THE RAZOR'S EDGE (1946) C 145m dir: Edmund Goulding

w/Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney, John Payne, Anne Baxter, Clifton Webb, Herbert Marshall, Lucile Watson, Frank Latimore, Elsa Lanchester, Fritz Kortner, Cecil Humphreys, John Wengraf

From the Turner Classic Movies website, this article about the film by Greg Ferrara: "W. Somerset Maugham published The Razor's Edge in 1944 as the world was embroiled in World War II. The film version was made and released shortly after the war had ended and hit home for the countless men and women recovering from it. The main character, Larry Darrell, is a veteran himself, returning from The Great War (World War I) with the knowledge that he is only alive because a comrade in arms gave his life to save him. Although grateful, Larry now feels life is meaningless and cannot convince himself to engage in any of the respectable notions of work and responsibility the world offers. Weighed down by the idea that he is 'walking in another man's shoes,' Larry asks the question that every survivor of World War II probably asked at the time, 'Why am I alive while others are dead?'

"The Razor's Edge asked questions that spoke to a period in history unlike any other and in the process, embraced Eastern philosophies that would not gain widespread acceptance for decades. The idea of going to the Himalayas and submersing oneself in the meditative teachings of the local philosophies was an extension of the Shangri-La story introduced by James Hilton in Lost Horizon over a decade earlier. In that one, the location was in the east but the philosophy, as espoused by a centuries-old missionary, was decidedly western and Christian. In The Razor's Edge, the philosophy leaves western ideologies behind and embraces non-consumerism, solitude and enlightenment. In 1946, these were ideas in which a world returning from war could find fascination.

"Casting screen idol Tyrone Power in the lead role of Larry Darrell was a feat of casting finesse. Power's stoic acting style works perfectly with the screenplay's arch didacticism. Around the same time, the film version of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead (1949) would also offer a screenplay that acted more as a conduit for the author's philosophies than anyone's idea of how people really speak. Given the unfortunate task of reciting the philosophies of the book as dialogue, it's probably not surprising that Power wasn't nominated for Best Actor but his co-stars were allowed more freedom to play their characters as real people and not didactic mouthpieces for the author. Both Clifton Webb and Anne Baxter were nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Actress, respectively, with Baxter winning.

"Anne Baxter plays the role of Sophie, childhood friend of Larry, who loses her husband and child in a tragic auto accident. Her swings from happy to despondent to resigned to the life of a wandering alcoholic are expertly played and the power of Baxter's performance gives the film an emotional punch that hits the audience hard.

"Clifton Webb is simply superb as the snooty uncle Elliott, a character that not only entertains but also elicits sympathy by the end despite his selfish veneer. He also introduces the characters to W. Somerset Maugham himself, played by Herbert Marshall, who wanders throughout the film, as he does in the book, intrigued by Larry and his search for enlightenment.

"Even though Gene Tierney turns in one of her best performances in The Razor's Edge, she didn't receive a Best Actress Academy Award nomination. Instead, the film was nominated for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress (won) and Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration - Black and White. Its director, Edmund Goulding, was not nominated. Despite having one of the most distinguished careers in Hollywood history (Grand Hotel [1932], Dark Victory [1939], The Constant Nymph [1943], Nightmare Alley [1947]), Goulding was never nominated for Best Director. The Razor's Edge stands as one of his finest works.

"Although Alfred Newman was the music composer for The Razor's Edge, director Edmund Goulding was a musician himself and penned two songs for the film, one for Isabel (Isabel's Waltz) and one for Sophie (Sophie's Theme). It was Sophie's Theme, under the alternate title Mam'selle that became a hit, topping the charts as reported by the radio show Your Hit Parade. In fact, it was the top song on the radio the week that The Razor's Edge opened at The Roxy in New York City. It was later covered by a wealth of talent, including Dick Haymes, Frankie Laine and Frank Sinatra. The song's refrain closes with the lines:
'And yet I know too well/Some day you'll say goodbye/Then violins will cry/and so will I mam'selle'

"The Razor's Edge's biggest impact on popular culture came from the vague journey of Larry Darrell to 'find' himself. Using the terminology 'finding yourself' as shorthand for self-reflection became popularized after the film hit big at the box office in 1946-47. Though the Transcendentalists had already illuminated such ideas to the world long before, it was The Razor's Edge that boiled it down to something easy for the layman to follow.

