The Razor's Edge (1946 film)
|The Razor's Edge|
Original film poster artwork by Norman Rockwell
|Directed by||Edmund Goulding|
|Produced by||Darryl F. Zanuck|
|Written by||Lamar Trotti
Darryl F. Zanuck (uncredited)
W. Somerset Maugham (novel)
|Music by||Alfred Newman
Edmund Goulding (uncredited)
|Cinematography||Arthur C. Miller|
|Editing by||J. Watson Webb, Jr.|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Release date(s)||December 1946|
|Running time||145 minutes|
|Box office||$5 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)|
The Razor's Edge is the first film version of W. Somerset Maugham's 1944 novel. It was released in 1946 and stars Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney, John Payne, Anne Baxter, Clifton Webb, Herbert Marshall, supporting cast Lucile Watson, Frank Latimore and Elsa Lanchester. Marshall plays Somerset Maugham. The film was directed by Edmund Goulding.
The film, in which W. Somerset Maugham (Marshall) is himself a minor character, drifting in and out of the lives of the major players, opens at a party held following World War I in 1919 at a country club in Chicago, Illinois. Elliott Templeton (Webb), an expatriate, has returned to the United States for the first time since before the war to visit his sister, Edith Bradley (Watson), and his niece, Isabel (Tierney), engaged to be married to Larry Darrell (Power), of whom Elliott strongly disapproves for rejecting both inclusion in their social stratum and working in the common world.
Larry is traumatized by the death of a comrade who sacrificed himself on the last day of the war to save Larry and announces that he plans to "loaf" on his small inheritance of $3,000 a year. He refuses a job offer from the father of his friend Gray (Payne), a millionaire who is hopelessly in love with Isabel, too. Larry and Isabel agree to postpone their marriage so that he can go to Paris to try to clear his muddled thoughts. Meanwhile, Larry’s childhood friend, Sophie Nelson (Baxter), settles into a happy marriage with Bob MacDonald (Latimore), only to lose him and their baby in a tragic car accident.
In Paris, Larry immerses himself in a Bohemian life. After a year, Isabel visits and Larry asks her to marry him immediately. Isabel does not understand his search for meaning and breaks their engagement. Before she returns to Chicago she cannot carry through with a scheme to seduce Larry and trick him into making an "honest woman" of her. She marries Gray to provide her the elite social and family life she craves. Meanwhile, Larry works in a coal mine in France, where a defrocked priest, Kosti (Fritz Kortner), urges him travel to India to learn from a mystic. Larry studies at a monastery in the Himalayas under the tutelage of the Holy Man (Cecil Humphreys), then makes a lone pilgrimage to the mountaintop where he finds enlightenment. The Holy Man tells Larry to return to the world to share what he now knows about life.
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. Larry is able to help Gray using an Indian form of hypnotic suggestion. Later at a disreputable nightclub, they encounter Sophie, now a drunkard. Larry reforms and arranges to marry Sophie, but when he tells Isabel, who is still in love with him, she ploys to prove to Larry that Sophie's reform is only temporary. She successfully tempts Sophie back into drinking and Sophie disappears. Sophie is murdered and her death reunites Larry and Maugham during the police investigation.
Maugham and Larry visit Elliott on his deathbed in the South of France. Larry gives Elliott peace of mind after he is deliberately excluded from an important soiree hosted by a princess with whom he had a row, herself once an American Midwesterner like Elliott. Larry persuades Miss Keith (Lanchester), her social secretary, to allow him to use a blank invitation to counterfeit one for Elliott. Isabel inherits her uncle's fortune, which she can use to underwrite Gray's attempt to rebuild his father's bankrupt brokerage. Larry refuses to reconcile with Isabel, deducing that she caused Sophie's return to drinking, and ultimately, her murder. Instead he decides to work his way back to America aboard a tramp steamer. Maugham tries to console Isabel with the knowledge that Larry is happy because he has found in himself the quality of true "goodness."
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, 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 it is unknown how much of his version, if any, was used in the final script.
- Tyrone Power as Larry Darrell
- Gene Tierney as Isabel Bradley
- John Payne as Gray Maturin
- Anne Baxter as Sophie MacDonald
- Clifton Webb as Elliott Templeton
- Herbert Marshall as W. Somerset Maugham
- Lucile Watson as Louisa Bradley
- Frank Latimore as Bob MacDonald
- Elsa Lanchester as Miss Keith
- Cecil Humphreys as the Holy Man
- Fritz Kortner as Kosti
Baxter won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, and Webb as the worldly Uncle Elliott was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. The film was also nominated for Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White and Best Picture (Richard Day, Nathan Juran, Thomas Little, Paul S. Fox).
- "All Time Domestic Champs", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
- Tierney and Herskowitz (1978) Wyden Books,Self- Portrait p.177
- "NY Times: The Razor's Edge". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-19.