Baxter as the helpless, tragic Sophie is heart-wrenching, giving a florid, Oscar-winning performance that lingers long after the final reel. She, not Power, is the heart and ravaged soul of this piece. The hospital scene following her horrific accident will rip you apart, as will her subsequent degradation into alcohol and prostitution. Known for her flashy, theatrical roles, Baxter plays Sophie for all its worth.
John Payne is typically upright and appealing and does what he can in a rather stiff, thankless "other man" part, while suave Herbert Marshall, who, in reality, lost a leg in WWI but continued to act (often in a chair), portrays Maugham himself with customary flair.
Granted, "The Razor's Edge" is no "Lost Horizon" in the metaphysical department, but on its own it is quite admirable and engrossing entertainment. It manages to hold up exceedingly well under its great length and weight, feels only slightly dated, and prides itself with gorgeous production values and a handsome, handsome cast.
The author of numerous novels, plays, and short stories, W. Somerset
Maugham (1874-1965) was considered among the world's great authors
during his lifetime, and although his reputation has faded over the
years his work continues to command critical respect and a large
reading public. Published in 1944, THE RAZOR'S EDGE is the tale of a
World War I veteran whose search for spiritual enlightenment flies in
the face of shallow western values. It was Maugham's last major
novel--and it was immensely popular. Given that the novel's conflicts
are internalized spiritual and philosophical issues, it was also an
extremely odd choice for a film version--but Darryl F. Zannuck of 20th
Century Fox fell in love with the book and snapped up the screen rights
shortly after publication.
According to film lore, THE RAZOR'S EDGE was to be directed by the legendary George Cukor from a screenplay by Maugham himself--and it does seem that Maugham wrote an adaptation. When the film went into production, however, Cukor was replaced by Edmund Goulding, a director less known for artistic touch than a workman-like manner, and the Maugham script was replaced with one by Lamar Trotti, the author of such memorable screenplays as THE OXBOW INCIDENT. Tyrone Power, recently returned from military service during World War II, was cast as the spiritually conflicted Larry Darrell; Gene Tierney, one of the great beauties of her era, was cast as socialite Isabell Bradley. The supporting cast was particularly notable, including Herbert Marshall, Anne Baxter, Clifton Webb, Lucille Watson, and Elsa Lanchester. Both budget and shooting schedule were lavish, and when the film debuted in 1946 it was greatly admired by public and critics alike.
But time has a way of putting things into perspective. Seen today, THE RAZOR'S EDGE is indeed a beautifully produced film--but that aside the absolute best one can say for it is that it achieves a fairly consistent mediocrity. As in most cases, the major problem is the script. Although it is reasonably close to Maugham's novel in terms of plot, it is noticeably off the mark in terms of character and it completely fails to capture the fundamental issues that drive the story. We are told that Larry is in search of enlightenment; we are told that he receives it; we are told he acts on it--but in spite of the occasional and largely superficial comment we are never really told anything about the spiritual, artistic, philosophical, and intellectual processes behind any of it. We are most particularly never told anything significant about the nature of the enlightenment itself. It has the effect of cutting off the story at its knees.
We are left with the shell of Maugham's plot, which centers on the relationship between Larry and Isabell, a woman Larry loves but leaves due to the growing ideological riff that opens up between them. Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney were more noted for physical beauty than talent, but both could turn in good performances when they received solid directorial and script support. Unfortunately, that does not happen here; they are extremely one-note and Power is greatly miscast to boot. Fortunately, the supporting cast is quite good, with Herbert Marshall, Clifton Webb, and Lucille Watson particularly so; the then-famous performance by Anne Baxter, however, has not worn as well as one would hope.
With a running time of just under two and a half hours, the film also feels unnecessarily long. There is seemingly endless cocktail party-type banter, and indeed the entire India sequence (which reads as faintly hilarious) would have been better cut entirely--an odd situation, for this is the very sequence intended as the crux of the entire film. Regardless of the specific scene, it all just seems to go on and on to no actual point.
As for the DVD itself, the film has not been remastered, but the print is extremely good, and while the bonus package isn't particularly memorable neither is noticeably poor. When all is said and done, I give THE RAZOR'S EDGE four stars for production values and everyone's willingness to take on the material--but frankly, this a film best left Power and Tierney fans, who will enjoy it for the sake of the stars, and those whose ideas about spiritual enlightenment are as vague as the film itself.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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