Being an intellectually engrossing, enormously stylish, deeply emotional picture, The Razor’s Edge is both the most captivating and the most satisfying adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s inspiring novel of the same title. Even though in its core subject the film has much to do with spirituality and self-realization, it also ponders such considerable topics as obsession, greed, alcoholism, war-related traumas, etc. Wrapped up in a neat package of astounding visuals and fascinating camera shots, The Razor’s Edge proves to be a most successful collaboration between the director Edmund Goulding and the cinematographer Arthur C. Miller. Splendid performances by the stellar cast only confirm that The Razor’s Edge is an irrefutable masterpiece of the Golden Era of Hollywood.
The literate and dramatic script gives a thorough psychological insight into all the character’s minds. Tyrone Power plays Larry Darrell, the main character, who is about to begin a long and demanding search for the true meaning of life. Gene Tierney is his fiancée Isabel Bradley, a girl who tries to trap him into a marriage she wants, but ultimately realizes that she won’t be able to. Clifton Webb is Elliott Templeton, a shallow, pompous, and supercilious uncle who – surprisingly so – turns out to be a rather likable and reliable old gentleman.
Larry goes to France and then to India, discovering many new facts about life and fulfilling his destiny as the passionate truth-seeker. In the meantime, Isabel marries Gray Maturin (John Payne), a man who’s always been in love with her. Along with her uncle and a few relatives they move to a classy palace located in France and stay there until the heavy depression hits them really hard.
The turning point of the film comes when a long-time family friend Sophie MacDonald (devastating performance by Anne Baxter) loses her husband and child in a car crash and starts drinking in order to forget about this horrible accident. After a while, all the characters meet up in France at the most unexpected time. Though married, Isabel is still fully in love with Larry. He, on the other hand, decides to help poor Sophie and proposes to her instead. All hell breaks loose, as Isabel tries to do everything just to cause Sophie’s final fall into alcoholism and dejection. As the obsessive behavior progresses, she realizes that many people, even those that she truly cared about, desert her.
Starting in the period ingeniously named the roaring 20’s and following up to the difficult times of the Great Depression, the film exhibits – in an utterly realistic manner – how a social and economic situation in the USA shaped the way people corresponded to one another. Pretentious, shallow and greedy members of the aristocracy cared only about their own, mostly material, needs. However, after the horrible stock market crash in 1929 everything suddenly changed. It’s perfectly exemplified in the way Isabel Bradley’s closest relatives handled the abrupt loss of money, and how it actually lead up to the beginning of the respected family’s end.
Undoubtedly, Tyrone Power’s performance is the greatest force of this picture. Avoiding many clichés, he presents a man who is as confused as he is curious about life in general. Handsome and charismatic, it’s not hard to see why Gene Tierney was so obsessed with his persona. Her awe-inspiring portrayal of a woman who can’t distinguish between what’s good and what’s bad is as convincing as it is heartbreaking.
Exploring both an ill-fated love affair and a promising spiritual journey, the film is a 144-minute ode to effective and convincing filmmaking. Enhanced by marvelous supporting performances, The Razor’s Edge cuts deep and uncovers a mightily sorrowful intrigue, promising neither second chances nor happy endings per se.