The Razor's Edge is the second film version of W. Somerset Maugham's 1944 novel. The film was released in 1984 and stars Bill Murray, Theresa Russell, Catherine Hicks, Denholm Elliott, Brian Doyle-Murray and James Keach. It was directed by John Byrum.
According to an interview with director John Byrum published on August 8, 2006 in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, he had wanted to film an adaptation of Maugham's book in the early 1980s. The director brought a copy of the book to his friend Margaret "Mickey" Kelley who was in the hospital after giving birth. Byrum remembers getting a call the next day at four AM, "and it was Mickey's husband, Bill [Murray]. He said, 'This is Larry, Larry Darrell.'"
Byrum and Murray drove across America while writing the screenplay. What they had written did not resemble the previous film version. Murray included a farewell speech to his recently deceased friend John Belushi in the script; this appears as Larry Darrell's farewell speech to Piedmont, a fellow ambulance driver in World War I. While Murray was attached to the project, Byrum had trouble finding a studio to finance it.
Dan Aykroyd suggested that Murray could appear in Ghostbusters for Columbia Pictures in exchange for the studio greenlighting The Razor's Edge. Murray agreed and a deal was made with Columbia. For the next year and half, cast and crew shot on location in France, Switzerland and India with a $12 million budget. After the last day of principal photography, Murray left to make Ghostbusters.
This marked Murray's first starring role in a dramatic film, though Murray did inject some of his dry wit into the script. The film grossed $6.6 million at the box office; In this version, the book's epigraph is dramatized as advice given to Darrell by a Tibetan monk: "The path to salvation is narrow and as difficult to walk as a razor's edge."
The film opens in Illinois at a fair planned to raise money to support Gray Maturin and Larry Darrell who are joining World War 1 as ambulance drivers. During their service they witness deaths and are nearly killed themselves at one point. After serving in the war Larry Darrell returns to America with the realization that his life plans will not make him happy, so he puts off his engagement to Isabel and travels to Paris in an effort to find meaning in his life.
Instead of following his uncle Elliott's suggestions of staying at first class hotels and wining and dining with the aristocracy he lives a simple life reading philosophy books in a cheap hotel and eventually gets a job as a coal miner. After saving the life of a coworker by pushing him out of the way of an out of control mine car he has a conversation about books with the elder miner. After discussing their choice in books the miner suggests a Russian magician's book and follows that with a suggestion to travel to India to gain a different perspective.
Larry then travels to India where he eventually joins a Buddhist monastery. As an exercise he hikes to the top of a snow covered mountain and meditates alone. After running out of firewood he starts to burn books that he brought along with him. Once he is finished on the mountain he travels back to the monastery and promptly leaves to go back to Paris.
Returning to Paris Larry discovers that many things have changed: His former fiance Isabel has married Gray and they have had two children. The great depression bankrupted Gray's livelihood and forced he and Isabel to move to Paris with Elliott Templeton. The formerly married Sophie has lost her husband and child in an accident and has turned to alcohol, opium, and prostitution.
Larry immediately attempts to reform Sophie and after a period of time where things have gone smoothly they become engaged. Upon sharing the news with Gray, Elliott, and Isabel, Isabel insists that she will buy Sophie a wedding dress as a gift. Before Isabel and Sophie can go dress shopping they have a conversation where Isabel admits she still loves Larry and condemns Sophie labeling her a burden on Larry. Their conversation is interrupted by a phone call and Isabel is called elsewhere leaving Sophie alone with a bottle of liquor.
Larry attempts to track Sophie down and finds her at an opium den with her former pimp. After a confrontation Larry is left bleeding in the street while Sophie stays in the establishment. The next morning Larry is awoken by two men at the door and brought to the morgue to identify Sophie's body. Larry then goes to Elliott's house to try and figure out what went wrong the previous day. Upon his arrival he is alerted to the fact that Elliott has had a stroke and has been given his last rites. Larry confronts Isabel about what happened but is interrupted by the final moments of Elliott's life. Larry does a good deed for Elliott by convincing him that the Parisian aristocrats have not forgotten about him. After Elliott passes he has a final confrontation with Isabel and says his goodbye to Gray. He states his intention to depart for home, which prompts the question 'Where is home?' to which he replies America.
Bill Murray – Larry Darrell
Theresa Russell – Sophie MacDonald
Catherine Hicks – Isabel Bradley
Denholm Elliott – Elliott Templeton
James Keach – Gray Maturin
Peter Vaughan – Mackenzie
Brian Doyle-Murray – Piedmont
Faith Brook – Louisa Bradley
Saeed Jaffrey – Raaz