Cast & Crew
British novelist W. Somerset Maugham recalls the time in 1919 when he first he met Larry Darrell, "a remarkable creature," during a dinner party at a Chicago country club hosted by the snobbish Elliott Templeton and his supercilious sister, Louisa Bradley: Louisa is distraught because her elegant daughter Isabel is engaged to Larry, a man who lacks money, prospects and ambition. Louisa would much prefer that Isabel marry Gray Maturin, the son of a wealthy stockbroker. At the party, Maugham also meets Sophie, Isabel's simple childhood friend who is wearing a borrowed gown. Larry arrives late, and when Isabel questions him about turning down a lucrative position with the Maturins, Larry responds that his goal in life is "to loaf." Isabel, who has been indoctrinated with the glories of American expansionism and the idea that self respect is derived through hard work, listens with incredulity as Larry states that there are more important goals in life than making money. Larry explains that his outlook has been shaped by a profoundly moving wartime experience in which his close friend sacrificed his own life so that Larry might live. With this second chance, Larry has decided to search for the meaning of life. After Larry completes his story, Isabel offers to postpone their wedding for one year so that he can find himself. Larry then sails to Paris, and some months later, Isabel visits him there. Appalled by Larry's modest living conditions, Isabel, who craves status and wealth, breaks off their engagement. On her last evening in Paris, though, Isabel invites Larry to dinner with the intent of seducing him and thus forcing him into abandoning his pursuit of knowledge for a prosaic married life. At the last minute, however, she is unable to go through with her plan and asks him to leave. Isabel then returns to Chicago and marries Gray, and Maugham meets them once again at their wedding. Also attending the ceremony is Sophie, who has married Bob MacDonald and given birth to a daughter. In Paris, meanwhile, Larry is laboring in the coal mines when he meets Kostis, a cynical defrocked priest who has lost his faith. When Kostis tells Larry of a saint-like man who dwells In India, Larry decides to journey to India and seek guidance from him. In India, the holy man counsels Larry that the road to salvation is as difficult to pass over as the sharp edge of a razor. In Chicago, meanwhile, Sophie's husband and baby perish in a car wreck, leaving Sophie bereft and hysterical. After Larry completes his studies, the holy man sends him to the top of the mountain to reflect in solitude. Some time later, the holy man visits, and Larry recounts experiencing an epiphany in which he finally became one with God. The holy man then declares that Larry is ready to return to the world and assures him that his vision will remain with him until the day he dies. Years later, Elliott encounters Maugham in a Parisian haberdashery and Elliott informs him that he has moved to the Riveria and lent his Paris apartment to Isabel and Gray, who has suffered a nervous breakdown after losing his family fortune in the 1929 stock market crash. Maugham then meets Larry, who has just returned from India, and over lunch, recounts Gray's misfortune. Unsettled by the news, Larry decides to visit Isabel, who is filled with self pity, even though she is surrounded by borrowed luxury. After Larry uses hypnosis to cure Gray's blinding headaches, Maugham invites them all to dinner. Later, Isabel insists on visiting a cheap nightclub on the Rue de Lappe and there they meet a drunk and degraded Sophie. Unsympathetic, Isabel blames Sophie's condition on her weak nature, but Larry disagrees and recalls a loving purity and innocence in Sophie. Soon after, Gray and Isabel leave for the Riviera, and when they return, Larry informs Isabel that Sophie has stopped drinking and they plan to marry. Furious, Isabel summons Maugham and asks him to dissuade Larry from the marriage. After chiding Isabel for renouncing Larry for her love of riches, Maugham suggests that Larry is sacrificing himself to save Sophie and advises Isabel to be nice to her. At Isabel's request, Maugham invites them all to lunch at the Ritz, and there, Isabel deliberately lavishes praise on a rare liquor, thus tempting Sophie, who has foresaken alcohol for Larry. Using the pretext of taking Sophie shopping for a wedding dress, Isabel invites her to the apartment the next day. There, Isabel