The Razor's Edge (1984 film)

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The Razor's Edge
Razors edge 84.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Tom Jung
Directed by John Byrum
Produced by Rob Cohen
Written by Screenplay:
John Byrum
Bill Murray
W. Somerset Maugham
Starring Bill Murray
Theresa Russell
Denholm Elliott
Catherine Hicks
Music by Jack Nitzsche
Cinematography Peter Hannan
Edited by Peter Boyle
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates October 19, 1984 (1984-10-19)
Running time 128 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $12 million
Box office $6,551,987 (USA)

The Razor's Edge is the second film version of W. Somerset Maugham's 1944 novel, following the 1946 film version with Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney. This version stars Bill Murray (who also co-writes), Theresa Russell, Catherine Hicks, Denholm Elliott, Brian Doyle-Murray and James Keach. It was directed and co-written by John Byrum.

This marked Murray's first starring role in a dramatic film, though Murray did inject some of his dry wit into the script. The book's epigraph is dramatized as advice from a Tibetan monk: "The path to salvation is narrow and as difficult to walk as a razor's edge."


The film opens in early 1917 Illinois at a fair planned to raise money to support Gray Maturin and Larry Darrell who are joining World War 1 as ambulance drivers in the period before America joins the war. Larry looks forward to returning home to marry his longtime sweetheart Isabel. The night before leaving, Larry shares a final night with Isabel watching the fireworks along with Gray, their close friend Sophie, and her husband Bob. As they arrive at the front, their commanding officer Piedmont schools them both on the harsh reality of war. For example, he has them both armed because in spite of them being a ambulance unit and in spite of America's neutrality, the enemy can and will kill those helping the allies. He also destroys the headlights and windows of a fellow ambulance truck because the lights will signal enemies to their unit. Larry adapts quickly, shooting the headlights and windows of his own truck.

During their service they witness deaths of soldiers, fellow ambulance drivers, and are in constant danger every moment. By the time America is deeply in the war, Larry's unit is down to a few men. During an unexpected encounter with German soldiers, Piedmont is fatally stabbed trying to block a German soldier from shooting a wounded Larry. The war ends not long after, and when he and Gray return to America, Larry suffers survivor's guilt and realizes that his life has changed. His plans to join Gray working for Gray's father as a stockbroker will not make him happy, so he puts off his engagement to Isabel and travels to Paris in an effort to find meaning in his life. Isabel is reluctant to see him go, but her uncle, Elliott Templeton, assures her that some time in Paris will help clear Larry's mind and take away any jitters he has about marriage.

Instead of following Elliott's suggestions of staying at first class hotels and wining and dining with the aristocracy, he lives a simple life reading philosophy books in a cheap hotel and eventually gets a job, first as a fish packer, then as a coal miner. After saving the life of a coworker by pushing him out of the way of an out of control mine car he has a conversation about books with the elder miner. After discussing their choice in books the miner suggests a Russian magician's book and follows that with a suggestion to travel to India to gain a different perspective.

Larry then travels to India where he eventually joins a Buddhist monastery. As an exercise he hikes to the top of a snow covered mountain and meditates alone. After running out of firewood he starts to burn books that he brought along with him. He finds his sense of inner peace. As he leaves the monastery. A monk lets him know that his journey is not over, that the path to salvation is as narrow and difficult to walk "as a razor's edge."

Returning to Paris, Larry first re-encounters Elliott who lets him know that many things have changed, notably that Isabel has married Gray (She had ended her relationship with Larry after a disastrous reunion in Paris not long after he first arrived.) and they have had two children. However, Gray and Isabel were forced to move to Paris with Elliott Templeton after the Great Depression bankrupted Gray's livelihood (His spirit was also shattered when his father committed suicide after the crash.)Most tragically, He learns that while he was gone, Sophie had lost both Bob and her child in an car accident and has turned to alcohol, opium, and prostitution.

