A adventuresome young man goes off to find himself and loses his socialite fiance in the process. But when he returns 10 years later, she will stop at nothing to get him back, even though she is already married.
Beautifully directed by Edmund Goulding, this sumptuous, and prestigious adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s novel was made in 1946 to great acclaim. It’s a tale of manipulation, greed, unrequited love, and the eternal search for spiritual enlightenment. Larry Darrell the central character – and played in the movie by the startlingly attractive Tyrone Power – searches for life’s meaning in a journey that takes him from the high society of Chicago to the coal mines of France and then on to the mountains of the Himalayas.
Larry Darrell (Power) is a frustrated man. Having just returned to Chicago after World War 1, and having seen his best friend killed, he dodges a future as a stockbroker and instead goes to Paris to seek enlightenment, much to the chagrin of his wealthy and stuck-up fiancée Isabel Bradley (a gorgeous Gene Tierney). Although her snobbish uncle Elliott Templeton (Clifton Webb), would rather she forget Larry and move on with her life, Isabel, however, continues to be smitten and follows Larry to Paris to force him into a decision.
Once in Paris, Isabel spurns his austere lifestyle and again tries to talk him to coming back to Chicago and earning lots of money by participating in the “American dream.” Larry, however, has other ideas and decides to seek his destiny, first in a French coalmine, and later from the Buddhist teachings of an Eastern Holy Man (Cecil Humphries) high atop an Indian mountain. Meanwhile, Isabel, still desperately in love with Larry, marries the sincere and hardworking stockbroker Gray Maturin (John Payne).
Several years later the characters meet up again in Paris, but their lives have taken a turn for the worse. Only Larry, who has found Buddhism a useful tool for living a happy life, can rise above post depression malaise that seems to have swept them all. Most distraught is the young and beautiful Sophie (an incredible Ann Baxter in the performance of a lifetime) who, having lost her darling husband and child in a car accident, has turned to drinking and become a fallen woman.
Goulding indulges in lots of voluptuously lit scenes in front of water fountains. There’s also lots of carousing, attempts at seduction, boozing, and some wickedly catty dialogue. Tierney is obviously reveling in the role as Isabel. She’s a spoiled rich girl who can’t help falling for Larry, but won’t give up her social status in the name of love. She painstakingly tries to weave a web of seduction around Larry, but when she discovers that Larry is to marry Sophie in order to save her from a life of debauchery, Isabel does everything within her machiavellian power to send Sophie back to her squalid and drunken life.
Razor’s Edge offers a compelling and convincing group of characters as they struggle with appearances and issues that end up dictating and controlling their lives. The movie’s narrative arc is unusually dense, which may initially put off some viewers, but the material remains undeniably satisfying, alternating between vitriolic melodrama and copious scenes of the rich enjoying their entitlements.
Power is terrific as Larry; he brings an unusual mix of good looks and suave intelligence to the role, and the incomparably debonair Herbert Marshall puts on a good show as the story’s narrator and moral center Somerset Maugham. The scene when he corners an incensed Isabel and soothes her with sycophancy, adulation, and poetic appreciation is one of the best in the film. But the most the celebrated performance is Anne Baxter’s tragic Sophie (she got the Oscar), who lacks the will to continue on and who eventually falls victim to the jealousy, selfishness, and insensitivity of her more wealthy friends.
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