Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

USA 1946
Directed by
Edmund Goulding.
146 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Razor's Edge, The

I’m not at all clear why The Razor’s Edge is as highly regarded as it is for although it was a hit in its day and there are some solid aspects to it, it is essentially a florid melodrama that at times approaches the laughable.

Tyrone Power, returning to the screen after several years' service with the Marines in World War II, plays a soul-searching World War I vet, Larry Darrell, who finds it impossible to return to his old life amongst the smart set of Chicago and in particular his fiancé, society deb, Isabel Bradley (Gene Tierney).  He boots off to Paris à la Hemingway’s Lost Generation and she marries for money. The years roll on and he goes to India, returns to America, tries to save an old friend (Anne Baxter) in dire straits by marrying her but Isabel destroys his plans.  Meanwhile W.Somerset Maugham (Herbert Marshall.) acts as facilitator and narrator and Clifton Webb plays an arch snob, Elliott Templeton.  

As is explained in the key Indian (well, Hollywood sound stage made to look Greco-Indian) section, the “razor’s edge” is a metaphor for the narrow path that we all walk upon on the road to self-discovery. I haven’t read Maugham’s novel of the same name but judging by screenwriter Lamar Trotti’s adaptation, it is a carefully constructed moral fable about the human condition which follows the fortunes of a small group of characters over a ten year period and shows them at their best and worst. Transposed to the screen,even with a two-and-half hour running time, the strokes seem a little broader and more contrived.

Veteran journeyman writer and director, Edmund Goulding who had previously directed another Maugham’s novel Of Human Bondage, released the same year, tackles the project with panache despite some god-awfully tacky sets but at times, such as Power’s  mountain top speech, the Perzovaka scene between Tierney and Baxter, Webb’s death-bed scene, his directing is wildly indulgent and often the dialogue is so contrived that it sounds as if it was written by Noel Coward.  (George Cukor was originally assigned to direct, but was fired because producer Darryl F. Zanuck did not like his more matter-of-fact interpretation of the novel).

The biggest problem however is in Tierney’s performance. Isabel is a classic manipulating woman in love, the sort of character of which a Davis or Stanwyck would have made a meal.  Tierney is simply not in that class. She’s very good at playing vapidly pretty but not using that to mask calculation or desperation.  On the other hand Power has an easy job of it as the idealistic Larry, and Webb (reprising and upping the ante on his role in Laura in which Tierney also starred) is amusing as the chronic poseur, Uncle Elliott. Baxter won an Supporting Actress Oscar for a performance which by today's standards is very unconvincing.

In hindsight the film is interesting as a very early pre-echo of the 1960s rejection of materialism and turning to Eastern religion for answers to the big questions, not that this makes it in itself any better a film.

FYI: The film was remade in 1984 with Bill Murray in the Tyrone Power role. 




Want something different?

random vintage best worst