Larry immediately attempts to reform Sophie and after a period of time where things have gone smoothly they become engaged. Upon sharing the news with Gray, Elliott, and Isabel, Isabel insists that she will buy Sophie a wedding dress as a gift. Before Isabel and Sophie can go dress shopping they have a conversation where Isabel admits she still loves Larry and condemns Sophie labeling her a burden on Larry. Their conversation is interrupted by a phone call and Isabel is called elsewhere leaving Sophie alone with a bottle of liquor.

Larry attempts to track Sophie down and finds her at an opium den with her former pimp. After a confrontation Larry is left bleeding in the street with a black eye while Sophie stays in the establishment. The next morning Larry is awakened by two men at the door and brought to the morgue to identify Sophie's body. Her throat had been slashed by a razor. Larry then goes to Elliott's house to try to figure out what went wrong the previous day. Upon his arrival he is alerted to the fact that Elliott has had a stroke and has been given his last rites. Larry confronts Isabel about what happened and forces her to admit her role in driving Sophie back to the bottle. While she tells Larry what she did is no different from Larry ruining their relationship by running off to find the meaning of his "goddammed life," She admits that she still loves him, she wants him to be happy, and did not want anyone (including Sophie) to hurt him the way she had. Before Larry can respond, they are interrupted by the final moments of Elliott's life. Larry does a good deed for Elliott by convincing him that the Parisian aristocrats have not forgotten about him (He had been waiting for an invitation to a costume party thrown by a French princess.) After Elliott passes, Larry comforts the grief-stricken Isabel. He admits to her that his journey was not just about finding the meaning of his life, but trying to lead a good life that would make him worthy of Piedmont's sacrifice. He and Isabel part on reasonable terms, and he says his goodbyes to her and to Gray. He states his intention to depart for home, which prompts the question 'Where is home?' to which he replies America.




According to an interview with director John Byrum published on August 8, 2006 in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, he had wanted to film an adaptation of Maugham's book in the early 1980s. The director brought a copy of the book to his friend Margaret "Mickey" Kelley who was in the hospital after giving birth. Byrum remembers getting a call the next day at four AM, "and it was Mickey's husband, Bill [Murray]. He said, 'This is Larry, Larry Darrell.'"[1]

Byrum and Murray drove across America while writing the screenplay. What they had written did not resemble the previous film version. Murray included a farewell speech to his recently deceased friend John Belushi in the script; this appears as Larry Darrell's farewell speech to Piedmont, a fellow ambulance driver in World War I. While Murray was attached to the project, Byrum had trouble finding a studio to finance it. Dan Aykroyd suggested that Murray could appear in Ghostbusters for Columbia Pictures in exchange for the studio greenlighting The Razor's Edge. Murray agreed and a deal was made with Columbia.


For the next year and half, cast and crew shot on location in France, Switzerland and India with a $12 million budget. During the shoot in India, the entire production crew fell ill due to food poisoning from chicken, including Byrum.[2] After the last day of principal photography, Murray left to make Ghostbusters.


The film was a commercial failure, grossing a little more than $6 million, half of its $12 million production budget.[3] Critically, it didn't fare much better:

Typical of reviews was Janet Maslin's in The New York Times where she characterized it as "disjointed", describing it as "slow, overlong and ridiculously overproduced."[4] Roger Ebert judged the movie "flawed" and pointed to the hero as "too passive, too contained, too rich in self-irony, to really sweep us along in his quest." He placed the blame on Murray's shoulders, saying he "plays the hero as if fate is a comedian and he is the straight man."[5] Since its release, however, Razor's Edge has developed something of a following (it enjoys a more moderate 6.6 rating on the Internet Movie Database), and criticism has softened. Nathan Rabin of The A.V. Club, reviewing the film in 2007, felt that " If The Razor's Edge is ultimately a failure it's an honest, noble one, " and that there were " all manner of minor pleasures to be gleaned along the way. "[6]

The film currently holds a 53% 'rotten' rating on review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes.[7]


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