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The Razor's Edge (1946 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Razor's Edge
Theatrical release poster by Norman Rockwell
Directed byEdmund Goulding
Screenplay byLamar Trotti
Darryl F. Zanuck (uncredited)
Based onThe Razor's Edge
1944 novel
by W. Somerset Maugham
Produced byDarryl F. Zanuck
StarringTyrone Power
Gene Tierney
John Payne
Herbert Marshall
Anne Baxter
Clifton Webb
CinematographyArthur C. Miller
Edited byJ. Watson Webb Jr.
Music byAlfred Newman
Edmund Goulding (uncredited)
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • November 19, 1946 (1946-11-19) (Roxy Theatre)
  • December 25, 1946 (1946-12-25) (United States)
Running time
145 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.2 million
Box office$5 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)[1][2][3]

The Razor's Edge is a 1946 American drama film based on W. Somerset Maugham's 1944 novel of the same name. It stars Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney, John Payne, Anne Baxter, Clifton Webb, and Herbert Marshall, with a supporting cast including Lucile Watson, Frank Latimore, and Elsa Lanchester. Marshall plays Somerset Maugham. The film was directed by Edmund Goulding.

The Razor's Edge tells the story of Larry Darrell, an American pilot traumatized by his experiences in World War I, who sets off in search of some transcendent meaning in his life. The story begins through the eyes of Larry's friends and acquaintances as they witness his personality change after the war. His rejection of conventional life and search for meaningful experience allows him to thrive while the more materialistic characters suffer reversals of fortune.

The Razor's Edge was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Motion Picture, with Anne Baxter winning Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

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Gene Tierney and Tyrone Power in The Razor's Edge

In the film Herbert Marshall appears as W. Somerset Maugham as the story's narrator and as an important character who drifts in and out of the lives of the other major players. The opening scene is at a party in the summer of 1919 at a Chicago country club. Elliott Templeton, an expatriate who has been living in France for years, has returned to the United States for the first time since before the war to visit his sister, Louisa Bradley, and his niece, Isabel. Isabel is engaged to marry Larry Darrell, recently returned from service as a pilot during the Great War. Elliott strongly disapproves of Larry because he has no money and no interest in getting a job with a future so he can support Isabel properly. Among the party guests are Larry's childhood friend Sophie Nelson and her boyfriend, Bob MacDonald.

Larry refuses a job offer from the father of his friend Gray Maturin, a millionaire who is also hopelessly in love with Isabel. He tells her that he wants to "loaf" on his small inheritance of $3,000 a year. Larry has been traumatized by the death of a comrade who sacrificed himself on the last day of the war to save Larry. He is driven to try to find out what meaning life has, if any; he cannot do that in a stockbrokers' office or a law firm. Larry and Isabel agree to postpone their marriage for a year so that he can go to Paris to try to clear his muddled thoughts.

Elliott has plans for Larry's entrée into elite Parisian society, none of which materialize. In Paris, Larry immerses himself in the life of a student, living in a modest neighborhood, frequenting neighborhood bistros, biking through the countryside, and attending lectures at the Sorbonne. After a year, Isabel and her mother come to Paris and are met by Elliott. Elliott is surprised that Larry is there to meet them as well and Isabel's mother explains to him that Isabel wired Larry about their impending arrival. Larry can see a little more clearly now, and asks Isabel to marry him immediately. She does not understand his desire to learn, and, more significantly, cannot bear the thought of possibly spending all their lives in what she sees as poverty. She breaks their engagement. The night before she returns to Chicago she sets out to seduce Larry, planning to write later and tell him that she is pregnant, thus tricking him into marriage; but she cannot go through with it. When Elliott, who has been waiting up for her, asks why she did not go through with it, she answers that it was her "better nature." Elliott scoffs and says it was her "Middle-western horse sense" — she will forget him.