"Although Maugham's novel was poorly received at the time by critics, it was a commercial smash and along with the movie version, and predated the Beat movement by years. By the time of Maugham's death in 1965, traveling to the East to find oneself had become an accepted and popular journey made by thousands of enlightenment seekers around the world.

"The Razor's Edge proved popular enough that a radio version was produced in 1948 by Lux Radio Theatre with Ida Lupino and Mark Stevens.

"W. Somerset Maugham claimed that the characters in The Razor's Edge were real and the events had occurred (with the names of the real people changed); he had also written the same story three times before starting in 1901 with The Hero. This was followed by a play with roughly the same story entitled Unknown in 1920 and, finally, in 1924, another play, The Road Uphill which mirrors the plot of the later The Razor's Edge almost point by point. It is thus surmised that if the basis for Larry Darrell was a real person, Maugham met him in the thirties and then used the template from these three previous to work a story around him.

"As noted in the pop culture notes for The Razor's Edge, Edmund Goulding wasn't the only person on the set writing songs during the making of the film. Lucile Watson, playing Louisa Bradley in the film, wrote a parody song about Edmund Goulding himself that Clifton Webb delighted in. Clearly, like Webb, Watson wasn't particularly fond of Goulding's directing style in which he asked to "be the person" he was giving direction to so he could "show them" what he meant. The opening lyric:
'May I be you? Thanks, chum!/Look, I'm Gene. See, here I come...The music plays... Tum-tum, tum-tum/I'm very beautiful... Look, here I go...(This is not acting, it is just to show).'

"When Otto Preminger cast Broadway actor Clifton Webb in Laura (1944), Fox studio chief Darryl Zanuck objected but soon afterwards became close friends with Webb and signed him to a contract for more films. When Webb lost Best Supporting Actor to Harold Russell for The Best Years of Our Lives, Zanuck sent a wire to Webb (who couldn't attend the Oscar® ceremony because he was on Broadway performing Noel Coward's Present Laughter); the producer stated that it was 'unfortunate that you were up against a popular military figure' and that it went without saying that Webb had given 'the finest performance of the year.' Virginia Zanuck wired him, too, and echoed the sentiment, 'Well, anyway, honey, you were not in The Best Years, but you gave the best performance of the year.'

"Darryl Zanuck wanted Gene Tierney because he believed she would win Best Actress for Leave Her to Heaven (1945) and wanted to have the most recent Oscar® winner for his lead actress. The casting (and start of shooting) came before the Academy Awards ceremony and, unfortunately, though nominated, Tierney lost to Joan Crawford for Mildred Pierce.

"Maugham's book and the 1946 movie inadvertently gave birth to the 1984 blockbuster, Ghostbusters. Bill Murray was a fan of both the book and movie versions of The Razor's Edge and began to write a screenplay for it in which he could star. Meanwhile, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis couldn't get any big stars to commit to their screenplay, Ghostbusters. As no one would finance another version of The Razor's Edge, Bill Murray made a deal with Columbia Pictures that he would do Ghostbusters only if the studio financed the remake of The Razor's Edge, which they did.

"For the scenes of Larry and Isabel hitting the town in Paris on their last night together before she goes back to Chicago to marry Gray, Tyrone Power asked the props crew to provide real champagne for all their scenes. Since they had no dialogue to flub, Power figured it would make the scene feel more relaxed and fun to shoot. Gene Tierney agreed, saying, 'The scene had a special glow that came out of our champagne glasses.' ...

