The ABC's of Film Noir
The ABC's of Film Noir

The Razor’s Edge (1984) Classic Movie Review 164

The Razor's Edge (1984)

The Razor’s Edge (1984)

It's easy to be a holy man on top of a mountain

Today’s movie is The Razor’s Edge (1984). This movie rates a low 6.6 on [1] and at only 50 percent on the Tomatometer, but a fair 77 percent audiences’ approval. This is fairly accurate.

The great film critic Roget Ebert said:

In other words, this is your standard 1960s hippie drama, moved back in time and adapted from the great novel by Somerset Maugham. If the movie really had a sense of its time (if it seemed to know that it took place in an era when the characters were much more unusual than they would be today), the hero’s odyssey would mean more. But the flaw in this movie is that the hero is too passive, too contained, too rich in self-irony, to really sweep us along in his quest.

He didn’t completely hate it.

“The Razor’s Edge” is far from being a bad movie. Some of the scenes are very good, especially the uncle’s deathbed farewell and Murray’s first attempts to sober up Russell”[2]

And I must say, I loved it a lot more before I watched the Anne Baxter-Gene Tierney-Tyron Power version.



Bill Murray played naive American seeker Larry Darrell. Bill Murray was covered in Episode 96 – Scrooged (1988).

Brian Doyle-Murray played soldier Piedmont. Brian Doyle-Murray was covered in Episode 96 – Scrooged (1988). Brotherly love is a good thing.


Theresa Russell played the role of the self-destructive Sophie MacDonald. Russell was born in California in 1957. Russell started modeling at age 12, and her first film was The Last Tycoon (1976) which was directed by Elia Kazan. Her co-stars were Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, and Robert Mitchum.

Russell stood out in The Razor’s Edge (1984), but her fame really grew when she starred opposite Debra Winger in the thriller Black Widow (1987). Other movies include Kafka (1991), Being Human (1994), Wild Things (1998), The Believer (2001), Luckytown (2000), Empire Falls (2005), Spider-Man 3 (2007) and Jolene (2008).

Catherine Hicks played the role of spoiled brat Isabel Bradley. Hicks was born in 1951 in New York City. She was raised in Arizona and graduated high school in 1969. She attended Saint Mary’s College and then went to Cornell University where she received an acting scholarship. She left Cornell in 1975 and got a job on the soap opera “Ryan’s Hope 1976-1978. Hicks acted on Broadway for a time before moving to Hollywood. Her first non-tv movie was in 1982, but the late 1980s were her time to shine. Roles during this period include Garbo Talks (1984), The Razor’s Edge (1984) and Peggy Sue Got Married (1986). However, her most well-known movie role was as “Dr. Gillian Taylor” who helped Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and the crew of the Enterprise take a humpbacked whale from the 20th to the 23rd century in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986). Hicks continued to work in film and on television and had a successful series on television “7th Heaven” 1996-2007.

Denholm Elliott played socialite Elliott Templeton. Denholm was born in England in 1922. He spent almost 40 years working as a character actor in the UK and the USA. His first movie was released in 1949. However, it was much later when I began to notice him. He played a rather odd part as the Abortionist in Alfie (1966). Another odd cast was as Will Scarlett in the adventures of elder Robin Hood in Robin and Marian (1976). He had a part in the post-Nazi thriller The Boys from Brazil (1978) and a member of the British Army in Zulu Dawn (1979) as did most English actors.

Denholm really made his marker when he played the highly competent museum curator Dr. Marcus Brody in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) where he showed he was totally inept once he left the walls of the museum. Denholm played a great snobby Elliott Templeton in The Razor’s Edge (1984) and performed almost the same role as a butler in the comedy Trading Places (1983). Denholm died in 1992 at the age of 70.

Saeed Jaffrey plays Raaz. Jaffrey was born in Punjab, India in 1929. Saeed attended the University of Allahabad and earned a post-graduate history degree. He worked for All India Radio and ran his own English language theater company. He attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London finishing in 1956. He moved to the US on a Fulbright scholarship and earned a second post-graduate degree.

