By Rob Blackwelder
Although widely considered a classic, this condensed adaptation of M. Somerset Maugham's novel of social standing and self-discovery is long on soap-operatics and conspicuously short on the soul-searching that's meant to drive its most pivotal character.
Tyrone Power gives a rather dead-eyed performance as a World War I vet who finds it hard to return to the upper-class trappings of his home life, so he sets out to find himself by bumming around Europe, working in a coal mine, and climbing mountains in India. But while director Edmund Goulding shows, for example, Power arriving at a Hindu monastery, then a few short scenes later shows him bidding farewell wearing a distant stare and a halcyon smile (the 1940s and '50s Hollywood symbol for enlightenment, a la Biblical epics), the film in no way addresses his actual spiritual journey.
Meanwhile, the fiancée Power has left behind (played with escalating cattiness for no explored reason by Gene Tierney) has married a financially ambitious dullard (John Payne) who goes bust in the 1929 stock market crash and has a nervous breakdown, the on-screen effects of which are negligible.
The inevitable reunion of this love triangle isn't nearly as interesting as the distaste it inspires in Tierney's disapproving, busybody, aristocratic uncle (a typecast Clifton Webb at his snide and snooty best), who has taken in her family at his deluxe Paris apartment.
Herbert Marshall plays Maugham himself, as a friend of Webb's and the film's narrator. He provides a few choice bon mots ("You sound like a very religious man who doesn't believe in God," he tells Power), but his voice-over is often far too busy telling us what to think of the characters ("I don't think anyone can fail to be better and nobler, kinder for knowing him...") instead of letting the viewers decide for ourselves.
Producer Darryl F. Zanuck spared little expense in adapting "The Razor's Edge" to the screen and it shows (save the soundstagey Paris and the painted backdrop that stands in for the Himalayas), but the focus should have been more on its depth and humanity, and less on lavish sets and party scenes that boast 1,000 extras.
** out of ****
(145m | NR)
Includes an often academic commentary track by two film historians and a handful of related newsreels.
SOUND & PICTURE
Transfered from a print with a few minor imperfections, but the film looks good. Sound is the original mono, but clean.
1:33:1 ratio (16x9 enhanced)
SUBS: English, Spanish
DVD RATING: **1/2