The Razor's Edge (1946 film)

The Razor's Edge

Original film poster artwork by Norman Rockwell
Directed by Edmund Goulding
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
Written by Lamar Trotti
Darryl F. Zanuck (uncredited)
Based on The Razor's Edge
1944 novel
by W. Somerset Maugham
Starring Tyrone Power
Gene Tierney
John Payne
Herbert Marshall
Anne Baxter
Clifton Webb
Music by Alfred Newman
Edmund Goulding (uncredited)
Cinematography Arthur C. Miller
Edited by J. Watson Webb, Jr.
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
December 1946 (1946-12)
Running time
145 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1.2 million
Box office $5 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)[1][2][3]

The Razor's Edge is the first film version of W. Somerset Maugham's 1944 novel. It was released in 1946 and stars Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney, John Payne, Anne Baxter, Clifton Webb, Herbert Marshall, with a supporting cast including Lucile Watson, Frank Latimore and Elsa Lanchester. Marshall plays Somerset Maugham. The film was directed by Edmund Goulding.

The Razor's Edge tells the story of Larry Darrell, an American pilot traumatised by his experiences in World War I, who sets off in search of some transcendent meaning in his life. The story begins through the eyes of Larry's friends and acquaintances as they witness his personality change after the War. His rejection of conventional life and search for meaningful experience allows him to thrive while the more materialistic characters suffer reversals of fortune.

The Razor's Edge was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, with Anne Baxter winning Best Actress in a Supporting Role.


The film, in which W. Somerset Maugham (Herbert Marshall) is himself a minor character, drifting in and out of the lives of the major players, opens at a party held following World War I in 1919 at a country club in Chicago, Illinois. Elliott Templeton (Clifton Webb), an expatriate, has returned to the United States for the first time since before the war to visit his sister, Louisa Bradley (Lucile Watson), and his niece, Isabel (Gene Tierney), engaged to be married to Larry Darrell (Tyrone Power), of whom Elliott strongly disapproves for rejecting both inclusion in their social stratum and working in the common world.

Larry is traumatized by the death of a comrade who sacrificed himself on the last day of the war to save Larry and announces that he plans to "loaf" on his small inheritance of $3,000 a year. He refuses a job offer from the father of his friend Gray (John Payne), a millionaire who is hopelessly in love with Isabel, too. Larry and Isabel agree to postpone their marriage so that he can go to Paris to try to clear his muddled thoughts. Meanwhile, Larry’s childhood friend, Sophie Nelson (Anne Baxter), settles into a happy marriage with Bob MacDonald (Frank Latimore), only to lose him and their baby in a car crash.

In Paris, Larry immerses himself in a Bohemian life. After a year, Isabel visits and Larry asks her to marry him immediately. Isabel does not understand his search for meaning and breaks their engagement. Before she returns to Chicago she cannot carry through with a scheme to seduce Larry and trick him into making an "honest woman" of her. She marries Gray to provide her the elite social and family life she craves. Meanwhile, Larry works in a coal mine in France, where a defrocked priest, Kosti (Fritz Kortner), urges him travel to India to learn from a mystic. Larry studies at a monastery in the Himalayas under the tutelage of the Holy Man (Cecil Humphreys), then makes a lone pilgrimage to the mountaintop where he finds enlightenment. The Holy Man tells Larry to return to the world to share what he now knows about life.

Back in Paris, Maugham meets Elliott by chance and learns that Isabel and her family are living with Elliott after being financially ruined by the stock market crash of 1929. Gray has had a nervous breakdown and suffers from terrible headaches. Elliott "sold short" before the crash and "made a killing" in the market. Maugham arranges a lunch for Elliott and his household to meet an old friend, who turns out to be Larry. Larry is able to help Gray using an Indian form of hypnotic suggestion. Later, while slumming at a disreputable nightclub, they encounter Sophie, now a drunkard. Larry undertakes Sophie's reformation, and out of lofty motives arranges to marry her; but when he tells Isabel, who is still in love with him, she plots to prove to Larry that Sophie's reform is only temporary. She successfully tempts Sophie back into drinking and Sophie disappears. Larry's last endeavour to reclaim his childhood companion from her depravity and despair proves fruitless. Sophie is murdered and her death reunites Larry and Maugham during the police investigation.

Maugham and Larry visit Elliott on his deathbed in the South of France. Larry gives Elliott peace of mind after he is deliberately excluded from an important soiree hosted by a princess with whom he had a row, herself once an American Midwesterner like Elliott. Larry persuades Miss Keith (Lanchester), her social secretary, to allow him to use a blank invitation to counterfeit one for Elliott. Isabel inherits her uncle's fortune, which she can use to underwrite Gray's attempt to rebuild his father's bankrupt brokerage. Larry refuses to reconcile with Isabel, deducing that she caused Sophie's return to drinking, and ultimately, her murder. Instead he decides to work his way back to America aboard a tramp steamer. Maugham tries to console Isabel with the knowledge that Larry is happy because he has found in himself the quality of true "goodness."


Production history

20th Century Fox purchased the film rights from Maugham in March 1945 for $50,000 (equivalent to approximately $658,318[4]) plus 20% of the film's net profits. The contract stipulated that Maugham would receive an additional $50,000 if the film did not start shooting by February 2, 1946. In August 1945, producer Darryl F. Zanuck had the second unit begin shooting in the mountains around Denver, Colorado, which were to portray the Himalayas in the film. The stars had not yet been cast; Larry Darrell was played by a stand-in and was filmed in extreme long shot. Zanuck wanted Tyrone Power to star and delayed casting until Power finished his service in the Marines in January 1946.

Zanuck originally hired George Cukor to direct, but creative differences led to Cukor's removal. Although Maugham wanted his friend (whom he had in mind when he created the character) Gene Tierney for Isabel,[5] Zanuck chose Maureen O'Hara but told her not to tell anyone. As O'Hara recounted in her autobiography, she shared the secret with Linda Darnell, but Zanuck found out, fired O'Hara, and hired Tierney. Betty Grable and Judy Garland were originally considered for the role of Sophie before Baxter was cast. Maugham wrote an early draft of the screenplay but not one word of his version was used in the final script, and as a result Maugham declined Zanuck's request to write a sequel, and never worked in Hollywood again.[6]

Academy Awards



  1. "All Time Domestic Champs", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  2. "Top Grossers of 1947", Variety, 7 January 1948 p 63
  3. Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century-Fox: A Corporate and Financial History Rowman & Littlefield, 2002 p 221
  4. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Community Development Project. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved October 21, 2016.
  5. Tierney and Herskowitz (1978) Wyden Books,Self- Portrait p.177
  7. "The Razor's Edge". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2014-02-07.
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