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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 [1932], Dark Victory [1939], The Constant Nymph [1943], Nightmare Alley [1947]), Goulding was never nominated for Best Director. The Razor's Edge stands as one of his finest works.

by Greg Ferrara

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