As the credits for The Razor's Edge (Edmund Goulding, 1946) came flashing up on the screen, I sat on my futon for a minute trying to decide what this film was actually about. It's not that the film was confusing in the traditional sense; on the contrary, the narrative was as straight-forward as you could possibly get. What I had trouble understanding, rather, was what Goulding and company were trying to do with this adaptation of Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge. I thought for awhile it was about Larry Darrell's (played here by Tyrone Power, definitive proof that you could be the biggest star in Hollywood and never have an ounce of acting talent) journey toward self-discovery and enlightenment in a post-WWI world, but that plot line is resolved tidily half-way through the film and never really mentioned again. Then the film switched gears and started focusing on the relationship between Larry and Isabel (the beautiful, yet blank, Gene Tierney) and I thought, "Okay, now this is going into a tragic melodrama about forbidden love or something" but that, as well, never really came to be. Their relationship ended 30 minutes in and neither of them seemed that devastated, even when they ran into each other numerous times over the next decade or so. It wasn't until Isabel discovers that Larry wants to help their old friend Sophie (Anne Baxter), a hopeless alcoholic after the death of her husband and child, by marrying her and aiding in her recovery that we even realize she still has romantic feelings for him. Not only does she still love him, her character arc takes a complete 180 into Alex Forrest territory and plots the demise of Sophie. And while this is going on, Larry doesn't seem to be in love with Isabel at all. So, if The Razor's Edge isn't about either of these things, what the hell is it really about? Beats me. The film is a mess, but manufactured so it looks like everyone involved knew what the hell they were doing.
The cast is uniformly bland and uninspiring. Tyrone Power was nothing more than eye candy in the 30's (especially in Marie Antoinette, yum) and he never really matured as an actor, so it should come as no surprise how dull he is here. Gene Tierney casts some sort of charm over a lot of classic film watchers, but her appeal has always been lost on me. She's nothing more than a blank canvas who carefully reads her lines and that's about it. Anne Baxter won a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her performance here and it's rather easy to see why they fell for it- a drunk scene was the surest way to Oscar attention in those days. She's not bad, but nothing about her performance really stood out to me. She was so much better four years later as the manipulative Eve in All About Eve. Clifton Webb was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for reprising his tired, old queen act that he did much better in Laura two years previous. His Uncle Elliott gets the best lines but it's nothing we haven't seen from Webb before.
All in all, The Razor's Edge is typical of the prestige pictures of the 30's and 40's (hell, even many modern day prestige pictures fall into this category) in that the makers felt that THE MESSAGE alone makes the picture great and the acting, writing, directing and technical work were all secondary to THE MESSAGE. If only someone had realized that THE MESSAGE alone couldn't save a film as dire as this one. D