At the reception after Isabel's marriage to Gray, which will provide her with the elite social and family life she craves, Sophie and Bob MacDonald are there. They have a baby girl named Linda. Meanwhile, Larry works in a coal mine in France, where a drunk, debauched defrocked priest, Kosti, urges him travel to India to learn from a mystic. Larry studies at a monastery in the Himalayas under the tutelage of a holy man, experiencing a moment of elightenment on a mountaintop. The holy man urges Larry to go back to his people but to not lose his awareness of the infinite beauty of the world and of God. Meanwhile, back in the States, the MacDonalds are in a car crash caused by a drunk driver: Bob and the baby are killed. In the hospital, the doctor asks Gray to tell Sophie, who is distraught and must be heavily sedated.

Back in Paris, Maugham meets Elliott by chance and learns that Isabel and her family are living with Elliott after being financially ruined by the stock market crash of 1929. Gray has had a nervous breakdown and suffers from terrible headaches. Elliott "sold short" before the crash and "made a killing" in the market. Maugham arranges a lunch for Elliott and his household to meet an old friend, who turns out to be Larry. Isabel introduces Larry to her two daughters; the older is seven. It has been a long time since they last met. Larry is able to help Gray with his headaches using an Indian form of hypnotic suggestion.

Gray observes to Maugham that Larry has not aged since Chicago, and Maugham replies that India changed him: He "looks extraordinarily happy.... Calm, yet strangely aloof." Later, while slumming at a disreputable bar in the Rue de Lappe, they encounter Sophie, now a drunkard and drug user, and her abusive pimp. Isabel is revolted, Gray horrified, and Larry friendly and calm. In the taxi, Larry, who did not know about the tragedy, asks what happened, and they tell him. Isabel says they had to "drop" Sophie eventually because of her bad behavior, and insists there was always something wrong with her, deep inside, or she would not have been so weak. Larry disagrees, recalling Sophie as an innocent young girl, and Isabel is plainly jealous. The Maturins join Elliott at the spa at Vittel for a few weeks. When they return, Isabel phones Larry at his hotel repeatedly. When she finally reaches him, he tells Isabel that he has seen a lot of Sophie and that she has stopped drinking and they are going to be married. The news drives Isabel wild and she summons Maugham; she wants him to intervene. He refuses, reminding her of what Larry did for Gray, but she insists that Sophie is bad through and through and does not want to be helped. Maugham replies that drinking is not necessarily bad. He calls people bad who lie and cheat and are unkind. He tells her that Larry is in the grip of self-sacrifice and suggests that if she does not want to lose him altogether she should be nice to Sophie. So she asks Maugham to invite them all to lunch the next day, at the Ritz.

After lunch, they have coffee in the lobby. Sophie and Larry decline liqueurs, and Elliott bemoans the fact that his doctor forbids alcohol. The waiter convinces Elliott that a little Persovka can do no harm, and Elliott waxes poetic: drinking it is "like listening to music by moonlight." Isabel samples it, somewhat dramatically, and agrees, asking for some to be sent to the apartment. Maugham watches Sophie's reaction. Isabel wants to give Sophie a wedding dress that she saw in Molyneux's, and laughingly tells Larry he cannot come to the fitting — no husbands allowed. Isabel and Sophie arrange to meet at the apartment the next afternoon.

In the apartment, after the fitting, Isabel and Sophie have had non-alcoholic drinks. At last, they talk honestly — at least Sophie does. She has not had a drink since that night in the Rue de Lappe — clearly Larry went back for her immediately after he left the others. She admits what a struggle it is and says that she realizes that this is her last chance. She knew that Isabel was watching her at the Ritz. Isabel pours herself some Persovka and again praises it. She shows Sophie pictures of her children, which stirs memories of Linda. Then she asks Sophie to wait while she picks up her daughter from the dentist. They can talk more when she comes back. The butler removes the drinks tray; Isabel stares at the bottle of Persovka on the side table and then walks out. After a while, Sophie takes multiple drinks.

