Saturday, May 05, 2018

The Razor's Edge (1946) (The Nitrate Picture Show)


The Razor's Edge. Gene Tierney, Tyrone Power.

Edmund Goulding, US 1946
Print source: Academy Film Archive, Los Angeles
Running time: 145 minutes
Viewed at The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 5 May 2018

NPS: "About the print

Arthur Miller’s wonderful black-and-white cinematography is highlighted by this well-conserved nitrate print. Warpage was a concern, and certain reels have many splices. Some scratches are noticeable, and some edge repair was necessary. Shrinkage: 0.6%

About the film

“Somerset Maugham, who authored this best-seller, has given the screen a plot which has a little of everything for virtually every taste. It has a message of faith for the fans who are not regular showgoers, a background of two continents with an ever-changing pattern of romance (for the women); a ‘Don Birnham’ characterization by a French barfly (for the dramatic fans), and Tyrone Power (who is well liked by everybody).”
– Paul Jones, Atlanta Constitution, November 24, 1946

“The picture has mobile camera work that telescopes time or space, as needed, offering fascinating shots of Paris dives, the Riviera, a Himalayan mountain top and ‘period’ scenes of life in the 1920s. Much of the philosophy of the film is dispensed in neat little verbal capsules. There is some obvious sermonizing, but at least the film’s propaganda has the virtue of being illustrated by character study. Moreover, an idea or two of the type found in The Razor’s Edge will do no harm scattered by means of the motion picture into the present world. Hollywood deserves credit for producing a thought-provoking film of this nature.”
– Baltimore Sun, December 26, 1946

“It is doubtful that any picture in the modern cycle has embodied more divergent elements of dramatic appeal. . . . Essentially a melodrama, the story . . . presents a deftly woven pattern of jealousy, greed, snobbery and fear, offset by a study of profound faith and exaltation. It is an unusual—and usually incompatible—combination that has been wielded here with extraordinary smoothness and remarkable effectiveness.”
– Nelson B. Bell, Washington Post, January 9, 1947" (NPS)

AA: Connections, connections. Watching films in a festival one starts to see connections such as the figure of the overpowering father in Holiday (seen last night) and The Razor's Edge (this morning). Both fathers are self-centered and making the life of the young generation miserable. In this epic film the father figure Elliott Templeton is played by Clifton Webb. Templeton's vanity and narcissism keep growing literally until his deathbed.

The Razor's Edge belongs to the special movies in which a famous author participates as a character in his own story. Other examples would include Jean Servais as Guy de Maupassant in Max Ophuls's Le Plaisir. Here Herbert Marshall plays W. Somerset Maugham, a discreet observer and participant in key scenes. There are also films in which the authors appear themselves: as themselves or playing roles written by them. F. E. Sillanpää appears as the narrator in Roland af Hällström's Poika eli kesäänsä. Stephen King plays a role in George A. Romero's Creepshow. Irvine Welsh is a drug dealer in Trainspotting. James Dickey is the sheriff in Deliverance.

Darryl F. Zanuck (new startling Me Too revelations about whom I happened to read during this weekend) produced the film with an all star Fox cast. Besides Clifton Webb, Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney and Anne Baxter are in key roles. Tyrone Power had been a Fox star since 1946, a dashing lead in Jesse James, Blood and Sand, and The Mark of Zorro, and expanding his scope in difficult psychological roles such as Larry Darrell in The Razor's Edge.

Edmund Goulding was a great women's director* and an equally great men's director. He had gotten his breakthrough at MGM, switched to Warner Bros. and worked at 20th Century Fox since 1943. His two Tyrone Power vehicles there, The Razor's Edge and Nightmare Alley, were among his best.

Seen today, The Razor's Edge emerges as a story relevant to the centenary of WWI, another great "lost generation" tale which must have struck a chord in 1946. Larry Darrell has been saved on the front by a friend who gave his life for him. He feels lost, and it takes him ten years to find his balance, which finally succeeds in the highlands of the Himalayas. He has been snubbed by his elite friends who have no idea of what he is going through, but he is above being resentful for that.

With men like this, women can feel disoriented, as well. Women stay with the money or marry money. Isabel (Gene Tierney) marries a millionaire, Gray (John Payne). They lose everything in the stock market crash of 1929. Larry thanks to skills learned on the Himalayas is able to heal Gray who gets a nervous breakdown.

The only one who has survived the Wall Street crash is Elliott Templeton who has been selling short, profited enormously and retired to the Riviera where he keeps getting more snobbish by the day and where his main joy is in his noble and royal contacts. Larry, whom Elliott has always despised, makes the final moment of his life happy by faking a royal invitation for him.

The character of Larry belongs to the most interesting religious characters in the cinema. His spirituality is a mix of Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. His happiness is in his good deeds for which he expects no acknowledgement. He lives in humble circumstances but is richer than the others.

Larry saves from the gutter Sophie MacDonald (Anne Baxter) whom he is about to marry. The jealous Isabel who has never stopped loving Larry traps Sophie back to alcoholism and a destructive path that leads to her murder. With her ingenious plot Isabel only achieves a situation in which Larry will never have anything to do with her.

There is a big, sprawling, epic approach in the movie which is not without moments of kitsch, such as the sequence on the Himalayas shot on the Fox backlot. Towards the end the storytelling is needlessly prolonged.

The Razor's Edge is a melodrama, and the performances are highly stylized, not psychologically convincing. This is polished, glamorous star acting, missing nuance and complexity.

The cinematography by Arthur C. Miller is stunning with something close to a plan-séquence concept. The long, elaborate camera movements are breathtaking, connecting a large cast of characters with clarity and excitement.

The visual quality is gorgeous, the sense of depth essential to a story like this.

* Louise Brooks on his dear friend Eddie Goulding: "His name evokes a vision of sex without sin which paralyzes the guilty mind of Hollywood. All for love, he directed his sexual events with the same attention he gave the directing of films." (Louise Brooks: "Why I Will Never Write My Memoirs". Focus on Film, Nr. 15, March 1978).

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