Kehr’s Weekly Recap: The Razor’s Edge (1984)

The Razor's Edge (1984)

Unsettled by his experience in World War I, Lake Forest cutup Bill Murray resigns the shallow materialism of his friends and fiancee and sets out on the narrow path to spiritual enlightenment. This intensely embarrassing film clearly has great personal value for Murray (the real-life parallels become chillingly explicit when a subplot introduces a dope- and booze-addicted friend whom Murray is unable to save), but if the motivations are authentic, the result is anything but. The screenplay (cowritten by Murray and director John Byrum) shies away from specifying Murray’s spiritual achievements; instead of maturing, the character simply becomes more smug and condescending, and the movie’s ultimate subject is his fatuous self-satisfaction in the face of the other characters’ carefully delineated weaknesses. Not one moment in the film works the way it was plainly meant to. With Theresa Russell, Catherine Hicks, and Denholm Elliott. PG-13, 128 min.

The Razor's Edge (1946)

The 1946 original, with Tyrone Power as the proto-hippie who resigns his North Shore upbringing in favor of wandering Europe and India in search of eternal wisdom; once he’s attained it, he goes back to his upper-class friends and straightens out their hopelessly muddled lives. Somerset Maugham‘s novel is basically a revenge fantasy for intellectuals, with a heavy streak of misogyny focused on the figure of the hero’s grasping, jealous, and eventually murderous fiancee, elements that come through just as unpleasantly here as in Bill Murray‘s 1984 remake. But director Edmund Goulding is able to check the more embarrassing excesses of the material, turning philosophical hokum into acceptable melodrama. Still, it’s Gene Tierney‘s incarnation of the spurned fiancee that brings the picture to life; her transformation from wounded innocent to cold-blooded harpy is subtle, terrifying, and weirdly erotic. With John Payne, Anne Baxter, Clifton Webb, and Herbert Marshall.


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