“In films these days, people are hardly ever ‘taken’ by others — they don’t strike up sudden affinities, or become voluptuously intrigued by enemies.”
In the 1940s, it was quite possible for a person to have two love interests. Each of these might be charming, in their own way; neither would be demonized, so that a choice would have to come down to the genre of charm. In Hollywood, it was also possible for a film to feature, say, a complex trophy wife, or a multifaceted gold digger: a character who could exert sexual power and stay sane, even benevolent, while doing so. A woman might marry into money, but if she presided calmly over her household, and made enough demands on the viewer — since the audience likes to please exacting performers — then she had earned her place onscreen. Above all, a premium was placed on curiosity. Therefore, this was an era of people doing and saying wondrously contradictory things: being, for instance, strangely likeable, romantically selfish, or capable of making intelligent compromises. At this time, a character could be intriguingly narrow (Notorious, 1946); luscious and Anglophilic (The Gay Sisters, 1942); gallant towards an older man (Rita Hayworth in You’ll Never Get Rich, 1941); ambitious only when the mood strikes them (My Man Godfrey, 1936); adventurous as a side-growth of simplicity (The Razor’s Edge, 1946); the dreamer who gets dreamed about (Leave Her to Heaven, 1945); doll-faced and intent (Whirlpool, 1949); a natural mover and an elusive quantity (Astaire and Cyd Charisse); or, my personal favorite, cat-like and straightforward (in two words: Gloria Grahame).
These are emotional combos Hollywood no longer bothers with, but today they seem magically mature, especially beside the kind of “caustic” satire that gets passed off as adult drama (Your Friends and Neighbors, 1998, American Beauty, 1999, Closer, 2004), or the overt dysfunction of a series like Arrested Development — which could use some of the casual perversity of, say, Mary Astor in The Palm Beach Story (1942). Catherine Zeta-Jones has cornered the market on lovable vamps — and she is an anomaly — but these days, even having dueling love interests, or a passionate friendship, is a sign of complexity in a romance (My Best Friend’s Wedding, 1997).
For me, the climax of character development in Hollywood occurs in Holiday (1938), when a man tells his sister (Katharine Hepburn) that the family’s perception of their other sister, Julia (Doris Nolan, right, with Hepburn), is incorrect. She seems spirited, but in reality, “she’s a very dull girl.” But why has this never been noticed? It’s because, Ned (Lew Ayres) tells Linda, most people are “taken in by her looks.” This is quite a shock, particularly since it doesn’t refer to Julia being a great beauty — she’s not, at least compared to Hepburn. The reason why people think of Julia as sensitive is simply because her face implies it. As cast and played, Julia has a broad, mild face, that expresses emotion sensibly and endearingly. She has dimples, brows that look frank, and a slightly imperfect smile that sets one at ease — it gives the illusion of seeing a moment of shyness exposed. So this mild and gentle bearing comes across as her dominant trait — the glamour seems incidental. She’s not patrician in an obvious way. Even though she’s later seen to be shallow, Julia is no caricature. In the first half of the film, her objections to comments made by Johnny (Cary Grant) aren’t expressed stiffly, but with the air of a person who can go along with ideas — as if she’s only asserting propriety because she has to.
The one who is stiff and wears her wealth grandly is in fact Linda. Johnny may have mistaken Julia for a pauper, but Hepburn would never be taken for poor. She’s the one who appears to be asserting authority over the couple — trying to draw into an intimacy from which she feels excluded. At the start of the film, Grant and Hepburn are chummy: they make an effort to like each other intellectually, and they do, but the bond between them isn’t sensual — Hepburn interrupts it somehow. Their conversation is interesting but a little forced — part display, part genuine sympathy. But when Linda describes Julia to Johnny (“beautiful … and exciting, too, don’t you think?”), the act of “selling” her sister seems to undermine the girl as well as herself — there’s a slight competitive edge even in the most selfless acts. It’s as if Linda is trying to take the place of one of the people in the relationship, switching from one to the other. To Julia, she says of Johnny, “Do you realize that life walked into this house this morning?” This form of assertion — in effect, “Do you know what you’ve got?” — is a way of trying to drive each partner’s energy up, and playing each role in turn.
