The 2005 DVD release of 20th Century Fox’s production of W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Razor’s Edge” is a cinematic treasure. The direction by Edmond Goulding is top notch and captures the glamour and decadence of post World War I Paris in glittering perfection. Much praise must go to the art and set direction by Richard Day and Nathan Juran. Over 80 sets were constructed; some only glimpsed for a few moments evoke the period and splendor of the time and place. The production values of this picture are of the highest quality of this, Fox’s “Important Picture for 1946”.Goulding was famous for long takes and he is aided by the brilliant cinematographer Arthur C. Miller. The score by Alfred Newman is magnificent though surprisingly sparse for a film from the 1940’s His use of source music and songs of the period help to inform the viewer of character and mood. His main theme is majestic and stirring and its reprise at the end is something near to epic played against a close-up of Tyrone Power and dissolves into the crashing waves against a tramp steamer.
(Herbert Marshall as Somerset Maugham, Clifton Webb, Gene Tierney, Anne Baxter and Tyrone Power)
Though a little too old and too handsome for the role of Larry Darell Tyrone Power, turns in a beautifully felt performance of a man in search for himself and his place in the world. A very modern and complex idea for the 1940’s involving a trip to India and consultations with a guru. Gene Tierney is perfect as the woman who loves him and will stop at nothing to get him. This underrated beauty gives one of her best performances in an unsympathetic role. Anne Baxter, who won her Oscar as Sophie, is at times touching, real and yet manages to chew her share of the scenery toward the end of the picture. She is just plain fun to watch.
(Anne Baxter as Sophie)
But the picture is completely stolen by the wonderful, prissy and perfect performance of Clifton Web. His bravery as an actor in his last scene when he cries “There are going to be fireworks” is to be applauded. He perfectly captures the futile collapse of a shallow man as not many in Hollywood at that time might have dared.
There is one scene that epitomizes the skill and craft of film making in the end of the golden age and that is the chapter on the DVD entitled “Last Fling”. All the powers of the actors, director, cinematographer, set designers, lighting technicians, and composer come together in this nearly silent montage and the subsequent scene at dawn in Tierney’s Paris apartment. Larry’s and Isabel’s night on the town moves through a sumptuous Paris nightclub, to a Russian restaurant, and on to a hot jazz club where a fist fight ensues. Watch the extras in this scene. They are the stars here and each have a tale to tell in there brief moments on screen. I was reminded of Scorsese’s Coconut Grove scenes in “The Aviator” by this impeccably directed montage and wondered if it had in fact influence him being the film historian he is.
But the best is yet to come, upon arriving home Isabel and Larry move through a brilliantly choreographed scene that leads up to a kiss and then a rejection. There is no dialog, only the pantomime of the actors and the accompaniment of the musical score. In this we learn all we need to of her motives and desire and his reaction and acceptance. It is very sexy and intense and the only bit of clothing that is lost is her shawl.
It is brilliant and movie storytelling at its best.
There is also a wonderful commentary by film historians Anthony Slide and Robert Brichard. Also included is a Fox Movietone News reel of other aspects relating to the film. Don’t miss this wonderful classic from Fox’s brilliant Studio Classics collection. They really know how to present their treasures to us as few other studios do.
On a perfume note: My pick for Isabel’s fragrance would be My Sin by Lanvin. A floral aldehyde that is a seductive masterpiece by the mysterious “Nose” from Russia called Madame Zed. For Larry I would choose the classic Eurcis by Geo. F. Trumper. Created in 1912 it is a classic floral woody musk eau de cologne with a touch of sandal wood and black currents.
Now the lights are dimming, it is premiere night at Grauman’s Chinese Theater 1946. The plush red curtains slowly part to the thunderous strains of Alfred Newman’s score to “The Razor’s Edge”. Enjoy the show.
(The Seduction Suite by Alfred Newman from The Razor’s Edge 1946)