Razor's Edge, The (1984)

The Razor's Edge (1984), directed by John Byrum.

Shaken by his experience as an ambulance driver in WW1, a man leaves his conventional life and becomes a seeker. After finding his enlightenment in India he returns and tries to repair the damaged lives of his friends.

This was made before as The Razor's Edge (1946). Neither version is entirely satisfactory. The strongest part of this one is in the final third, with Theresa Russell's heartrending portrayal of doomed Sophie, drunken and prostituting herself after the death of her husband and child. It's a dilemma without a solution: how do you save someone from themselves? Sometimes you don't.

Bill Murray had been all comedy before this. Like John Cleese and Phil Hartman he is so good at the comic mugging of seriousness that we don't quite know how to take him in a dramatic role. And yet: why can't "Larry Darrell" be a funny guy? Class clowns hurt, too. In the 1946 version he was played by a swashbuckling actor. Which is the more common type of character in the real world?

Murray has done more serious roles since then, perhaps making it easier to accept him in this one now.

I always kept a look out for Theresa Russell in those days. A beautiful woman doing dangerous things; she had a whole series of edgy, experimental roles. This was aided by her work with sometime husband and director Nicholas Roeg.

The dialogue is often cumbersome and Denholm Elliott's talent is wasted. Murray is our hero but he's no superhero and can't save the day. This gives the whole production a despairing tone.

It was a critical and commercial flop. The deal with the studio was that Murray could make this in exchange for appearing in Ghostbusters.

Available on DVD.