Then there’s the moment where the differences between women are really driven home — the scene where one sister tells another: I’ve never liked you, I’ve never agreed with you, and I’m casually letting you know. When Linda tries to insist, “We’ve always agreed before, always,” Julia replies, in a detached voice we’ve never heard, “No, I think quite often I’ve given in in order to avoid scenes…you’ve always been the stronger character haven’t you? Or at least people have always thought so.” This stark and exciting realization reminds me of Shaw: it’s the feeling that nothing underlies behavior — that there is no character, no conviction, beneath the surface. People slide by one another, coasting on habit and expectation, and what “people have always thought” depends on perceptions that are almost arbitrary. Even in families people treat each other as types, and the effects of faces and voices result in lifelong misconceptions. One of the few early indications we have of Julia’s desires is the warning tone she uses with her father — it actually seems steadfast at first, but later on, we see it’s part of a long-term strategy, in which she’s prepared to lose only the small battles. In the scenes with Julia and Linda, we look at the way that talking in a new, “foreign” voice and not acknowledging the fact can shut off intimacy between two people. Julia’s use of an ostensibly warm but disengaged tone (“Stop what?”) is the end of the relationship between sisters.
The film doesn’t go as far as suggesting that the other characters have such a disparity between looks and behavior, but it makes it clear how easily, almost generically, people form perceptions of each other. The whole film is about a kind of mental “time out” in which rules get reshaped, and people set courses for the future. In the first place, there’s the holiday that precedes the film — the cruise on which Johnny and Julia met. All we know about this trip is that Julia must have behaved modestly enough to pass for poor, and that some kind of enchantment must have happened — a strong enough attachment was made that each would be willing to change and compromise the direction of their lives. It’s as if all the main characters have their “window” of time when change is possible, and each person is fearful of that closing. Johnny is afraid he may never get a chance to be this free again; on the other hand, it’s also a time when he’s prepared to take drastic steps to settle his future. Linda is also experiencing a kind of holiday: an intangible growth period, which she wants to keep undefined (“Tonight means a great deal to me, I don’t know what precisely…this is important to me, don’t ask me why, I don’t know.”) The film also raises the issue of the responsibility an unusual person may carry. What’s the point of someone being special — in society, or in a movie? When special people recognize each other in films, the onus is on them to make it work — we expect them to run with the disruptive force. The fact is, if Johnny is an unusual man, why does Julia want one? It’s an oddly simple question, which can only be discussed in the same context as people’s perceptions of each other. Julia is a rebel on conventional terms — although she likes luxury, she wouldn’t, for instance, marry someone as stuffed as her cousin Seton (Henry Daniell) — and she’s attracted to openness, as a sort of project. She’s simply a pioneer of a different kind, who likes the idea of building something from the ground up: like so many of the relationships in this movie, it’s an attraction that stems from a concept.
In Holiday, people are beguiling because they keep their determination, their humor, and their confusing, contrary impulses, all in the same place. Even the rigid father (Henry Kolker) is charmed and amused by Johnny’s admission that he’s wearing borrowed clothes. The brother Ned — a romantically weak-willed young man — recedes into a melancholy and beautiful figure: he’s like a kind of bar at which the other characters stop in the film. Lew Ayres is a balladeer overseeing the play: the Hollywood pianist who watches the drama over his shoulder (he even says “And why not?” while fingering his glass at one point.) There are just enough snippets of revelation (elements of the well-made play) to further the plot, yet keep us buzzing about real character issues at the same time. Julia’s unexpectedly easy reaction to Johnny’s departure (“I’m so relieved I could sing with it”) sends us into yet another dimension of her personality. On the other hand, what Linda has is that marvelous, virtually unknown phenomenon (in fiction and life): she’s unable to disguise a love she’s proud of, yet at the same time, she can love without eroticizing the illicit aspect — without a trace of cunning or martyrdom. Each angle, or “corner,” involving the characters seems to shoot out new narrative threads.
But perhaps this view of character “in the round” is something we would expect from George Cukor — after all, this is the man who treasured Lowell Sherman for his “slightly odious quality,”1 and regarded Marie Dressler as “hokey-pokey,” but with a “kind of peculiar distinction.”2 The marvel of this era of film-making is that even without a Cukor or a Leisen, seemingly conventional productions — for instance, a prestige picture at Fox — contain fascinating, often guarded approaches to people. I was struck by this recently when re-viewing Edmund Goulding’s The Razor’s Edge, a movie which was originally slated for Cukor to direct, and which he later dismissed as an impossible project. It’s now regarded as a fairly tame, respectable picture, overly reliant on painted backdrops, which holds its unusual subject at arm’s length. There’s a measured, distanced quality about the film, which has given it the reputation of being unsatisfying — and it is. Yet somehow that seems like the right approach for Maugham’s novel: this is a book about a man who gazes into the distance, and whose lifelong ideal — of seeing “my way before me” — may or may not be worthwhile. The characters in this film are always looking to the horizon — towards rivers in the distance, or at an opening in the skies — and Goulding depicts these passions with force, but at the same time, a curious sense of hollowness. Larry Darrell (Tyrone Power) begins the film with nothing more than a project of openness (the desire to put “things in a clear light”), and while the film admires this tendency, it’s understandably wary about a mission that’s so undefined. Tolerance may mean being ready to let anything in — or the cause itself may be generic.
