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The Razor's Edge
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113 of 119 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
The newly released DVD of 20th Century Fox's production of W. Somerset Maugham's "The Razor's Edge" is a cinematic treasure. The direction by Edmond Goulding is top notch and captures the glamour and decadence of post World War I Paris in glittering perfection. Much praise must go to the art and set direction by Richard Day and Nathan Juran. Over 80 sets were constructed; some only glimpsed for a few moments evoke the period and splendor of the time and place. The production values of this picture are of the highest quality of this, Fox's "Important Picture for 1946".Goulding was famous for long takes and he is aided by the brilliant cinematographer Arthur C. Miller. The score by Alfred Newman is magnificent though surprisingly sparse for a film from the 1940's His use of source music and songs of the period help to inform the viewer of character and mood. His main theme is majestic and stirring and its reprise at the end is something near to epic played against a close-up of Tyrone Power and dissolves into the crashing waves against a tramp steamer.

Though a little too old and too handsome for the role of Larry Darell Tyrone Power, turns in a beautifully felt performance of a man in search for himself and his place in the world. A very modern and complex idea for the 1940's involving a trip to India and consultations with a guru. Gene Tierney is perfect as the woman who loves him and will stop at nothing to get him. This underrated beauty gives one of her best performances in an unsympathetic role. Anne Baxter, who won her Oscar as Sophie, is at times touching, real and yet manages to chew her share of the scenery toward the end of the picture. She is just plain fun to watch. But the picture is completely stolen by the wonderful, prissy and perfect performance of Clifton Web. His bravery as an actor in his last scene when he cries "There are going to be fireworks" is to be applauded. He perfectly captures the futile collapse of a shallow man as not many in Hollywood at that time might have dared.

There is one scene that epitomizes the skill and craft of film making in the end of the golden age and that is the chapter on the DVD entitled "Last Fling". All the powers of the actors, director, cinematographer, set designers, lighting technicians, and composer come together in this nearly silent montage and the subsequent scene at dawn in Tierney's Paris apartment. Larry's and Isabel's night on the town moves through a sumptuous Paris nightclub, to a Russian restaurant, and on to a hot jazz club where a fist fight ensues. Watch the extras in this scene. They are the stars here and each have a tale to tell in there brief moments on screen. I was reminded of Scorsese's Coconut Grove scenes in "The Aviator" by this impeccably directed montage and wondered if it had in fact influence him being the film historian he is.

But the best is yet to come, upon arriving home Isabel and Larry move through a brilliantly choreographed scene that leads up to a kiss and then a rejection. There is no dialog, only the pantomime of the actors and the accompaniment of the musical score. In this we learn all we need to of her motives and desire and his reaction and acceptance. It is very sexy and intense and the only bit of clothing that is lost is her shawl.

It is brilliant and movie storytelling at its best.

There is also a wonderful commentary by film historians Anthony Slide and Robert Brichard. Also included is a Fox Movietone News reel of other aspects relating to the film. Don't miss this wonderful classic from Fox's brilliant Studio Classics collection. They really know how to present their treasures to us as few other studios do.
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49 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2005
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
'The Razor's Edge' is truly a rare masterpiece. this movie is slowly paced but not at all plodding. a profound message lies within the sophisticated dialogue. the viewer must have a mature patience to reap the enriching experience from this excellent film. this one was definitely a superior film. it deserved the oscar but unfortunately there were 2 other masterpieces released tha year (1946), one of which garnered the oscar (The Best Years Of Our Lives). a true classic that deserves more recognition than it has received thru the years.