shows Sophie a photograph of her daughter, thus rekindling painful memories of her own lost little girl. Excusing herself to run an errand, Isabel leaves Sophie alone with an enticing bottle of liquor. Succumbing to temptation, Sophie drains the bottle and disappears. In search of the missing Sophie, Larry visits the dives of Paris and when he finally locates her in an Arabic bar, she runs away. Nearly a year later, the police notify Maugham that Sophie has been brutally murdered in Toulon. At the Toulon police station, Maugham meets Larry, who has come to identify her body. From Sophie's sordid room, Larry retrieves a photograph of her husband and daughter and a book of poetry by Keats and asks that they be buried with her. Maugham, who is on the way to Nice to visit the gravely ill Elliott, asks Larry to join him. In the dying man's room, they find Elliott sniveling in self pity because he has not been invited to a fashionable party hosted by a princess. Touched by Elliott's distress, Larry convinces the princess' secretary, an old friend of his, to allow him to take an invitation to the party. When Isabel and Gray arrive to visit their dying uncle, Elliott informs them that he has willed them his entire fortune. The invitation to the party is then delivered, and Elliott dies while dictating his regrets. When Isabel learns that Larry intends to return to America to become a taxi driver or factory worker, she embraces him and confides that she still loves him and regrets marrying Gray. Larry does not return Isabel's ardor however, and instead accuses her of deliberately enticing Sophie to drink. After Isabel self-righteously admits that she tempted Sophie in order to prevent their marriage, Larry informs her that Sophie is dead, but has found peace with her husband and daughter. As Larry leaves, Isabel now knows she has lost him forever. Maugham then concludes that Larry has finally found what he sought, goodness-the greatest force in the world.
Cobina Wright Sr.
Jean De Briac
Adele St. Maur
Ray De Ravenne
Jean Del Val
Dr. Ross Thompson
Dr. Gerald Echeverria
Paul De Corday
Dr. Paul Singh
Henri De Soto
Gene De Liere
Arthur Little Jr.
Betty Lou Volder
Marcel De La Brosse
Eve Lyne Bennett
Major Fred Farrell
Henri G. De Soto
Paul S. Fox
R. A. Klune
Lal Chand Mehra
Lady Elsie Mendl
Dr. Paul Singh
J. Watson Webb Jr.
Darryl F. Zanuck
Darryl F. Zanuck
Best Supporting Actress
Best Art Direction
Best Supporting Actor
The Essentials - The Razor's Edge
At a swank Chicago, Illinois country club party in 1919, novelist W. Somerset Maugham is introduced to Larry Darrell, a returning veteran of The Great War. Maugham is fascinated by Darrell and, through narration, relates his story. Darrell tells fiancée Isabel Bradley that life has lost its meaning for him after a comrade sacrificed his life for Larry's on the last day of the war. He wants to go to Europe and clear his thoughts before committing to a marriage with her. Isabel's uncle, Elliott Templeton, who greatly dislikes Larry, tells her to call off the marriage but she pledges to wait for him. Also at the party is Larry's childhood friend, Sophie, newly married with a daughter. Larry leaves for Europe and after a year, Isabel visits Larry in Paris but when he asks her to immediately marry him and live off of his small inheritance, she refuses. Isabel tells Larry she can't give up the social strata to which she has grown accustomed and, after returning to Chicago, marries Larry's friend, Gray Maturin, instead. Years later, Larry takes work in a coalmine and eventually takes the advice of a fellow coalminer and ex-priest who tells him to travel to India to find himself. Meanwhile, Isabel and Gray have lost their fortune in the stock market crash of 1929 and, tragically, Sophie has lost both her husband and daughter in a car accident. When Larry finds the peace he's been seeking, he returns to the world of his past but the relationships of his former life present a final roadblock to the search for meaning in his life.
Director: Edmund Goulding
Producer: Darryl Zanuck
Writer: Lamar Trotti, Darryl F. Zanuck (additional scenes, uncredited); based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham
Cinematography: Arthur C. Miller
Art Direction: Richard Day, Nathan Juran
Set Decoration: Thomas Little
Editing: J. Watson Webb, Jr.
Assistant Director: Saul Wurtzel
Music Composer: Alfred Newman
Music Arranger: Fletcher Henderson
Sound: Alfred Bruzlin, Roger Herman, Sr.
