Following 1943's "Crash Dive," Tyrone Power went off to join the army, and after the end of WWII, Power reassessed his career as the studio's leading swashbuckler/hero/romantic lead, and began to yearn for a more diverse roles. No longer satisfied with the usual heroic fodder, Power sought to stretch his acting chops and return to the character parts he enjoyed during his formative stage years.
Unlike some of the top prestige pictures made during the studios' heyday, "The Razor's Edge" has aged extremely well, due largely to an obvious respect held by the filmmakers and the actors for Somerset Maugham's best-selling novel. With the author writing himself in as a character in this post-WWI drama, the film blurs the line between straight fiction, and partial autobiography: the cinematic Maugham functions as a moral hinge between the heady, upper-class snootery of a wealthy and socially bored generation, and the earnest quest of the novel's lead character; travelling the world, discovering his identity, and spiritual self.
Distilled to a more elementary level, Tyrone Power's youthful desire to roam Europe, meet interesting people, discover new things, break his dependency on family money, and mature into an adult isn't that different from any kid travelling for a year to decide exactly what the heck to do his/her life. Power's travels and travails also make him more contemporary than we expect; as his needs and expectations change, he tries other careers over the film's lengthy time span (though admittedly, not many people travel to the mountains, and live with a white-haired guru, waiting until a Holy light bulb signals they're ready for the bright, big world).
The two commentators - engaging historians Anthony Slide and Robert Birchard - manage to speak in substantive chunks, and while there are obvious silent gaps (this is a 140 minute epic, after all), listeners are treated to good overviews that also includes some biographical links between Maugham's own life travels, the original novel, and the film's successful combination of condensed sequences and lengthy montages - the latter functioning as effectively measured intros to the class-restricted worlds of Power's former upper-class background - with evil babe Gene Tierney constantly plotting to pull him back - and the interconnected tragedies of the middle and lower-classes that Power treats with dignity.
Anne Baxter deservedly won an Oscar for her role as the film's most tragic character, and Clifton Webb once again portrays another upper-class snot for the big screen, who never fails to insult the world with his fairly democratic, barbed wit.
Fox' transfer is made from an excellent print, and Alfred Newman's classic score delivers a typically lush style while sympathetically alluding to the various dysfunctional romances in the film.
The included newsreels cover author Maugham handing over his heft, original manuscript to a stilted representative of the Library of Congress; the New York premiere on Broadway (with guest "Frank Sinatra, The Voice, with police protection against bobbysoxers!"); and Anne Baxter receiving her Oscar Award from Lionel Barrymore.
"The Razor's Edge" was given another big screen treatment in 1984, with the oddball casting of Bill Murray as the wandering hero. Power and director Goulding subsequently re-teamed in the superb film noir thriller, "Nightmare Alley."
© 2005 Mark R. Hasan