He worked on stage in American and Britain before moving into television. He became a well-recognized star in the United Kingdom but continued stage work in the USA. Saeed began his US film career in The Guru (1969) but made higher quality films such as The Man Who Would Be King (1975) where he performed the part of Billy Fish wonderfully, Gandhi (1982), and A Passage to India (1984). Sadly, he passed away in 2015 at the age of 86.

Kunchuck Tharching played the Lama. This was his only movie role.


The movie begins at a 4th of July picnic outside of Chicago. Baseball, swimming, and hot dogs – all is fine in the world. The American Ambulance Service is sending ambulances and crews to work with our future World War I ally’s. The local crew are recent college graduates, Gray Maturin (James Keach) and Larry Darrell (Bill Murray). Gray is all business and duty, while Larry is a carefree goof. It does a good job showing Larry’s love for Isabel Bradley (Catherine Hicks) and his fondness for married Sophie MacDonald (Theresa Russell). They also show Elliott Templeton’s (Denholm Elliott) contempt for his American roots. They make a nice transition for the 4th of July fireworks to the World War I battlefield.

The Razor's Edge (1984)

The Razor’s Edge (1984)

Piedmont (Brian Doyle-Murray) is their boss, and he is jaded by the war and the absurdity of the whole thing. Piedmont teaches Gray and Larry, and another crew from Harvard that brought a white ambulance to the war. The Harvard crew is killed on their first run, and Larry learns to follow Piedmont’s rules. Piedmont criticizes everyone that dies so he won’t miss them. Larry’s only hope is thinking of returning to Isabel.

Near the end of the war, the ambulance crews are in no man’s land looking for survivors. They get attacked and cutoff. Piedmont takes a bayonet to the stomach, saving Larry’s life. Larry criticizes Piedmont so he won’t miss him.

Larry and Gray return home, but Larry can’t get on track. Gray goes to work as a stockbroker in his father’s office, but Larry turns down the job. Sophie’s baby has been born. Isabel has a fight with Larry about turning down the job and not setting the wedding date. Finally, Larry says he needs some time to travel. Elliott thinks it’s great as it will break-up the marriage plans between the two. Elliott vows to help Larry in Europe. Larry rejects all of Elliott’s efforts and works and lives among the working class.

After six months, Isabel and her mother come to visit Elliott in Paris. Elliott tells Isabel that she will inherit everything he has. Larry shows up, and they are back in love, just like before. But it not long before Larry’s bohemian ways and lack of ambition cause a rift with Isabel. Isabel returns to Illinois and quickly marries Gray. Larry moves on and begins working in a coal mine.

The Razor's Edge (1984)

The Razor’s Edge (1984)

One day in the mine, Larry save the life of Mackenzie (Peter Vaughan). Mackenzie takes a liking to Larry. Mackenzie tells Larry about some books and finally tells about India, where many people search for the meaning of life. Mackenzie is nowhere near as interesting as the defrocked priest in the earlier version of this film.

Gary and Isabel are called to the hospital where Sophie has to be told that her husband Bob and her child have been killed in a car accident the family was in. It is a very good scene, and they start doping her up on morphine. Gray and Isabel desert Sophie when she needs them the most.

Larry travels to India and rents a houseboat from Raaz (Saeed Jaffrey). Raaz tells Larry that he is a wealthy man and washes dishes in the river as a religious experience. Raaz agrees to take Larry to a monastery in the high mountains. They travel for several days, higher into the mountains, and Larry suffers from mountain sickness. Finally, they get to the Buddhist monastery and meet the Lama (Kunchuck Tharching). Larry is allowed to stay and continue his learning.

While Larry is away, the stock market crashes, so it has been 10-years since World War I ended. Gray’s father becomes part of a gentle rain of stockbrokers that fell to Earth that year (he really shot himself). Isabel and Gray have two daughters. Gray sinks into depression. Elliott is fixed well for money because of his Vatican connections. Sophie is drinking a lot, but she does turn up for the funeral.