What’s interesting is the way the longing to “do good” is depicted during this period: for instance, in Holiday, the desire to be a searcher creates a new kind of character, but it also draws attention to the problems of being attracted to an image. Hollywood’s attitude to the emergence of these new ideas is enthusiastic, if a little cautious: it gives a lot of leeway to creative loafing, and the life of the mind, yet it’s clear how much of this is something we have to take on faith. The academic couple in Holiday (Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon) show how much playful fun can be had with learning, but at the moment Johnny is motivated by something more vague: the sense of “new exciting ideas running around … some of them might be right and some might be cock-eyed.” In The Razor’s Edge (above), much is made of Larry’s constant waffling about projections (“It’s so unexpected … rather difficult to explain.”). So this movie looks at intellectual excitement with a degree of reserve: the subject of Larry’s search is unresolved, in both book and film. When it comes to his wandering scenes, Goulding finds a look which reflects both youthful ardor, and Larry’s insubstantial, paper-thin politics — both earnestness and incoherence are incorporated into the style. The way this film depicts a vision is to show a painted sunset, or a shimmering section of river, often with a staircase or walkway in front of it, so that the character may either be seen heading into a mirage, or walking towards eternity. Intentionally or not, these designs are extremely effective, and ambiguous: it’s appropriate to have a very concrete prop leading onto a semi-abstract sketch of the “beyond” — as if the future is being “modeled,” like a set of steps to infinity (Larry’s desire to “think out your thoughts to the very end”). While Cukor considered Larry’s ideas unfilmable, this symmetrical cardboard India is perhaps the best way of portraying a character’s investment in myth: with its seat of wisdom, and the backdrop of mists hanging beyond, these sets help to evoke instinctive, yet inarticulate convictions. In particular, they show up the sincere but often token approach Larry has to knowledge: for example, he puts in faith in a place called Paris because “I don’t know why but I’ve got it into my head that there everything…will grow clear.”
All of this could still fit into a conventional Hollywood portrait of idealism, and yet the real test — of the film and the character — comes when Larry, having reached the summit of understanding, is advised to go home and “love the objects of the world”: wealth, Gene Tierney’s face, a tourist’s view of Paris, real human tragedy, the conversation of a prize-winning author, and most significantly, Clifton Webb. There couldn’t be a more varied assortment of “objects,” but having reached his peak, surely Larry would be able to regard all these with serenity? This is where ideas become truly complicated, because despite having absorbed enlightenment and “more than human” knowledge, the camera continues to respond to beauty, wit and weakness on a dramatic level. It does have a certain detachment, but only in the sense that it keeps both of its interests — the spiritual quest and the complexities of human affairs — at a wry distance, as if one course of action could easily replace another. Larry’s inability to produce an epiphany frustrates others (“What are you going to do with all this wisdom?”), but what’s more intriguing is the way he himself reacts to people, as if he doesn’t know how to respond to something as specific as interaction. The social groupings that preceded Larry’s journey have intensified while he’s been away: the webs have started to form. Despite their long time apart, these people can no longer pretend they’re just casual acquaintances — even if their understanding of each other has not increased, they are in each other’s lives and implicated in common events. Yet the question remains: why are these people intimate? Why do they consider each other the primary partners in their lives? From start to end, so much of this film seems to be taken up by people who have no rapport: guests mildly entertaining one another in parlors and drawing-rooms, men strolling through courtyards at weddings and deaths, going through legal formalities and making arrangements for trips, trying to get into the spirit of a reunion. At times, it appears as if the connections here are as tenuous as Larry’s search for wisdom: the scenes of men in coffee-houses, engaging in debate about issues. So the rather stark, underlying theme is: what have these people to do with each other? How do people decide who is close to them? Why are their heads grouped together at all?
