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Too long, too pretentious and too much Power
on 30 October 2009
A film which - to borrow Shaw's words about Henry James - has "chewed off more than it can bite", 'Razor's Edge' manages to last for long 140 minutes or so without hardly a single, original, thought in its head. The badly miscast Tyrone Power, wide eyed and gormless, tries to look intellectual but ends up appearing confused. As much as he works at his part, Power simply can't communicate philosophical contemplation adequately. This central weakness makes his single-minded odyssey appear shallow, trite, and selfish - ultimately achieving nothing but a good view of a sunrise from a private hut in the Himalayas. His newly found enlightenment may mean a lot to him personally, but the film reduces it to the status of a hypnotist's act, useful in curing headaches. A moment's comparison to a similarly tortured soul, Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh in Minnelli's 'Lust for Life' (1956) reveals just how soft and insubstantial is the centre of Zanuck's earnest would-be masterpiece; Douglas is neurotic, fierce and intense as the man seeking for great peace of soul - Power just stands around and looks mildly perplexed.
There's some recompense in the splendid performances of Webb and Tierney of course, and Goulding's extravagant mounting of this prestige production makes individual scenes pass more easily than they otherwise might do. Some of his camera movements and set ups are complex, choreographed carefully, and reveal more about character relationships than the dialogue. But the Indian episode is trivial and unconvincing, while Darrell's querulous rejection of material shallowness beforehand is nothing like as full throated as one would like it to be. (Perhaps this coyness is an indication of the political temperature of the times.) Similarly, Sophie's degradation is hardly shocking to modern eyes, her final collapse in a vague 'smoking den' after falling prey to Pisovka (Absinthe) a relatively mild affair.
As Maugham, Herbert Marshall gives his usual sophisticated performance, while John Payne remains obstinately wooden. As one might expect from such a project, Newman's score is opulent and lush, the cinematography crisp and detailed.
Ultimately this ambitious, flabby, work makes one want to return to the more sincere, slimmer delights of 'Laura', where both Tierney and Webb were united earlier to much better effect. Or, for a film where camp is worn on the sleeve rather than wrapped in the earnestness of 'art', I'd recommend Tierney in 'Leave Her To Heaven', made immediately after the classic noir.
It may not be based on a grand novel, but it sure is more enjoyable.