Larry continues to work in the monastery until one day he is called to the Lama. He is told to take some books and travel to a hut that is higher in the mountains. Larry makes the lonely trek to the hut where he watches the mountains and reads. On the day of his moment of clarity, Larry begins to burn the pages of the book for a fire. He has found what he is looking for. In the book, it is that reincarnation is real and that he and Piedmont will live again. Larry returns to the monastery where he tells the Lama he is leaving. Larry says “Isn’t it true, it is easy to be a holy man on the top of a mountain?” The Lama replies “You are closer than you think. The path to salvation is narrow and as difficult to walk as the razor’s edge.”

Larry returns to Paris, and the effects of The Great Depression are showing. Larry runs into Elliott in the marketplace. Elliott tells about Isabel and Gray and their troubles. Elliott asks Larry to come by sometime.

The Razor's Edge (1984)

The Razor’s Edge (1984)

Larry meets the children and Isabel is still in love with him. She is putting a brave face on their problems. Larry uses self-hypnosis to help Gray get rid of his migraines. With Gray feeling well again, they decide to go out to celebrate. They continue going out, and one night they find Sophie at a dive bar. She is at least a part-time prostitute if not full time. She has a boyfriend /pimp Coco (Serge Feuillard). Larry has strong feelings for Sophie, and he eventually springs her from the bar.

Larry takes Sophie to his flat and slowly gets her off the booze and opium. They have a wonderful romance, and both of them are happy for a time. Larry and Sophie meet Gray, Elliott, and Isabel for lunch. Elliott makes a big deal about some Persovka. All except Sophie drink. She is looking a little rough. Larry and Sophie announce their plan to marry. Isabel blows a gasket.

Isabel says she wants to buy Sophie a dress for the wedding. She gets her to the house and then starts ragging on her about her dead child and how she is no good. When Sophie looks at a picture of her dead family, and she is done in. Isabel intentionally leaves an open bottle of Persovka with Sophie and leaves her alone.

When Sophie doesn’t return Larry searches the dive bar and opium dens looking for her. He finally finds her high on opium and hanging with Coco. Sophie is as mean to Larry as she can be. She says Isabel was right about everything. A man attacks Larry from behind. He does okay until the odds turn against him.

The next day, he is laying around, suffering from his beating. Two detectives come in and tell him the Sophie has been murdered by having her throat cut. Larry reflects more on the meaning of life.

Finally, he goes to Elliott’s house and finds out from Gray that the old man is dying. Joseph, the Butler (André Maranne) tells Larry that Elliott is heartbroken because he never received an invitation to Princess Novemali’s party. Larry picks up an envelope and an old bill and puts it in his pocket.

The Razor's Edge (1984)

The Razor’s Edge (1984)

Larry tells Isabel that Sophie was murdered and he knows that Isabel was behind the drinking. Isabel confesses her love for Larry. They all go in to be with Elliott as he dies. Larry pulls the envelope from his pocket and pretends it is the coveted party invitation. Elliott dictates his reply, curses Novemali, and dies a happy man.

Larry tells Isabel that he owed a debt to Piedmont for his life. He though Sophie was his reward for a good life, but there is no payoff in life. Larry says goodbye to Gray, and Joseph asks him where he is going. Larry says he is going home to America.

World-Famous Short Summary – Veteran goes on extended va-ca.

The first time I saw this movie was in 1984 when it played on HBO. I set my VCR to record and ended up watching the movie as it recorded. Then I watched it again. By this time the Sun was up, I invited my friend over, and we watched it again and skipped class. I was pretty taken with this movie. Unfortunately, Bill Murray’s jokes don’t hold up as well. A good movie, but stick to the earlier version.

The Razor's Edge (1984)

The Razor’s Edge (1984)

Beware the moors



The Razor’s Edge (1984)

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