as for the DVD, it is a good clean transfer. the only true extra is the commentary. it is still well worth the money.
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2001
Format: VHS Tape
Goulding's intrepretation of Maugham's novel is elegant and visually alluring. It doesn't hurt to have Tyrone Power as Larry and the stunning Gene Tierney as Isabelle. Anyone that loves dramatic cinema that is thought-provoking and leaves you feeling satiated will enjoy this movie. Although most movies don't compare with the novels they are based on, this one comes close.
This is a movie about a non-conformist; Larry doesn't want to live the life society expects of him, he wants to savor life on his own terms. Isn't that what your life should be about anyways? Somehow you sense that in the 21st century Larry would not be driving an SUV and a gas grill would not be sitting on his patio underneath the satellite disk. Perhaps it would be more accurate to state that Larry is his own man and that he is more concerned about what he thinks of himself versus what others think of him. Clifton Webb is perfect as Elliott Templeton, the quitessential snob who is catty and generous in equal turns. John Payne is a self-effacing Gray and Anne Baxter shines as Sophie. At the movies conclusion, the only person you can envy is Larry, because he is living life exactly the way he wants.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
The plot synopsis above tells you the story line, and this very unconvential story is remarkable in having been made. At a time when some other movies were being made in color, this was still in black and white, which tells you where the movie moguls placed it in "rank". Color was reserved for block busters, and despite the epic sweep of this story, they didn't expect it to sell. (Also, "serious" dramas were often done in B&W.) It fits very well in black and white, both with it being set in the 1920s, and much of its story line is dark.
Tyrone Power does some of his best acting work in this film. Perhaps his military service deepened him, or the story line seemed more important and personal to him, but I believed his quest for something beyond the conventional, comfortable life. Unfortunately, as a fan of Gene Tierney, I find this her worst work. Even at her best she can be alittle blank, but here, a level of mental machinery is required of this manipulative, calculating character, and we are left always seeing only an beautiful empty surface. Her eyes betray no inner life. And yet, as soon as you dismiss her as an empty shell, she will have a really lovely moment of total truth, ususally in the most odd places. She is perfectly cast as the pampered, narrow minded patrician. She does look a bit like Kathryn Hepburn, who was considered for the role, but determined to not have enough charm - and it is true. Hepburn in this role would have had more fire and spirit, but not this genteel icy sweetness. We do see why he loves her inspite of knowing how rotten she is.
Contrast Tierney's blankness with a very young Anne Baxter who has a very demanding role; first mousy and insecure, heartbroken and heartbreaking, and then alcoholic and defeated. She did deserve an award for her work here, and it should have been a lesson for the mannered, self-conscious diva she became in her later work. This is some of her best, risk taking, work. In a role that could have been a wallpaper tearing scene stealer, she is very contained and her struggle is with herself, inside.
I saw the version with Bill Murray when it was in theatres. I understood completely why he would want to make it, and he simply was not right for the role, not his acting ability, nor his personal qualities. Tyrone Power, usually too pretty, hits just the right notes. It is worth mentioning that the studio fought constantly to take religion out of this story which, ultimately, is about a religious quest - the way to live a life of meaning and rightness. The resulting restraint, as with many classics, work in its favor.
The commentary is very good on this DVD, discussing details like the long takes of the director, and how that influenced all the technical aspects, from lighting to acting style. But the overwhelming stand out of this film is the story. Thoughtful, different, and interesting, it overcomes any elements of dated presentation to make it remain a classic worth continued viewing.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2006
Format: DVD
I've taught this film in colleges for thirty-plus years. Even back at the earliest screenings, traditional-aged freshmen had trouble with it (a) because it was in b&w, and (b) because the dimensional characters didn't telegraph plot advancement but instead used irony, wit, or assumptions that would later be proven wrong by subsequent events.

The first of these objections stunned me when they couldn't appreciate Gene Tierney descending the stairs to seduce "Larry" in a gown relegated to grays. The second objection (young auduence confusion) just made me sad about the impact of television ... but you already know that story.

As with Hollywood's THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, released in during the same general period, I personally appreciate the "epic scope" of the narrative, enhanced by remarkable set direction detail. And I appreciate even more the depth-of-focus photography in both of these films, which enriches viewing by sharp images at several planes of action within the frame. It's a story well-told at the visual level.

I've read complaints about Tyrone Power's "dated" acting in this performance, NIGHTMARE ALLEY, etc. But again, I suspect this is from a generation more comfortable with MTV editing than with theatre as an entertainment criterion. Power is given a series of difficult monologues to recite about uncinematic spiritual/ philosophical themes, and he pulls each off brilliantly. As with Olivier's opening scene in RICHARD III, it's interesting to watch how these monologues have been directed to use a pacing movement of the actor within the frame as a "paragraphing" punctuation. The lengthy, uninterrupted takes and consequent fluidity of camera movement within these shots not only enhances the impact of the monologues but also makes sly commentary on characters/ themes as continuous camera includes other characters in medium close-ups.

Herbert Marshall's Maugham is interesting and underplayed almost as masterfully as Cedrick Hardwicke's performance of "goodness personified" in ROPE. The close-ups of "Maugham's" eyes to communicate ironic plot points may seem obtrusive, but they're true to Maugham's voice in the novel.