What the film can do is to show us the curious visual links between the book’s characters, and the way their chemistry (or lack of it) seems to be based on pictorial as much as emotional factors. Goulding retains a medium distance for filming people in groups: looking at how people have come to inhabit their specific roles and lives, and how identity shifts in the course of interaction. When Larry returns to Europe, he and his former love Isabel (Tierney), her husband Gray (John Payne), and Somerset Maugham (Herbert Marshall) set out to take in Paris, doing a mix of expensive and low-life things, and visiting a dive because it would be “different.” Larry seems to enjoy himself well enough, going along with any suggestion, and there’s genuine merriment as well as a sense of forced amusement and novelty. On the way home, crammed together in a cab, they’re silent and uncomfortable strangers, with all eyes looking and poses turning in different directions, and a variation of stances. The frame shows a trio of black figures with Larry sitting cross-legged in front, and Maugham with his usual, solicitous and unrevealing pose. Yet these people are the key figures in each others’ lives. The discordance is most evident in the contrasting styles of the actors, and in the crucial area of comedy and wit. Elliott Templeton (Clifton Webb) is no less of an individualist than Larry, and perhaps the most self-contained character in the film (though Isabel and Maugham are also remarkably closed.) Webb has always been a marvelous wit, but here his humor is frozen and made strange: he makes hilarious, beautifully crafted remarks that fall onto “nothing” — they’re either absorbed into the silence, or politely laughed at. With his dry lines (“You’ve remained hopelessly American,” or “Larry! I thought you were dead!”), no-one could snap one out of a quest faster than Webb, and yet his attitude doesn’t appear to pierce the others. This brisk, self-sufficient style is simply a part of the group dynamic: the ecosystem that seems to incorporate subversion as well as idealism. Elliott isn’t “incorrigible,” but surprisingly flexible in humor, and throughout the film, the other characters can be seen mildly side-stepping his barbs, stifling a chuckle, or else giving a formal cocktail laugh. This appears to be the range of responses to Elliott: the amused tolerance shows affection, yet it establishes once again that people don’t fully engage with one another, but glide past, unruffled.
In a similar way, Larry is described in the book as a man who adopts a pose of politeness, in order to avert serious discussion: someone who keeps wise thoughts for special times. However, this lack of attention appears to be what shapes his external life: it leads him into society, and into the arms of two unlikely women. We see that, between studies, he absent-mindedly enjoys expensive food, and allows himself to be drawn by the arm into fashionable places: in other words, he inhabits a pattern of behavior which is not his own — it’s actually a transference of other people’s desires. The fact that each of the main characters is locked inside their heads makes for a highly unusual movie. This is a Hollywood film in which smart expressions aren’t noticed, beauty isn’t taken for granted, and “irrelevant” gestures are what determine people’s lives. It raises the question of how much of what we see, say or do is “relevant” in narrative terms. Even a presence as weighty as Herbert Marshall’s does not seem to be registered by the other characters: Isabel appears indifferent to Maugham’s wise and sensitive understatement. People affect us by escaping the general outline of their characters: in one scene, Elliott admits to having a “sneaking sympathy” for Larry, and we’re inclined to believe it’s true. If I had to name one genre of feeling I miss from movies today, people’s “sneaking sympathies” would have to be it — that, and covert pleasure of any kind. In films these days, people are hardly ever “taken” by others — they don’t strike up sudden affinities, or become voluptuously intrigued by enemies.3 Elliott may be a snob, but we can see from the expression on Webb’s face that he’s pleased and excited to be “hustled” by Maugham — to be liked and befriended, and also forced into action. In this film, people are constantly having “sneaking” feelings for one another, and thus unable to act on their frustrations: Isabel with Larry (“One can’t really be angry with you”), Maugham with Isabel, and everyone with Elliott. The ties are there: those Iris Murdoch-like webs that connect disparate, seemingly random, people in groups. So we have to look at what binds these people’s minds, or rather, their heads and bodies, together. Why are they in each other’s lives — what ties this handsome man to that clever one?
The fact that this band tends to come together only during the “important” or climactic events of life draws attention to people’s relationship with time, as much as each other. Thanks to casting, they’re a particularly heterogeneous group onscreen: the delicacy of one actor’s face seeming unrelated to the mood or style of another. The chemistry between Tierney and Power is largely a visual one — a correlation which draws them together, as powerful brunettes onscreen. Yet that may indicate the main part of the characters’ attraction: the idea of their being together. With his strongly etched brows, and the solid curve of his face (like a marble mask), Power has all the visual suggestions of splendor, as well as the dark name (like Rita Hayworth, he seemed just foreign enough: like a black crown, or a figurehead.) However, he tends to suggest something made on the heroic scale, rather than an icon of real stature (as opposed to, say, Joel McCrea, or Burt Lancaster.) Given his looks and carriage, he seems to make curious little use of them. Yet that distraction makes him pretty good in this role: he has the darting but abstracted gaze of the seer, fixed on some point in the distance. Larry is a shy but naturally romantic figure, who’s always trying to expand his view, and get the full panorama. It’s a way of seeing, one might argue, that’s already built into his face.
