A prestigious postwar production from Twentieth Century-Fox, The Razor's Edge was blessed with top talent that unsurprisingly included the studio's head composer, Alfred Newman. Having scored The Song of Bernadette (1943) and with just a year from his masterpiece, The Captain from Castile (1947), Newman was in the midst of his busiest and arguably best creative period before the demands of being the head of the studio's music department somewhat curtailed his heavy output by the mid-fifties.
Longtime fans will note how the first bars of the film's "Main Title" bear a resemblance to the broad, soothing harmonics of The Robe's opening herald, while the film's core theme reflects the composer's familiar use of high register harmonics, punctuated by a large percussion clash towards the end of the cue. Newman's style is instantly recognizable, and while critics have often found his thematic writing overly romantic, his use of harmonics could reach powerful conclusions, as in Bernadette's confrontations with her compelling angel.
Being a contemporary score, Newman orchestrated a number of popular instrumental tunes primarily as source cues, and SAE's conclusion of classics like "I'll See You in My Dreams" and "April Showers" offers a window into the lighthearted ditties of the era, although Newman's adaptations match the harmonics of the original score cues, giving the film a formal style befitting the polite and snotty characters of Somerset Maugham's novel, who wander from various social events throughout America and Europe. The prominence of song material in the film's first section sets up the more emotionally overwrought events, tragedies, and nasty conflicts that will affect the characters as their social circles are re-arranged, and Tyrone Power's character goes on his spiritual quest in the Himalayas.
It's around track 8, "Larry's Journey Overseas," that Newman starts to shift from source to original material, although elements such as a piano solo cuts into his theme restatement in "Isabel and Larry in Paris." Even the intimacy of "Last Night Together" is cast aside as "The Parisian Trot" kicks in, and leads into the next aural montage, "Night Clubbing" - a patchwork of source vocals and short instrumentals heard as the couple have a night on the town.
"Larry Travels to the East" is the first really meaty cue by Newman, which he uses to re-orient the film's score to Tyrone Power's emotional conflicts between past loves, and a need to find greater meaning in his existence. Broad melodic strokes with strings and subtle brass signal Power's slow transformation to a man at peace, and unfettered by materialistic needs, and a restatement of the broad, heraldic phrases that opened the film underline his decision to seek physical isolation. The cue leads into "The Mountain Retreat," which forms the second half of what's arguably the emotional core of Newman's score.
It's expected that once Power returns to France, the sounds and songs of his more decadent past fill the soundtrack, and while fans wanting a more permanent presence of dramatic underscore have to wait until the film's final reel, functionally, the songs have become an unwanted stressor on Power's life, and it's clear their presence will contribute to his ultimate abandonment of his past life, and former social clique.
Though the score has less formally dramatic cues than expected (or desired, if you're an ardent Newman fan), even the brief efforts are quite outstanding. "Sophie's Torment" is particularly moving with Newman's use of woodwinds, and one realizes the heavy melodic content of source songs and arrangements makes Newman's central theme all the more powerful when it returns after a long absence.
One could parallel the approach with a contemporary film score peppered with pop songs, and certainly a prime example is Thomas Newman's Less Than Zero , which introduces the film's characters, steps back for the massive pop songs that reflect the young adult's pretentious and decadent lives, and suddenly takes over the soundtrack in large swatches when major conflicts and tragedy strike a once-close group of cliquish friends. Thomas Newman's use of this approach merely proves how much the elder Alfred has learned and refined in an art form that was still quite new in 1946.
SAE's CD comes with a typically lush booklet and densely written liner notes, plus two bonus cuts: an unused waltz, titled "Exit Music," believed to have been intended for a an unrealized Intermission break; and an incomplete vocal demo by Louis Mercier, who appears in the film as a taxi driver.
Collectors should still hold onto the Corsair bootleg CD, since it contains additional cues and some alternate tracks (albeit mislabeled), although the new CD is the definitive presentation, with ray Faiola's fine work in remixing the various mike pickups into a true-stereo recording, as was done for SAE's sublime restoration of Newman's Captain from Castile.
© 2006 Mark R. Hasan