THE RAZOR'S EDGE
Review by Ed Nguyen
Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb, Anne Baxter, Herbert Marshall, John
Director: Edmund Goulding
Audio: English 2.0 stereo and mono, Spanish 2.0
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Video: Black & white, full-screen 1.33:1
Features: Commentary track, Movietone newsreel footage
Length: 146 minutes
Release Date: May 24, 2005
don’t think I’ll ever find peace until I’ve made up my mind about things.”
mid-1940's marked the peak years in the Hollywood career of silver screen siren
Gene Tierney. A major star for the
Fox studio, Tierney appeared in numerous classics during this period, including Laura
and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Known
mostly for her exotic beauty, Tierney also proved her acting versatility with an
Academy Award-nominated performance in Leave Her to Heaven.
1946 film The Razor's Edge is
testimony to the qualities which made Gene Tierney such a top box office draw
for the Fox studio. Not only does
the film accentuate Tierney's glamorous allure, but it also allows her to
portray a variation of the femme fatale persona that she adorns so well in her
best film roles. Gene Tierney’s
character in The Razor's Edge is a
controlling beauty whose mildly manipulative nature and overriding, intense love
create the dramatic conflict between the film’s central characters.
In this sense, Isabel is a composition of Tierney’s previous memorable
characters in Laura and Leave
Her to Heaven.
a stylized treatment of W. Somerset Maugham's famous novel, is a melodrama about
societal mores and values and also about the difficulties encountered by a
veteran trying to adjust once more to civilian life.
Larry Darrell (Tyrone Power), emotionally scarred by the images of war
still fresh in his mind, foregoes a promising career and his young, devoted
fiancée Isabel Bradley to begin a soul-searching journey abroad.
Larry’s spiritual and metaphysical quest for meaning and purpose to
life sends him on an odyssey from Europe to India and even to the Himalayas.
Tierney portrays Larry Darrell's suffering fiancée who, in his absence,
eventually turns to a new suitor, Gray Maturin (John Payne), for the stability
and comforting presence that Larry in his wanderlust cannot offer to her.
In a sense, both Larry and Isabel make personal sacrifices - Isabel
sacrificing her devoted love that Larry might have the freedom to discover
himself, and Larry sacrificing his material desires to realize a deeper and more
universal truth about the nature of human existence.
Webb portrays Isabel’s rich but extraordinarily haughty Uncle Elliott
Templeton. He disapproves of Larry
Darrell for being, in his eyes, a stubborn and impractical man.
Webb’s acerbic character is rather akin to his similar performance as
Lydecker in Laura, and Templeton is
nearly as protective of Isabel and as annoyed by the attentions of lesser men to
her as Lydecker had been of Tierney's Laura.
Not surprisingly, Templeton is summarily delighted when Isabel's
sweetheart Larry chooses an existence of "loafing" over a family life
with his niece. Other important
characters include Herbert Marshall as Somerset Maugham himself (as an observer
and occasional narrator for the film) and Anne Baxter as Sophie, an innocent
childhood friend and ultimately one of the film’s more tragic supporting
the film opens, the First World War has recently drawn to a close.
Yet in the final days of combat, Larry loses a friend who perishes to
save him. The death of his friend,
seemingly so meaningless and unnecessary, fills Larry with doubt about life and
its injustices, particularly over the random nature of who dies and who has to
live on. Haunted by such thoughts,
Larry begs for Isabel’s blessings to journey afar in solitude until he can
work out the guilt and confusion in his mind.
Isabel promises to await his return, but even she cannot fathom his
restless nature and will not wait forever for him.
as far as the Himalayan mountains, Larry does eventually find some of the
answers which he seeks, but in the intervening years, much has transpired among
his old friends, loves, and acquaintances.
In the second half of the film, following Larry’s return, the changes
(positive and otherwise) in the lives of his friends test Larry Darrell's
new-found beliefs and sense of spiritual contentment and self-sacrifice.
Isabel’s personal and financial situations have changed drastically,
and her uncle, though as sharp as ever, has seen a certain deterioration in his
health and societal standing. Even
Sophie’s once-bubbly personality has disintegrated for reasons elucidated in
the film. Ironically, while Larry remains the most impoverished of the
film’s characters, he is the most content.
embraces the more somber themes that became increasingly common in American
films of the immediate post-war era. From
stories such as The Best Years of Our
Lives, which depicted the emotional and physical impact of the war upon
survivors, to The Third Man, which
touched upon the horrors and ravages upon war-torn European cities and the
mindset of its people, the post-war era offered films of a more world-weary and
less optimistic nature. It is no
coincidence that gradually during this period, film noir, with its pessimistic
outlook and flawed protagonists, replaced the innocent idealism of Frank
Capra-style productions and signaled the decline of the Hollywood musical.