Larry scours the bars and dives, following the trail of a woman demanding Persovka, until he tracks Sophie to an opium den. Sophie runs away, screaming, and disappears. Larry is beaten and thrown into the street; his last attempt to save his childhood companion from her depravity and despair has proved fruitless. A year later, Sophie is murdered in Toulon, and her death reunites Larry and Maugham during the police investigation.

Maugham and Larry visit Elliott on his deathbed in Nice. Maugham takes on the delicate task of asking Elliott if he is ready for the last rites. Elliott is in tears because he has not received an invitation for an important masked ball hosted by Princess Edna Novemali, princess-by-marriage, an American from Milwaukee whom Elliott helped when she first entered European society and who now treats him with contempt. Isabel and Gray arrive just as Larry leaves the house on a mission of mercy. Elliott tells Gray that he will now have enough money to pay off his father's debts and rebuild the business.

Larry persuades Miss Keith, the Princess's social secretary, to allow him to take a blank invitation to counterfeit one for Elliott and give him peace of mind. Elliott is hugely gratified when the Bishop himself comes to perform the last rites. Then an urgent message arrives — the invitation. Elliott's last act is to dictate a proper reply. He regrets he cannot attend "owing to a previous engagement with his Blessed Lord," and adds, "The old witch."

Immediately after Elliott's death, Isabel learns that Larry is leaving that night. He plans to work his way back to America aboard a tramp steamer. He tells her he may end up buying a taxi. She has already told Maugham that she plans on seeing as much of Larry as possible when she and Gray return to the States. Now she tells Larry that Gray needs him to help with the business, and as moral support. She reveals that Gray was suicidal at one point. Larry reassures her: Gray has got a second chance, as he himself had. He talks to her about his quest, but Isabel can only pour out her love and her regret that she did not marry him and stop him before he began it. She throws her arms around him and tells him she loves him and, she says, she knows he feels the same. She begs him to come home and be with her, then pulls back when he does not respond. Larry calmly says, "Tell me about Sophie," and under his questioning Isabel first lies but then admits to tempting Sophie deliberately. She is full of self-righteous anger and justification, claiming that she did it to save Larry and as a test of Sophie's strength. Then Larry says, quietly, "That's pretty much what I thought. Sophie is dead...murdered." A stunned Isabel asks, "Do they know who did it?" Larry replies, "No, but I do." The camera remains on Larry, so Isabel's face is not seen, obscuring whether Larry's response registers with her at all. He immediately tells Isabel that there is no need to be shocked about Sophie, that all day he has had the feeling that Sophie is where she wanted to be, with her husband and child. Gently and with compassion in his voice and face, he says "Good-bye Isabel. Take good care of Gray. He needs you now more than ever." He walks away, his footsteps echoing on the hallway's marble floor.

A reeling Isabel tells Maugham, "I've lost him for good. ... Do you suppose we'll ever see him again?" Maugham replies that her America will be as remote from Larry's as the Gobi Desert. She still does not understand what Larry wants. Maugham tells her that Larry has found what most people want and never get. "I don't think anyone can fail to be better and nobler, kinder for knowing him. You see my dear, goodness is after all the greatest force in the world, and he's got it." Isabel turns to look out the window at the Mediterranean. Larry, on the deck of a storm-tossed ship, hoists cargo in the rain.


Production history

20th Century Fox purchased the film rights from Maugham in March 1945 for $50,000 plus 20% of the film's net profits. The contract stipulated that Maugham would receive an additional $50,000 if the film did not start shooting by February 2, 1946. In August 1945, producer Darryl F. Zanuck had the second unit begin shooting in the mountains around Denver, Colorado, which were to portray the Himalayas in the film. The stars had not yet been cast; Larry Darrell was played by a stand-in and was filmed in extreme long shot. Zanuck wanted Tyrone Power to star and delayed casting until Power finished his service in the Marines in January 1946.