Special Effects: Fred Sersen
Cast: Tyrone Power (Larry Darrell), Gene Tierney (Isabel Bradley), John Payne (Gray Maturin), Anne Baxter (Sophie MacDonald), Clifton Webb (Elliott Templeton), Herbert Marshall (W. Somerset Maugham), Lucile Watson (Louisa Bradley), Frank Latimore (Bob MacDonald), Elsa Lanchester (Miss Keith), Fritz Kortner (Kosti), John Wengraf (Joseph - Gray & Isabel's Butler), Cecil Humphreys (Holy Man), Harry Pilcer (Specialty Dancer), Cobina Wright, Sr. (Princess Novemali)
Why THE RAZOR'S EDGE is Essential
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 , Dark Victory , The Constant Nymph , Nightmare Alley ), Goulding was never nominated for Best Director. The Razor's Edge stands as one of his finest works.
by Greg Ferrara
The Essentials - The Razor's Edge
Pop Culture 101 - The Razor's Edge
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, travelling 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.
by Greg Ferrara
Pop Culture 101 - The Razor's Edge
Trivia - The Razor's Edge - Trivia & Fun Facts About THE RAZOR'S EDGE
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."
Memorable Quotes from THE RAZOR'S EDGE
W. Somerset Maugham: [opening narration] This story consists of my recollections of a very unusual young man with whom I was thrown into contact at long intervals.
W. Somerset Maugham: [narrating, referring to Larry Darrell] This is the young man of whom I write. He is not famous. It may be that when his life at last comes to an end, he will leave no more trace of his sojourn on this earth than a stone, thrown into a river, leaves on the surface of the water. Yet it may be that the way of life he has chosen for himself may have an ever-growing influence over his fellow man so that, long after his death perhaps, it will be realized that there lived in this age a very remarkable creature.
Elliott Templeton (Clifton Webb): The enjoyment of art is the only remaining ecstasy that's neither immoral nor illegal.
Isabel Bradley (Gene Tierney): What are you going to do with all this wisdom?
Larry Darrell (Tyrone Power): If I ever acquire wisdom I suppose I'll be wise enough to know what to do with it.
Holy Man (Cecil Humphreys): The road to salvation is difficult to pass over. As difficult as the sharp edge of a razor.
Elliott Templeton: [referring to Larry Darrell] And then when I asked him to dinner, he said he couldn't come because he had no evening clothes. If I live to be a hundred I shall never understand how any young man can come to Paris without evening clothes.
Elliott Templeton: I do not like the propinquity of the hoi polloi.
Louisa Bradley (Lucile Watson): Elliott, who is this man you invited to dinner tonight?
Elliott Templeton: [Referring to W. Somerset Maugham] He's an English author. He's quite alright. In fact he's quite famous. So pretend you've heard of him even if you haven't.
Elliott Templeton: You know, I've never been able to understand why, with so much space in the world, people should deliberately choose to live in the middle west.
Isabel Bradley: [Referring to Sophie MacDonald (Anne Baxter)] She's an awful woman. She's bad, bad, bad! She's soused from morning to night. W. Somerset Maugham: That doesn't necessarily mean she's bad. Quite a number of respectable citizens get drunk and do silly things... I call a person bad who lies and cheats and is unkind. Isabel Bradley: If you're going to take her part, I'll kill you.
W. Somerset Maugham: I'd prefer it if you gave me a cup of tea.
Isabel Bradley: [referring to Larry Darrell] What is he trying to do with his life? What does he hope to find?
W. Somerset Maugham: My dear, Larry has found what we all want and few of us ever get. I don't think anyone can fail to be better, nobler, kinder for knowing him. You see, my dear, goodness is, after all, the greatest force in the world. And he's got it.
Compiled by Greg Ferrara
Trivia - The Razor's Edge - Trivia & Fun Facts About THE RAZOR'S EDGE
The Big Idea - The Razor's Edge
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.