The movie advances these ideas about visual identity, especially with the characters of Isabel and Larry. They seem to enjoy the innate drama of being a black-haired couple: together, they have an agency, a kind of pact. Goulding is particularly interested in how their heads look together, and how they appear side by side in clothes. This Isabel is not the healthy, bouncy girl of the book, who has yet to “fine up”: Tierney is already thoroughly fine, particularly given her wardrobe, which enhances her sense of herself. When dressed in black, Isabel appears to enjoy both leading and being led: we’re very conscious of how this woman thinks of herself in clothes. Wearing long gloves and a high, close-cut dress, we see that she likes the delicate sense of exposure: the presentation of white arms, pleasantly restrained by black cuffs. It’s a game of coolness versus cover-up. Like many women, she expresses herself through her dress: while believably sincere, she breathes, sighs, and responds with an awareness of the total effect. Moving through Paris, she’s a well-dressed and insulated traveler: a kind of tolerant tourist, able to look on shabbiness or corruption as an experience. It’s similar to the way she views Larry: she likes him best when he’s thinking about something else — it’s the pose, the look of amiable distraction, which attracts her. Like Julia in Holiday, Isabel is unconventional within limits; however, this is a much more engaging woman. She’s capable of lovely scenes — she’s often gallant towards Larry, and her asking him out “platonically” on their last night together is a gesture towards the sophistication of ‘40s films.
As in Leave Her to Heaven, we’re struck by the inwardness of Tierney’s face. Malice is the logical extension of her looks, therefore the odd act of concern from her is touching. Kindness is more moving coming from her than from the more rugged Sophie (Anne Baxter). This is partly due to Isabel’s unexpected looseness (she’s finally amused by Larry’s “impossible” ways, now that she’s not dependent on him), but also because the audience tends to go against a character with a depressing, downward urge. Audiences can be ruthless (more so than readers): we can side with cruelty if it’s finely expressed, and with hardness, as long as it surprises us. I don’t think any other well-meaning film has looked at appearance so objectively: at our pleasure in a plain girl being hurt by a beauty. Sophie has an awkward, smeary look: her poverty, lack of grace, and above all, lack of luck, cling and drag on us — it’s as if she were played by Shelley Winters. Since audiences do not like the inevitable — it’s a waste of our focus on the screen — a character with no way out is a pain. Yet Larry wants to redeem this girl — this is another relationship forged on the basis of ideas.
However, it’s Somerset Maugham who highlights the moral effects of appearance. This is one of the few cases in which featuring a writer in a plot doesn’t create an effect of distance. As played by Marshall, Maugham is not simply an author studying character within the film. He’s a distinct presence, subtly reactive to everyone else: rolling his eyes at luxury but liking it — moved by humility, but knowing himself too well to stop falling for beauty and charm. Goulding’s use of the character shows all the peculiar complexity of this film, particularly in the way Maugham observes Larry: warily, almost guiltily, like a shifty judge of passion. However, in later remarks, Maugham shows himself to be deeply touched by him. When Larry is about to perform a feat by healing Gray’s headache, the quick cuts to Maugham’s expression (he looks concerned and almost furtive) suggest multiple readings. Is he hiding his anticipation? Suppressing his desire for the drama to come? Or is he disappointed — embarrassed that someone like Larry should have to “produce” his talent? The film hints at all three impulses in the author, and at the same time, the composition of the entire group is tight and alert. Larry is the figure of action — his body cutting a right angle — with Maugham the tense onlooker, and Isabel extending herself all around: beautifully, self-consciously anxious. On the right is Gray, who now assumes the only position he can: a subdued, masculine appreciation, out of gratitude to a former rival. All are trapped in their own boxes: there’s no flow of movement, and each pose cuts the other off. Yet the four figures are integrated into one legible, organized picture. Each person’s package of qualities ties them into the frame.