Further, they emphasize the ill-advised decision to omit this narrator's perspective in Murray's hapless remake. That later film fails in no small part because the female characters are virtually indistinguishable visually, and because the studio (which only made the film to entice Murray to make GHOSTBUSTERS II) invested no interest in producing a good movie script. Pity, since Murray could have done okay.

Two less successful scenes in the 40s version are the "Baby!" hospital melodrama and the ashram Jehovah sequences (not including the remarkably visual spiritual moment in the mountains). But the supporting cast remains superb throughout--especially the bracing comedy of Webb and Lancaster, and the moving subtlety of John Payne and Lucille Watson.

Tierney's richest moments are linked to the plot: "That's all right, Larry. It might be less than a year"; the wedding announcement over the phone; the camera-narrated scene where Isabel "seduces" Larry's fiancee; and, of course, the climax with Larry at the end. And, by the way, she's as gorgeous as Tyrone Power!

How much more value can one expect from an entertainment that succeeds so well with complex, mature themes of spiritual redemption in a society of capitalist myopia?
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on June 17, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
The Razor's Edge takes an unusual theme and manages to turn it into a terrific drama. Tyrone Power stars as a war veteran who can't seem to find his purpose in life. Whether he's searching for the meaning of life, or to understand the reason why he is on Earth, he goes on a journey (externally and internally) to understand the bigger picture. That's a pretty lofty theme, but it is well played out and may leave the viewer asking themselves a few questions, too. Gene Tierney stars as the girl who loves him, but can't understand what he's all about. Anne Baxter gives a great performance as Tierney's friend, who through personal tragedy, turns to alcohol and loses all purpose in her life. Clifton Webb is Tierney's uncle, a man who exists to enjoy the pleasures of life and who is only concerned with society and appearances. This is certainly an odd film to have come out of Hollywood in the 1940s, but with its good performances and production values, it is surprisingly enjoyable.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
The author of numerous novels, plays, and short stories, W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) was considered among the world's great authors during his lifetime, and although his reputation has faded over the years his work continues to command critical respect and a large reading public. Published in 1944, THE RAZOR'S EDGE is the tale of a World War I veteran whose search for spiritual enlightment flies in the face of shallow western values. It was Maugham's last major novel--and it was immensely popular. Given that the novel's conflicts are internalized spiritual and philosophical issues, it was also an extremely odd choice for a film version--but Darryl F. Zannuck of 20th Century Fox fell in love with the book and snapped up the screen rights shortly after publication.

According to film lore, THE RAZOR'S EDGE was to be directed by the legendary George Cukor from a screenplay by Maugham himself--and it does seem that Maugham wrote an adaptation. When the film went into production, however, Cukor was replaced by Edmund Goulding, a director less known for artistic touch than a workman-like manner, and the Maugham script was replaced with one by Lamar Trotti, the author of such memorable screenplays as THE OXBOW INCIDENT. Tyrone Power, recently returned from military service during World War II, was cast as the spiritually conflicted Larry Darrell; Gene Tierney, one of the great beauties of her era, was cast as socialite Isabell Bradley. The supporting cast was particularly notable, including Herbert Marshall, Anne Baxter, Clifton Webb, Lucille Watson, and Elsa Lanchester. Both budget and shooting schedule were lavish, and when the film debuted in 1946 it was greatly admired by public and critics alike.

But time has a way of putting things into perspective. Seen today, THE RAZOR'S EDGE is indeed a beautifully produced film--but that aside the absolute best one can say for it is that it acheives a fairly consistent mediocrity. As in most cases, the major problem is the script. Although it is reasonably close to Maugham's novel in terms of plot, it is noticeably off the mark in terms of character and it completely fails to capture the fundamental issues that drive the story. We are told that Larry is in search of enlightenment; we are told that he receives it; we are told he acts on it--but in spite of the occasional and largely superficial comment we are never really told anything about the spiritual, artistic, philosophical, and intellectual processes behind any of it. We are most particularly never told anything significant about the nature of the enlightenment itself. It has the effect of cutting off the story at its knees.

We are left with the shell of Maugham's plot, which centers on the relationship between Larry and Isabell, a woman Larry loves but leaves due to the growing ideological riff that opens up between them. Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney were more noted for physical beauty than talent, but both could turn in good performances when they received solid directorial and script support. Unfortunately, that does not happen here; they are extremely one-note and Power is greatly miscast to boot. Fortunately, the supporting cast is quite good, with Herbert Marshall, Clifton Webb, and Lucille Watson particularly so; the then-famous performance by Anne Baxter, however, has not worn as well as one would hope.

