Razor's Edge, The (1984)

Reviewed By Scott Weinberg
Posted 10/21/02 09:42:53

"Better-than-you've-heard literary adaptation...yes, with Bill Murray."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Long considered a disposable vanity project from Bill Murray at the top of his popularity, The Razor’s Edge is actually not a bad little movie.

Based on the celebrated novel by W. Somerset Maugham, this marks the second cinematic adaptation (the first came in 1946 and starred Tyrone Power) of the material and I’m hard pressed to discover why this one was knocked so mercilessly upon its initial release. (Granted, I’ve never read Maugham’s novel but I’m here to judge movies, not literature.)

Most easily described as ‘one man’s search for meaning’, The Razor’s Edge offers us Larry Darrell, an easygoing young aristocrat from Chicago. Larry and his best buddy Gray have volunteered to act as medics in World War One, unaware of the graphic horrors that await them. Upon returning home after being shot, Larry finds his life an underwhelming charade and promptly sets off for Paris to live a bohemian lifestyle. This news is met with reluctant understanding by his status-obsessed fiancée Isabel. After bouncing from job to unsavory job, Larry finds himself a home in a temple high in the Himalayas. Larry’s return to Paris finds him a new man entirely, and when a few familiar faces from back home arrive on the scene, they’re deeply affected his transformation.

Though it’s often cited as Murray’s first foray into drama, the character he offers here is not unlike several he’s created in his career. Sure, his trademark humor and sarcasm is tempered with the attempt at creating such a layered character, but I’d contend that Murray does a bang-up job here. He may be coasting a bit more on his ‘star power’ than any powerhouse acting chops but the result is still the same. Larry Darrell is a guy you’ll enjoy two hours with.

Directed with a keen eye for impressive exteriors and populated with a host of impressive supporting performers (including James Keach, Theresa Russell and Denholm Elliot), The Razor’s Edge may be a truncated and somewhat episodic adaptation but it’s certainly compelling enough to keep you involved for a solid two hours.

Released the same year as Murray’s Ghostbusters (and grossing about 1/20th the revenues) The Razor’s Edge may pique your interest via Murray’s presence but this one’s a considerably better effort than the ‘vanity-driven reach for legitimacy’ that its detractors have labeled it. Heck, after watching the film, I’m now tempted to pick up Maugham’s novel.

Surely a movie that can do that deserves some praise.

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