By Greg Ferrara
The Big Idea - The Razor's Edge
Behind the Camera - The Razor's Edge
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.
by Greg Ferrara
Behind the Camera - The Razor's Edge
Critics' Corner - The Razor's Edge
Awards and Honors:
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 cliché 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 Maughams'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 that 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 vérité. (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-fiancée 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
Compiled by Greg Ferrara
Critics' Corner - The Razor's Edge
The Razor's Edge
Released in 1946, two years after Maugham's popular 1944 novel, the film succeeds surprisingly well, evoking the hero's quest for enlightenment through words and actions that indicate the large gap between his inner life and the contrasting behaviors of his superficial high-society friends. Directed by Edmund Goulding, the picture received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture - it lost to William Wyler's masterpiece The Best Years of Our Lives - and Anne Baxter won the Best Actress Oscar® for her nuanced portrayal of Sophie MacDonald, a good woman brought low by tragedy and temptation. Oscar® nominations also went to Clifton Webb for his witty performance as Elliott Templeton, an effete socialite, and to the four-man art direction and set decoration team. Baxter and Webb won Golden Globes as well.
Like the novel it's based on, the movie puts Maugham himself into the story. Played by Herbert Marshall with his customary low-key charm, he enters at the beginning, hobnobbing with other swells at a stylish Chicago party where he meets young Larry Darrell, played by Tyrone Power with his own brand of understated charisma. Larry recently finished serving in World War I, and he's engaged to Isabel Bradley (Gene Tierney), the niece of Maugham's old friend Elliott Templeton (Webb), a playboy who does nothing but attend elegant soirees. Unlike the people around him, Larry has decided that wealth and glamour are not for him. Seeing his best friend killed before his eyes in the war has made him realize that life is precious and fleeting, and that true riches are found in the spirit, not the flesh. As much as Isabel loves him, she isn't prepared to give up her luxuries, so they part.
Heading overseas to find himself, Larry signs up for hard labor in a French coal mine. There he befriends a hard-drinking defrocked priest who steers him toward India, where a holy man teaches him ancient wisdom and sends him to await further illumination on a Himalayan mountaintop. It works. When the holy man comes to fetch him, Larry says he experienced a sense of union with God that has utterly transformed him. The guru says he must now return to society and use his new understanding to make the world a better place.
A lot has happened since he left. Isabel married a wealthy man who was ruined by the Depression and had a nervous breakdown. Sophie, another old friend, married her fiancé but lost him and their child in a car crash. Sophie is now a drunken prostitute in a low-grade Paris dive. Larry rescues her from despair by asking to marry her, but this enrages Isabel, who takes revenge by luring Sophie back to the bottle. Larry does a final good deed for Elliott and then leaves on a tramp steamer for America, where further enlightenment may await him.
Filming The Razor's Edge was a complicated affair. Fox honcho Darryl F. Zanuck paid Maugham a hefty $250,000 for the movie rights and budgeted the picture at $3 million, which grew to $4 million. The star was to be Gregory Peck and the director was to be George Cukor, whose recent hits included The Philadelphia Story (1940) and Gaslight (1944) for MGM, his home studio. Cukor didn't like Lamar Trotti's screenplay, however, complaining that the good bits from the novel were "sandwiched between all kinds of nonsense." He said he'd direct the picture if Maugham wrote a new script, and when Zanuck balked at the probable cost, Cukor himself called Maugham, who said he'd write it for nothing.
By now Zanuck wanted Power to play Larry, which meant waiting for the actor to finish his World War II service - he flew supplies into the Pacific Theater, receiving several decorations - and return to the studio. Power's recent military experience suited the role of Larry, who has been deeply changed by the wartime horrors he's witnessed. Beyond this, going through combat made Power and some other Hollywood stars, such as James Stewart and Cark Gable, want to leave behind the escapist vehicles they had starred in before the war, taking on weightier, more meaningful pictures.
As things turned out, Power couldn't get back to Fox until late 1945, when Cukor was no longer available. Zanuck was therefore free to choose a new director and retrieve Trotti's script, which he preferred to Maugham's version, from the drawer. To direct it Zanuck chose Goulding, who made Of Human Bondage, also from a Maugham novel, at Warner Bros. the same year with Eleanor Parker and Paul Henreid in the leads. According to Fred Lawrence Guiles's biography of Power, almost all of Fox's four thousand worldwide employees were involved with the project, and Zanuck "hovered around and over the production in a state of agitation, worry, and total possessiveness. It was this picture he wanted to be remembered by." When shooting was finished, Zanuck did the final editing and the great Alfred Newman wrote the score, except for Sophie's theme, which Goulding composed; it became a chart-topping hit under the title "Mam'selle."