With a running time of just under two and a half hours, the film also feels unnecessarily long. There is seemingly endless cocktail party-type banter, and indeed the entire India sequence (which reads as faintly hilarious) would have been better cut entirely--an odd situation, for this is the very sequence intended as the crux of the entire film. Regardless of the specific scene, it all just seems to go on and on to no actual point.

As for the DVD itself, the film has not been remastered, but the print is extremely good, and while the bonus package isn't particularly memorable neither is noticeably poor. When all is said and done, I give THE RAZOR'S EDGE three stars for production values and everyone's willingness to take on the material--but frankly, this a film best left Power and Tierney fans, who will enjoy it for the sake of the stars, and those whose ideas about spiritual enlightment are as vague as the film itself.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2006
Format: DVD
A wonderful, home-hitting post war film that definitely succeeds in its touching and sometimes searing portrait of a young man searching for the meaning of life after witnessing such suffering, pain and sacrifice. After serving and surviving WWI, he is at a loss as to where to go from there.

Larry Darrell wants to find himself, but his need is not understood or appreciated by his fiancée, the beautiful but selfish Isabel, who wants a good society position and money. Her stuffy, snobbish uncle Elliot wants Larry out of her life for those exact reasons - he's not wealthy enough. So we have the foundation for a watchable drama.

Gene Tierney looks lovely, and Tyrone Power (who, along with Dana Andrews, was one of her best leading men) more than matches her, and they look gorgeous together. Their performances are superb and flawless, and the same can be said for Clifton Webb, Herbert Marshall, John Payne, and of course, the Oscar-winning Anne Baxter as the ill-fated Sophie.

Biblical symbolism is evident in many of the scenes, and one cannot help but compare Isabel to Tierney's Oscar-nominated performance a year earlier in "Leave Her To Heaven". Isabel, like Ellen, is a manipulative, controlling and jealous woman, who wants Larry all to herself, even after she marries the gentle, wealthy Gray (John Payne), who doesn't realize how he's been used. Tierney's character is dressed in black and a floppy black hat when flaunting a drink in front of Sophie, tempting her like a serpent. And when Larry asks her about this incident, she proceeds to spin a lie, trying to make it look like an innocent misunderstanding, until he calls her on it. As with LHTH, she admits the truth with the line, "I did it and I'd do it again!", and goes into detail of how she did this for his own good, all for the love of him, trying to "save him" from what in her view was a disastrous mistake. How she could turn on a woman who was once her close friend is a question that, besides the jealousy factor, isn't really explained.

Baxter's portrayal of Sophie is brilliant, and she justly deserved the Oscar she received. Sophie is like Mary Magdalene or Eve, tempted by the demon liquor (no thanks to Isabel) and lured into prostitution, and Larry tries heroically and compassionately to save her. Her death is something that she began seeking after the tragic accident that claimed the lives of her husband and baby daughter. It is so easy to tear up during the sequence in the apartment when Sophie looks at the photograph of Isabel and Gray's eldest daughter and thinks about her own little girl that she lost, and Isabel almost looks sympathetic. After Larry tells a shocked Isabel of Sophie's demise, he compassionately and gently states, "There's no need to be shocked about Sophie any longer, Isabel. I've had the feeling all day that Sophie's where she wants to be most - with Bob and Linda. I know that's a simple way to look at it, but it's comforting." Marshall is wonderful as Maugham, the narrator, who observes all this drama and who comments on it, and who even goes so far as to appeal to Isabel's vanity in order to get back on her good graces. The scenes with Isabel and Gray's children are very sweet, with Isabel speaking to them in French (Tierney was fluent in that language, as she attended a finishing school in Europe). Larry can't bring himself to be angry with Isabel, despite what she's done, and Isabel can't bring herself to hurt Gray, as much as she loves Larry. And Larry's travels (although those bogus backdrops do little to convince that he actually is in those exotic locations), are a definite plus, his experiences shared with the viewer in order to find what he's looking for, and in a sense, to help us discover the meaning of life too. "Do you know what it's like to see another man give up his life for you? That someone deliberately died so that you might go on living?" Larry asks Isabel, who obviously has never experienced what he refers to. Even as she declares her love for him, regretting how she rejected his marriage proposal years before, we know that a life with Isabel is no longer in the cards. And when Larry says, "Goodbye, Isabel, and take good care of Gray. He needs you now more than ever", it is a fitting exit line as Power decides to continue on his journey of self-discovery.

