Razor’s Edge, The (1946): Goulding Directs Somerset Maugham’s Novel

Edmund Goulding’s melodrama, The Razor’s Edge, based on Somerset Maugham’s acclaimed novel, is adapted to the screen by Lamar Trotti in what was Fox’s most lavish and prestigious film of 1946.

Tyorne Power (probably miscast) plays Larry Darrell, an idealistic youth, whose bitter experiences in WWII combats, have made him more cynical, calling into question his whole set of values.

Isabel (Gene Tierney), his rich fiance, finds it hard to understand his existential crisis, his endless need to examine everything, his obsessive seeking out of what the “real meaning” of life.

Embarking on a journey of intellectual and spiritual freedom, which takes him from Chicago to Paris and Nepal, he meets an elderly mystic guru who succeeds in bringing some piece of mind to his troubled soul.

Ten years later, Larry reunites with Isabel and his former high-society friends, only to realize that they too have gone through physical, emotional, and even financial turmoil and things are not the same.

Anne Baxter won a Supporting Actress Oscar for playing the all-suffering Sophie Nelson, a self-destructive woman who has become alcoholic after losing her child tragically.

Author Maugham was disappointed with the end result, which is sharply uneven and way overlong (two and half hours).

Goulding’s direction is tactful and the screenplay is intelligent, but the film can’t dramatize the demanding, highly literary text.

Cast

Larry Darrell (Tyrone Power)
Isabel Bradley (Gene Tierney)
Gray Maturin (John Payne)
Sophie Nelson (Anne Baxter)
Elliott Templeton (Clifton Webb)
Somerset Maugham (Herbert Marshall)
Mrs. Louise Bradley (Lucille Watson)
Bob MacDonald (Frank Latimore)
Miss Keith (Elsa Lanchester)
Kosti (Fritz Kortner)

Oscar Nominations: 4

Picture, produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
Supporting Actress: Anne Baxter
Supporting Actor: Clifton Webb
Interior decoration (b/w): Richard Day and Nathan Juran; Thomas Little and Paul S. Fox

Oscar Awards: 1

Supporting Actress

Oscar Context

In 1946, “The Best Years of Our Lives” competed for the top award with Olivier’s Shakespearean film “Henry V,” Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “The Razor Edge,” based on Somerset Maugham’s novel, and Clarence Brown’s family melodrama “The Yearling,” co-starring Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman, which received 7 nominations, but only two legit Oscars: Cinematography and Art Direction (both in color)

The only category in which “Best Years” lost was Sound, which went to John Livadary for “The Jolson Story.”

The omission of distinguished lenser Gregg Toland from the nominations was scandalous, considering his contribution (deep focus long shots) to the film’s overall impact. Toland’s last nomination was for Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane.” In one of Oscar’s peculiarities, the number of nominated photographers was substantially reduced in 1946, perhaps due to the fact that the category now included achievements in black-and white and in color. The big loser that year was Capra’s fable, which was a commercial failure at the time, but in later years came to be recognized by film critics as his masterpiece.