However, the contemporary film to The
Razor’s Edge that this film most resembles, with its metaphysical ideals
of one man’s search down the back alleys and dark avenues of life, is probably
Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels.
Both films emphasize the ideology that true happiness arises not from
material wealth or earthly possessions but rather from inner peace.
this post-war environment, Tyrone Power represented a good choice for the
protagonist in The Razor's Edge.
Power had himself recently been discharged from the U.S. Marines just
prior to the production of the film. His
role as a war veteran thus coincided well with his actual life experiences,
adding a deeper personal resonance to the soul-searching quest by the film's
protagonist. While Power is not entirely successful in establishing his
character’s nebulous motivations for his necessary travels, he nevertheless is
able to convey Larry Darrell’s need for spiritual guidance and a meaningful
direction to his life.
are even subtle religious undercurrents in The
Razor's Edge. Larry, following
his return, becomes almost a savior for the troubles and worries in his friends'
lives. Transformed, he is portrayed
as almost a righteous man who has rejected the evils of the world - materialism
and avarice, as represented by Elliott Templeton, or temptation and the flesh,
as personified in the alluring Isabel Bradley.
In Sophie, there is even the symbol of the fallen woman who Larry tries
to save from her own self-destructive behavior.
director George Cukor envisioned a literal adaptation of the novel's mysticism.
Ultimately though, producer Darryl F. Zanuck decided to go with director
Edmund Goulding's more liberal interpretation.
The Razor's Edge became a lavish endeavor, incorporating 89 sets,
several real mansions, French nightclubs, and even a Himalayan holy site into
its production. However, at its
core, The Razor's Edge remained the
story of a conflicted man searching for the truth behind human existence or even
was a solid commercial success for the Fox studio and its top female star Gene
Tierney. Anne Baxter even won a
Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as the tragic Sophie, although the
film was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Clifton Webb), Best Art
Direction, and Best Picture. Today,
the film's sentimentality and melodramatic acting style may seem old-fashioned
to modern audiences, but The Razor's Edge
nevertheless remains a fine example of the opulence and refined classiness that
Hollywood, in its studio-era golden years, was capable of creating.
is shown in its original full-frame format.
The black & white images are crisp and detailed with only a trace of
age-related defects or dust speckles. Contrast
levels are solid with just a minimum of wash-out in a few long shots.
film contains quite a remarkable number of long takes, yet under Goulding’s
confident direction and fluid camera movements, the film never feels slow or
awkwardly paced. Furthermore,
celebrated cinematographer Arthur Miller, winner of Oscars for How
Green Was My Valley, Anna and the King
of Siam, and Song of Bernadette,
envelopes The Razor’s Edge within a
vibrant glow and a wonderfully visual style.
is presented in its original English monaural soundtrack.
The overall audio quality is about what one can expect for a film made
over half-a-century ago. The audio
is clean, if slightly shrill, and the soundtrack is mostly devoid of pops or
Alfred Newman score is a reliably lush and lavish one that suits the film’s
occasionally romantic sets well (although a great deal of the music is also
derived from source music and period pieces).
road to salvation is difficult to pass over, as difficult as the sharp edge of a
is a 2005 entry in the on-going Fox Studio Classics series.
Previous films in this series to have featured Gene Tierney include The
Ghost and Mrs. Muir and Leave Her to
Heaven. The bonus features are
sparse and consist of a commentary track and some archival newsreel footage.
commentary is provided by film historians Anthony Slide and Robert Birchard.
Both commentators generally talk about the actors, their biographies, and
various trivia bits and anecdotes concerning the film’s production.
The two film historians also describe differences between the film and
the source novel. Other topics of
discussion include the various vintage songs found in the film’s score, the
processed and stock shots, and the film’s numerous luxurious sets. Oddly enough though, there are still several stretches of
silence during which neither commentator says much.
newsreel footage (3 min.), from the Fox Movietone archives, is comprised of
three short clips. The first clip
covers the honoring of Somerset Maugham's book for the Library of Congress,
another clip provides glimpses of the film's premiere, and the last clip shows a
portion of the Oscar presentations.