"You see, my dear, goodness is no doubt the greatest force in the world, and he's got it," Maugham explains to a sorrowing and astonished Isabel, letting her (and the audience) know what quality Larry possesses and what he is in search of - goodness.

And we watch as Maugham's protagonist boards a ship, still in search of himself, but much more at peace.

It's well worth the running time, although the novel was very difficult to adapt to film, and it's a rewarding experience for those willing to sit down and absorb the message of "The Razor's Edge".
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on October 5, 2003
Format: VHS TapeVerified Purchase
I heartily recommend this film for fans of the "classic hollywood" genre. Yes, you can find minutia to criticize as with everthing, but really, for a film to capture the "times" of the 1920's and 1930's, this film does a fine job. If anything lacks, it's the budget. I really wish the production had more money and the director could have actually filmed in Paris and in India. You can tell that all of the scenes were essentially shot in Hollywood on staged sets. But I loved the acting from all of the characters. I think Anne Baxter deservedly earned her academy award. She does not overact at all! She does a beautiful job of acting. And Tyrone Powers, while understated, does a fine job. And Tierney is beautiful and emotes every bit of the cunning and ulterior motives throughout this film. I also thought the actor who plays Maughm does a masterfully subtle acting job that makes you think he really is the actual author!!
What's so masterful about this film is that it focuses solely on the characters portrayed and you want to find out what happens to Larry. I wish the film could have gone into greater detail about Larry's experience in India. It's a bit too superficial but then, for hollywood, what do you expect??
I also care about Larry and I really wanted to see Ann Baxter's character saved. And the important moral lesson is that you can't save everyone in this universe! And not everyone is bound for "success." It's not in the cards. And that's a very powerful message that seems to be forgotten today. We glorify tragedy but films don't explore what Larry explored. What does it all mean???? American Beauty was a more modern attempt at it, and I liked that film.
But The Razor's Edge makes you think about the metaphysical and what your purpose in life is all about. If you are cocky and arrogant, then you will never find wisdom. If you are humble and are filled with questions, you will get closer to enlightenment. Death does make angels of us all and Ann Baxter's character found peace once dead. May seem tragic but
life is not fair nor just. Life is not "what should be" but what is."
See this film. It's good for the soul and the mind.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2002
Format: VHS Tape
This inspiring film bears repeated viewings. Five stars, 5 reasons:
1. It is UNIQUE. No other A-list Hollywood film of the era, to my knowledge, (and few since) specifically portrayed a man's quest for spiritual truth as the central plot. A handful, such as Capra's "Lost Horizon" and "Wonderful Life," have heroes who stumble upon spiritual truth, but they don't spend the entire film rejecting conventional values solely in order to undergo a philosophical quest. Later period films such as "A Man Called Peter" and "A Nun's Story" frame their spiritual quests within strictly Christian contexts; many others offer Christianity within war stories or adventure tales ("Joan of Arc" -- "Ben-Hur" -- etc). Since "Razor's Edge" conspicuously lacks these typical story values, it is astonishing that this film got made at all...just slightly less unlikely than if MGM had decided to turn "Thus Spake Zarathustra" into a movie.
2. It's a glossy, prestige production of a novel of artistic merit. Reviewers here offer mixed opinions on how faithful to the book it is; I say it's a superb adaptation. Larry, the central character, is off-stage for much of the book; the screenplay puts him front and center and dramatizes his quest. That necessitates invention, but to my mind the film's additions were faithful to the book's spirit. For fans of the Campbell-Vogler "Hero of a Thousand Faces" paradigm, it's intriguing to see how "Razor" fits that dramatic structure perfectly.
3. The portrayal of Larry's spiritual quest, his questions and the nature of the answers he finds, are indeed left a bit vague but that's a strength, not a weakness. First, it meant Fox avoided provoking the Bible Belt of that day. More importantly, Speilberg and Kubrick kept the godlike aliens of "Close Encounters" and "2001" vague for the same reasons -- it's hard to portray the transcendent convincingly on screen.
4. Some viewers complain that since Larry achieves enlightenment halfway thru the film, there's no real drama once he comes down from the mountaintop and rejoins society. Au contraire; although Larry is not tempted by Isabel's maneuvering, he does try to save a few souls (or at least heal a few wounded hearts) and he sees two good people die. Antagonist Isabel commits murder, or its moral equivalent, to win Larry and fails. Pretty dramatic stuff.
5. Although dated by contemporary sensibilities, the acting -- photography -- sets -- costumes -- and music are just plain terrific for fans of old school Hollywood at its finest.
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