"W. Somerset Maugham published The Razor's Edge in 1944 as an account, he claimed, of his association with an extraordinary American man who had come back from World War I with doubts about himself and the meaning of life. Pursuing enlightenment through eastern philosophy and eschewing materialism was something new to most people in the western world. Even the Transcendentalists had favored a western, Germanic philosophy and the works of authors like Herman Hesse wouldn't reach American shores until after Maugham's tome had captured the world's attention. Hesse's seminal Siddhartha, for instance, was written in 1922 but wouldn't be published in the states until 1951. Yet, as World War II came to a close, the interest in The Razor's Edge grew tremendously. Darryl Zanuck wrote in a memo at Fox (quoted from Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck: The Golden Years at Twentieth Century-Fox by Rudy Behlmer):

"'There must be a reason why the American public at this moment is reading this book more than it is reading any other book. The answer, I think, is simple: Millions of people today are searching for contentment and peace in the same manner that Larry searches in the book.'

"In 1945, Zanuck bought the rights to the novel for Twentieth Century Fox under a variety of provisos. First, Maugham would receive an upfront payment of $50,000 and a whopping 20 percent of the net profits from the film. Maugham had one other condition that addressed the fact that studios often bought the rights to works only to let them sit on the shelves. Often, the primary reason for buying the rights to a novel was simply to keep another studio from making the film until the purchasing studio could figure out who to hire for the cast and crew. Maugham wanted the film made and stipulated in his contract that if principal photography was not underway by February 2, 1946, he would receive another $50,000.

"The good news was that Zanuck really wanted to make The Razor's Edge, not just horde the rights. The bad news was that Zanuck wanted Tyrone Power to play the lead. This was a problem because Power was still enlisted for military service and wouldn't be discharged until early 1946, possibly after the February 2nd deadline. To solve this problem, Zanuck had location shooting begin in August, 1945 in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. A stand-in, shot in extreme long shot, was used for Power during these shoots.

"Zanuck commissioned Lamar Trotti to write the screenplay and wrote additional scenes himself. When he got the director he wanted, George Cukor, he asked him to look over the script for approval. Cukor didn't like it. He told Zanuck they should get Maugham himself to write the script, something the Fox mogul had already thought of and resisted thinking the monetary demands would be too high. This wasn't a problem as Cukor was a friend of Maugham's and the author consented to do it for free.

"Maugham set up shop at Cukor's villa in California and busily began to write a new screenplay, working from Trotti's as a template. He was not only pleased with his script but began it with a personal message to the actors who would be playing it, imploring them to read through their lines as real people do; interrupting each other as they would 'in ordinary life.' He wrote that he was 'all against pauses and silences' and that if an actor couldn't convey the gravity of what they spoke without dramatic pauses, they weren't 'worth their salaries.' In the end, he implored, 'Speed, speed, speed.'

"Zanuck told both Maugham and Cukor that he liked the new screenplay but privately felt it relied too much on detailed explanation rather than action. Zanuck had gone into detail during the script conference that produced the Trotti screenplay about what he did and didn't want for The Razor's Edge. He felt Larry was going on about religion too much and wanted the audience to 'write its own answers' to the questions of life posed by Larry. He didn't want to change the story, he just wanted Larry to be 'less articulate about it.'

"The wait for Powers' discharge from the Marines took longer than expected and by the time he returned in early 1946, George Cukor, who had been borrowed from MGM within a very specific time frame, was off to shoot another picture, Desire Me (1947). With Cukor off the picture, Zanuck no longer felt obligated to go with Maugham's screenplay and, since Maugham had done it for free, there was no contract to break. He went back to Trotti's script and that was the one used for the production. Nonetheless, Zanuck didn't want to burn a bridge and offered to make up for Maugham's time writing the script by allowing him to purchase any painting he wanted from any dealer, up to $15,000. Sources differ as to whether Maugham purchased a Matisse or a Monet but, either way, he was happy for the gift. The world would never know what a Maugham scripted, Cukor directed Razor's Edge would look like and the final product that Zanuck produced, with new director Edmund Goulding on hand, was good enough that most people never asked. ...