The Razor's Edge opened late in 1946, earning $5 million and becoming Fox's biggest hit to date. Life magazine helped by running two big photo spreads on the picture - the first in August, describing how a four-minute scene was made, and the second in November, using pictures to show that "instead of confining itself in usual Hollywood manner to a simple problem of good and evil or of getting the girl," this drama "shows an absorbing interplay of character among natural, human adults." Life also ballyhooed the publicity campaign, noting that Fox was giving silver brooches to the press and building "the biggest electric sign" on Broadway for the premiere. Best of all, the magazine added, rumors were flying that Power and Tierney had fallen in love during production.
Reviews were mixed, however. New York Times critic Bosley Crowther found various shortcomings, including "specious situations" and "vacuous dialogue," but concluded that the picture would appeal to "a great many people who are sentimentally inclined to its vague philosophy." Variety loved it, calling it "all good cinematurgy" and saying the romance angle "is more than slightly on the sizzling side." Time deemed it "an earnest, overlong, impressively glossy, frequently dull movie" that "dawdles away several million dollars trying to make a great philosopher out of W. Somerset Maugham, and a great actress out of Gene Tierney."
Another movie version of The Razor's Edge appeared in 1984, starring comedian Bill Murray in his first serious role. Murray also co-wrote the screenplay with John Byrum, who directed. It's more picturesque and corny than Goulding's original, which is still enjoyable to watch for the quality of the production in general and for Baxter's fine performance in particular. Making a movie this ambitious is as hard as walking on a razor's edge, and the results are interesting even when they don't quite reach their destination.
Director: Edmund Goulding
Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck
Screenplay: Lamar Trotti, from the novel by W. Somerset Maugham
Cinematography: Arthur Miller
Film Editing: J. Watson Webb, Jr.
Art Direction: Richard Day, Nathan Juran
Set Decorations: Thomas Little; Associate: Paul S. Fox Music: Alfred Newman
With: Tyrone Power (Larry Darrell), Gene Tierney (Isabel Bradley), John Payne (Gray Maturin), Anne Baxter (Sophie MacDonald), Clifton Webb (Elliott Templeton), Herbert Marshall (W. Somerset Maugham), Lucile Watson (Louisa Bradley), Frank Latimore (Bob MacDonald), Elsa Lanchester (Miss Keith), Fritz Kortner (Kosti), John Wengraf (Joseph), Cecil Humphreys (holy man), Harry Pilcer (specialty dancer), Cobina Wright, Sr. (Princess Novemali)
by David Sterritt
The Razor's Edge
The enjoyment of art is the only remaining ecstasy that's neither immoral nor illegal.- Elliott Templeton
If I live to be a hundred I shall never understand how any young man can come to Paris without evening clothes.- Elliott Templeton
George Cukor was originally assigned to direct, but was fired because Darryl F. Zanuck did not care for his more literal interpretation of the novel.
Betty Grable was considered for the role of Sophie.
The film's title card reads "Darryl F. Zanuck's Production of W. Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge." Maugham's novel was originally serialized in Redbook from December 1943-May 1944. According to materials contained in the Twentieth Century-Fox Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, Fox purchased the screen rights to Maugham's novel in March 1945 for an advance of $50,000, plus 20% of the net profits derived from the motion picture. Maugham's contract further stipulated that unless principle photography was begun by February 2, 1946, the studio would have to pay the author an additional $50,000. Location shooting began in Denver in August 1945, thus meeting the terms of the contract. According to materials contained in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, the mountains around Denver were used to simulate the mountain top in India, and a double was used for Larry, because the role was not yet cast.
