In the mid-late 70s, Director, John Byrum was keen to make a film about ex-patriates in Europe.
At the same time, he was keen to work on a project with Saturday Night Live star and old friend, Bill Murray. John had sent a number of scripts to Bill but had received no interest.
Around 1980, whilst editing his film ‘Heart Beat’, John continued his research and decided to read The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham. He was immediately taken by the story and decided to send a copy to Bill’s house. Around 50 pages into the book, Bill knew he wanted to do the film, “I gave Bill a copy of the book…the phone rang the same night, like 4:00 a.m.I picked it up and it was Bill. All he said was ‘Hello, this is Larry, Larry Darrell.'”
John approached 20th Century Fox who had made the original film in 1946 but were unable to even get a meeting. They later discovered that Fox had lost domestic rights and owned only foreign rights. They also found out that music producer, Bob Marcucci had acquired the rights to the book in the hope of making a four part television mini-series.
John and Producer, Rob Cohen approached Marcucci to strike a deal. “These two producers came to me, Rob Cohen and John Byurm, they said they had a big name star to play the lead…I met him (Murray) he wanted the part so badly”. With Marcucci on board, Rob and John approached Shel Shrager at Columbia Pictures. Bill recalled “The original meetings were kind of quite affairs…John has a reputation for being a rebel, so all the executives kept staring at him to see if he was svengaliing me. He hadn’t slept the night before, and in the middle of the meeting he just sort of went comatose. So I started talking real fast”
Salvation came in the form of SNL colleague, Dan Aykroyd. Aykrod was developing a script for Ghostbusters but had recently lost the intended star of the film, John Belushi. Aykroyd advised Murray to agree to replace Belushi in Ghostbusters on the condition that Columbia ‘Green-light’ The Razor’s Edge.
Murray told Rolling Stone in 1984: “He (Aykroyd) sent me about seventy-five pages, and within an hour there was a deal. They had a producer, they had a caterer, they had a director, they had everything. But it wasn’t at any particular studio yet; it was just a project floating in space. Then all of a sudden, all of the studios found out about it, and they all wanted it.
So Dan said ;Well we gotta get going on this.” I said, “Well, you know, I’m really trying to get this other thing done. I’m trying to convince the studio to give us the go” And he said, ‘Well tell ’em they can have Ghostbusters if they do The Razor’s Edge.” So, another forty-five minutes later, we had a caterer and a producer and a director for The Razor’s Edge.”
Columbia were keen to continue their relationship with Bill and so agreed to give him a $12,000 advance to develop the script with John (John had made attempts to write the script alone but was unsuccessful). “I was very flattered when John said he wanted me to work with him on the script because he has a reputation of not letting anyone touch his stuff”