"Edmund Goulding was a director actors either loved or hated. He had a habit of asking to 'be' the actor to get what he wanted. In her autobiography, Self-Portrait, Gene Tierney relates exactly how Goulding did it: 'When he wanted to describe to you how a particular scene should be played, he would step in front of the camera and say, "May I be you?" Then he would promptly act out the entire scene.'

"Tierney found it delightful and even wrote, 'I don't recall a set where there was more cheerfulness.' Others, like Clifton Webb, adamantly disagreed, remarking, 'He had everybody entranced but me, and I'm afraid I remained cold to this type of thing to the very end.'

"The Razor's Edge was to be Tyrone Power's first movie after returning from service overseas and Power was thrilled to be working on such a prestige production with such a great cast. He especially got along well with director Goulding. He later remarked that Goulding was his personal favorite even after Goulding made a strange request of him on the set. To capture the essence and mindset of Larry Darrell, the film's protagonist, Goulding asked Power not to have sexual relations until after the scenes with the Yogi in the east had been shot. Power happily agreed and later said, 'I know by personal experience that in nothing are the wise men of India more dead right than in their contention that chastity intensely enhances the power of the spirit.' Later, when Power found out Goulding asked this of all his leading men as a way of achieving a certain look, he broke into laughter.

"Power got along well with Gene Tierney too. In the movie, Tierney's character falls for Power's character but on the set, it was Power who fell for Tierney. As soon as this was noticed, rumors began to fly that the two were romantically involved in real life. After the premier, Power brought her a scarf with the word "Love" embroidered on it as a gift and she had to tell him she was seeing John Kennedy, one of the sons of Joseph Kennedy, still years away from his political victories in the U.S. Senate and the Presidency. Power understood and made no more advances. Tierney's own husband, Oleg Cassini, was working on the movie too, designing her dresses but the two had already decided to divorce and there was no tension between them at any point during the shoot.

"Anne Baxter had to leave the set of The Razor's Edge for several weeks and when she returned found she felt like an outsider, everyone else having developed working relationships in her absence. She liked this and used it, since her character Sophie is also on the outs and not able to cope with the loss of her husband and child. Whatever she did, it worked. Baxter would be the only person involved with the film to walk away from it with an Oscar®.

"Of course, most people in the community felt Clifton Webb should have won one too but had the bad luck to run up against Harold Russell, a real-life war veteran amputee who took home Best Supporting Actor for The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).

"After principal shooting, Darryl Zanuck took over, instructing editor J. Watson Webb on what to cut and how to cut it. The Fox mogul took control of post-production like few producers today and directors working with him understood, implicitly, that once the principal photography was done, the movie was out of their hands. It wasn't a bad deal, as Zanuck had a good feel for pacing and the final result, coming in at almost two and half hours, moves along at an easy pace. It wasn't the Oscar® hit Zanuck wanted, but it was a box office success all the same, with almost everyone who worked on it, even Clifton Webb, expressing delight with their experience. ...

"The Razor's Edge was nominated for Best Picture for the year 1946 but lost out to the excellent post-war drama, The Best Years of Our Lives. It also received nominations for Best Art Direction, Best Supporting Actor (Clifton Webb) and Best Supporting Actress (Anne Baxter), for which Miss Baxter won. Webb was expected to win but a real-life war vet and amputee took home a Special Achievement Oscar® as well as the competitive award for Supporting Actor. Both Mr. and Mrs. Darryl Zanuck sent telegrams to Webb expressing their belief that Webb deserved to win.

"Both Clifton Webb and Anne Baxter took home The Golden Globes for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress for their superb performances.