Zanuck originally hired George Cukor to direct, but creative differences led to Cukor's removal. Although Maugham wanted his friend (whom he had in mind when he created the character) Gene Tierney for Isabel,[4] Zanuck chose Maureen O'Hara but told her not to tell anyone. As O'Hara recounted in her autobiography, she shared the secret with Linda Darnell, but Zanuck found out, fired O'Hara, and hired Tierney. Betty Grable and Judy Garland were originally considered for the role of Sophie before Baxter was cast. Maugham wrote an early draft of the screenplay but not one word of his version was used in the final script, and as a result Maugham declined Zanuck's request to write a sequel, and never worked in Hollywood again.[5]


On November 19, 1946, the film had its New York premiere at the Roxy Theatre in Manhattan. Motion Picture Herald described it as New York's "largest and most star-studded motion picture premiere since the war" with crowds of onlookers causing a traffic-blocking jam on 50th Street and Seventh Avenue. The premiere was screened to a capacity audience of 5,886 featuring "screen, stage and radio stars, UN delegates, New York society, top-flight film executives and out of-fown film critics."[6][7] The opening at Roxy grossed $165,000 in its first week, surpassing the previous Roxy record set by The Cock-Eyed World in 1929 which grossed $160,000.[8] An extensive advertising campaign had been launched to promote the film's premiere, which Motion Picture Herald dubbed "impressive in scope, even for so blasé a city as New York." Twentieth Century Fox's advertising director Charles Schlaifer helmed the campaign, organizing expansive outdoor billboards, posters on transportation lines, window displays and electric signs — alongside a sweeping newspaper and radio campaign. The publication further noted: "One was continuously conscious of promotion over the airwaves every time the radio was turned on."[9]

The film was released wide by Twentieth Century Fox on December 25, 1946, in 300 locations across the United States.[8][10]


New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther panned The Razor's Edge, complaining of its inability to explain the protagonist's spiritual awakening, and of "glib but vacuous dialogue" that hamstrung the actors, shortcomings he blamed on the limitations of the underlying Maugham story, which, said Crowther, was "a vague and uncertain encroachment upon a mystical moral realm, more emotional than intellectual."[6]

Awards and nominations

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[11] Best Motion Picture Darryl F. Zanuck (for 20th Century Fox) Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Clifton Webb Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Anne Baxter Won
Best Art Direction – Black-and-White Richard Day, Nathan Juran, Thomas Little and Paul S. Fox Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Clifton Webb Won
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Anne Baxter Won

See also


  1. ^ "All Time Domestic Champs", Variety, January 6, 1960, p 34
  2. ^ "Top Grossers of 1947", Variety, 7 January 1948 p 63
  3. ^ Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century-Fox: A Corporate and Financial History Rowman & Littlefield, 2002 p 221
  4. ^ Tierney and Herskowitz (1978) Wyden Books,Self- Portrait p.177
  5. ^ "Sri Ramana Maharshi and Somerset Maugham". Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  6. ^ a b Crowther, Bosley (November 20, 1946). "'Razor's Edge,' Fox Film Based on Maugham Novel, Opens at Roxy". The New York Times. Retrieved August 13, 2023.
  7. ^ "Lights and Stars Launch "Razor's Edge"". Motion Picture Herald. November 23, 1946. p. 12.
  8. ^ a b ""Razor's Edge" To Open in 300 Cities Christmas". Motion Picture Herald. November 30, 1946. p. 98.
  9. ^ "Whetting "The Razor"". Motion Picture Herald. November 23, 1946. p. 62.
  10. ^ Ramsaye, Terry (November 23, 1946). "The Razor's Edge: Twentieth Century-Fox — Love, tragedy and faith". Motion Picture Herald. p. 18. Now running pre-release at the Roxy, New York, general release set for Christmas Day. Running time, 146 minutes. PCA No. 11,498. Adult audience classification.
  11. ^ "The Razor's Edge". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on February 7, 2014. Retrieved February 7, 2014.

External links

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