In May 1945, George Cukor was assigned to direct the film, according to a Hollywood Reporter news item. By September 1945, a Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Cukor was leaving the project because casting problems caused a temporary delay in the start of production, thus leading to a scheduling conflict for the director. However, materials contained in the Produced Scripts Collection disclose that Cukor and Zanuck strongly disagreed over the interpretation of Larry's character. In a November 14, 1945 letter addressed to Cukor, Zanuck criticized the director's proclivity for a heavy-handed treatment of Larry's spirituality. Zanuck argued that the audience would reject the picture if it detected any mock saintliness in Larry's character. Instead, Zanuck believed that Larry "should not set out on a crusade to save humanity or to find out whether or not there is a God. He sets out to find the answer to his own personal problems." Consequently, Zanuck strongly opposed Cukor's suggestions for highlighting Larry's spirituality through the inclusion of several speeches extolling the life of the spirit. Zanuck asserted," for him [Larry] to suddenly try to sell...a Billy Sunday bill of goods about the paths of righteousness and light cannot get us anything." Cukor also wanted to end the picture by giving Larry a loftier goal then becoming a taxi driver, but Zanuck rejected this idea.
Modern sources state that Cukor, unhappy with Lamar Trotti's original screenplay, arranged for the studio to hire Maugham to draft his own version. The scripts collection contains a screenplay written by Maugham, but the extent of his contribution to the final screenplay has not been determined and Trotti was given sole writing credit onscreen.
In addition to his problems with Cukor, Zanuck experienced conflicts with the PCA over the depiction of alcoholism in the film. In materials contained in the PAA/PCA files at the AMPAS Library, Zanuck argued in a April 1, 1946 letter to Joseph I. Breen that he could not comply with any of the requests to eliminate drinking from the picture because "alcoholism is the basic foundation of out plot." A June 1946 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that Zanuck wrote thirty-seven additional scenes for the picture. Zanuck's November 1945 letter to Cukor also reveals that the producer was eagerly awaiting the military release of Tyrone Power, hoping that the actor would star in this film. Power was formally discharged on January 1946, and The Razor's Edge became Power's first role since his return from war and a three-year absence from the screen. According to an August 1945 Hollywood Reporter news item, Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Haviland were being considered for the role of "Isabel," Nancy Guild was to play "Sophie" and Alexander Knox was cast as "Somerset Maugham."
A May 13, 1945 New York Times news item adds that Maureen O'Hara was interested in playing a lead in the picture. In his letter to Cukor, Zanuck suggested Anne Revere for the part of "Miss Keith," the princess' secretary; Glen Langan for "Gray," and Mark Stevens for "Bob MacDonald". Anne Baxter's biography states that the role of Sophie was offered to Susan Hayward, Betty Grable, Judy Garland and Anabel Shaw and adds that Bonita Granville was about to be cast when Baxter asked to try out for the part. A March 1946 Hollywood Reporter news item adds that Philip Merivale was set to play the holy man, but died on 12 Mar, seventeen days before the start of production. Although a December 1945 studio publicity item states that Marcel Dalio was to play a French police inspector, he does not appear in the released film. A January 1946 publicity item notes that Orry-Kelly was originally to design the costumes for the picture. Although various Hollywood Reporter news items add Jamiel Hasson to the cast, his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Roman Bohnen was also mentioned in a Hollywood Reporter news item, but he was not in the film.
According to studio publicity materials, the production cost around $4,000,000 to film, used eighty-nine different sets and enjoyed the longest shooting schedule in the studio's history to date. A July 1946 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that the film incorporated footage excerpted from a photographic expedition shot by the Bombay Film Co. in the Himalayan mountains. Gene Tierney's real-life husband at the time, Oleg Cassini, designed her costumes for the film. According to a studio publicity item, the wedding gown worn by Tierney in the picture was based on a sketch that Cassini had made for his and Tierney's wedding. The couple eloped, however, and so the dress was never made until the production of this film. According to a January 6, 1947 Hollywood Reporter news item, the film broke all previous Fox box office records. The Daily Variety review called the picture a "dramatic triumph in every sense of the word." The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Art Direction, and Clifton Webb was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Baxter's performance as Sophie earned her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. On October 18, 1948, Lux Radio Theatre broadcast a version of Maugham's story starring Ida Lupino and Mark Stevens. In 1984, Columbia Ltd. produced a version of the story directed by John Byrum and starring Bill Murray. According to materials in the Produced Scripts Collection, Fox signed over all its rights to the property to Columbia in 1983 in exchange for the rights to the script for Romancing the Stone.