"The Critics' Corner on THE RAZOR'S EDGE

"'There is an impressive scuttling of screen cliche in The Razor's Edge. The adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's novel which has opened with considerable fanfare at the Roxy, has far more integrity than the tub-thumping might suggest. Edmund Goulding has staged the work as a restrained and frequently fascinating study in character, which is all that the book offered...The virtues of The Razor's Edge are solid. Its faults stem directly from a long-winded literary original.' He further added, 'If the players are still at the threshold of a significant drama at the final curtain, it is because Maugham never made their encounters more than fugitively compelling.' He concludes, 'What matters most is that The Razor's Edge has had the audacity to philosophize. Here is a movie which goes behind the obvious boy-meet-girl formula to assay the fundamental appetites of mankind.' - Howard Barnes, New York Herald Tribune, November 1946.

"'It has everything for virtually every type of film fan... It's a moving picture that moves...The casting is superb. Power is thoroughly believable as the youth who finally learns aloft a rugged Himalayan peak what he's always sought; that "the path to salvation is as hard to travel as the sharp edge of a razor" but having found "God's beauty....fresh and vivid to the day of our death" he is prime to return to his homeland...For all its pseudo-ritualistic aura the film is fundamentally a solid love story. Miss Tierney is the almost irresistibly appealing [female lead] and completely depicts all the beauty and charm endowed her by Maugham's characterization. Miss Baxter walks off with perhaps the films' personal bit as the dipso, rivaled only by Webb's effete characterization... This is a personal Darryl F. Zanuck production and he has given it the gun in every detail. Not the least of it is Alfred Newman's fine score and excellent lensing... Sumptuously mounted and capably administered by director Goulding, the film lives up to one of the industry's best pre-sold products.' - Variety, November 1946

"Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wasn't as pleased as The Herald and Variety. He wrote, 'In an earnest, expensive endeavor to put upon the screen the tenuous drama and morality of Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge, Twentieth Century-Fox has concocted a long and elaborate film in which the grasp for some shining revelation of spiritual quality exceeds its reach. It has aimed for a lofty exhibition of goodness within the soul of man and has shown little more than surface piety in this new film which opened at the Roxy last night,' and, just as Howard Barnes did, he laid most of the blame at W. Somerset Maugham's feet, 'And that is because the story which Mr. Maugham wrote-and which has been followed with essential fidelity by Lamar Trotti in the screen play-is a vague and uncertain encroachment upon a mystical moral realm, more emotional than intellectual, more talked about than pursued... the details of demonstration, while as worldly and showy as the book's, lack the clear and incisive quality that would make them seem visible of truths. They are richly, exquisitely theatrical in the very best style of Hollywood, but they carry no cachet of humanity, no insight into abstract ecstasies.' Still, he found much to praise as well, writing, 'Clifton Webb is crisply amusing and almost destructive in spots as a titanic snob and social tyrant... For all its shortcomings however, there is no doubt that The Razor's Edge will appeal to a great many people who are sentimentally inclined to its vague philosophy. And the unctuousness of its expression will take care of a lot of vagrant hopes. Also-and this is important-it returns Mr. Power to the screen in a role of a modern evangelist. Goodness is back and Mr. Power has got it.' - Bosley Crowther, The New York Times, November 1946

"'Clifton Webb does a memorable high-camp number as an expatriate snob.' - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies

"'Slick adaptation of Maugham's philosophical novel...Elsa Lanchester sparkling in bit as social secretary...Long but engrossing.' - Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide

"'With thousands of extras and generous French dialogue, rare for Hollywood, the scenes of "Lost Generation" Paris boast beaucoup de vrit. (Alas, Zanuck cut corners on Himalayan scenes, with low-cost horizons.) Power stretches himself as a man in turmoil who forsakes wealth and joins the proletariat, while Tierney plays a variation on Scarlett O'Hara as the scheming ex-fiance who wants him back. Long but seldom flat, the film is terrifically acted, especially by Clifton Webb as a prissy snob who notes, "I do not like the propinquity of the hoi polloi."' - Entertainment Weekly"