In most of the group scenes, my eyes stayed on Marshall: more than any actor, he reminds us how flexible, and stimulating, English common sense once was. In the book, Maugham looks at an attractive girl, and speculates about what he would have done “had I been her mother”: there’s a complexity of transference and identity within the sober style. Marshall’s performance has similar hints of provocation: for me, the most imaginative scene is the one where Maugham and Isabel appear to be discussing morality, and then the conversation turns. The two are having an argument about Isabel’s motives; he tells her he’s seen through her, so that the character and her looks seem jaded to us. Isabel is furious. But then Maugham says, unexpectedly, “The sight of you always gives me pleasure…you never make a gesture without imparting beauty to it,” and with a small curving gesture, she settles down to hear him recite her list of charms. Marshall is as suggestive here as in Trouble in Paradise (1932): the half-pursed mouth is ready to turn into any expression — stern, or giving a dry but erotic assessment of a woman’s qualities. What’s so fresh is the way that beauty deflects our attention — wittily, almost spiritually, away from the heat of analysis. It’s a way of seeing chance as comedy: this spiritual appreciation of looks is like a small coup — a miracle that makes us laugh and relax, and relieves the intense focus on character.
Style and belief come together in the film’s closing, which takes place in a final palace: the home of Elliott, when he is seriously ill. It resembles the Indian court of Larry’s journey, with its balance of chairs, the stone floor, and its serene atmosphere — pillars in front of pines, and the river shining outside the trees. Is this, too, a seat of learning? All the key people have been summoned here, for one last formation, at death. The circle gathers around one of its members, and it’s finally made clear that this is a network, and these are actual relationships we have witnessed. But the characters are as randomly dispersed as ever: making gestures of attention around the bed, and Elliott doing his usual one-liners, to which the others respond blankly. It’s a strangely decadent scene, especially with Webb’s wry expression after being read last rites. Power looks uneasy, as if unsure how to play this: Larry seems unsettled by all the deathbed wit, and the characters drawn together in poses of concern appear almost comic. The film then tells us what it thinks of Elliott: Maugham gently refers to him as a “ridiculous creature,” and a priest informs us that his “defects were on the surface.” At the end of these people’s lives, the question is of how much the surface has mattered: how have the textures of faces, clothes, manners and style affected relationships? In his last moment of relief, Elliott makes an odd statement: “I shall pick and choose my company, as I always have.” Surely the point of this film is that no-one has ever chosen their relations or their behavior — yet somehow, their lives have fallen into arrangements, which include being part of a group, however “incidental.” Larry has come in, quite casually, to pay tribute to a man who appears to have been in and out of his life, and determined some of its direction. It seems that they were connected after all, and some kind of knowledge has been amassed through the years, along with closeness and caring. That understanding is just as essential as the one Larry has achieved through traveling; the court in India and the reception at the end both seem like stately realms, almost on the same level.
Last of all, there’s the revelation that all of this has been a comedy. Although his original script was never used, Maugham’s instructions to the director were that the dialogue was funny “and should be played lightly by everyone … The actors should pick up one another’s cues as smartly as possible … Speed, speed, speed.”4 In retrospect, this angle should have been obvious: after all, one could argue that the film is about the relevance of a man like Webb to the world picture of a Larry Darrell. What does beauty, and decadence, have to teach the mystical traveler? Is this a way of suggesting the value of the “irrelevant” to someone who is “above it all”? That a writer would set an argument for purity beside an exquisitely enclosed social comedy is, ultimately, an act of freedom: it’s a way of introducing the universal to the specific, and this is reflected in the variety of tones the film captures. The Razor’s Edge has a lack of resolution, and yet a sense of expectancy at the end: the book’s mysticism, its slyness, and its chatty scenes of observation all find their corresponding sections in the movie. This film gives us a soaring vision of humanity, and then asks how a great, caustic wit fits into the picture. The process of finding out turns out to be a comedy of idealism.
- Gavin Lambert, On Cukor. Rizzoli: New York, 2000, 35. [↩]
- Ibid, 51. [↩]
- Oddly enough, the only places where we do see such emotions are daytime soaps (General Hospital), and the work of Aaron Spelling, in which we’re constantly touched by, say, the warmth between old enemies, and alliances between schemers. Nowhere else is the re-appearance of an old foe (and our relenting towards them) so moving. Malice and intrigue have a familial basis, and in the credit sequences and guest lists, we can see minor “coups” of casting and star power: Cyd Charisse on a Spelling soap is as much of a grace note as, for instance, Gene Kelly in Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967). [↩]
- On Cukor, 179. [↩]