On the Road: Writing The Razor’s Edge

“We thought too many films today are written by guys sitting in air-conditioned offices with bronze windows and directors who look at story boards and video tapes of other guy’s films. That works fine for them but we wanted to find a different process”

John Byrum

Bill and John travelled around America developing the script.

Bill Murray in Malibu, 1983

Bill Murray in Malibu writing The Razor’s Edge (Photo used with permission)

They worked in bars (where the jukebox would be on) , bus stations, restaurants, “we were constantly being interrupted by people saying ‘Hey aren’t you on Saturday Night Live?”. They went to practically every restaurant and bar in Manhattan, New Jersey, upstate, southern New York.”It got so we couldn’t work at home; it was too distracting”.

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TV Trailers: Selling ‘Serious’

Columbia Pictures were clearly unsure how to market The Razor’s Edge to an audience still in love with Ghostbusters.

Bill Murray also seemed to be playing down the serious subject matter in some of his promotional interviews. Continue reading

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Filed under Press and publicity, Release and aftermath, Trailers

Bill Murray: The Rolling Stone Interview

Rolling Stone Magazine, 16th August 1984

Rolling Stone’s interview with Bill Murray gives the most detailed insight into the making of The Razor’s Edge. Particular focus is given to the location shooting in Srinagar and Ladakh, India in the summer/autumn of 1983.

Rolling Stone Magazine - August 1984

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When Bill Murray met John Byrum

Since 2005, I’ve been lucky enough to have the help of the Director of The Razor’s Edge, John Byrum.

He has offered plenty of insights into the production of the film, but one question I had never asked until now is how he first met Bill Murray.

“Bill and I are both from the North Shore suburbs of Chicago. Grew up just a few miles apart, but I never heard of him until one night in LA, Jessica Harper and I were watching the then fabled TV show Saturday Night Live and he was making his very first appearance as Chevy Chase’s replacement in the cast. Continue reading

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An Englishman in Hollywood

In 1945, Author, W. Somerset Maugham traveled to Hollywood to write a screen adaptation of his recent novel, The Razor’s Edge.

20th Century Fox had purchased the rights to the book in October 1944 for $150,000, however, Maugham insisted on writing the screenplay for no fee, with only his expenses being paid. Maugham had seen adaptations of his earlier work, and was unhappy with the finished production. Maugham wanted this novel to be recreated as faithfully as possible. Whilst Maugham collaborated with Writer/Producer Lemar Trotti, he was surprisingly unprotective of his novel. Continue reading

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Salisbury Plain Memories

I received a fantastic e-mail from William Mackain-Bremner who was an extra in some of the Word War 1 scenes

“Thirty years ago, I was an extra on the film of W. Somerset Maugham’s book “The Razor’s Edge”. At that time I was living in Wiltshire, near Salisbury plain, which is where they were shooting the WW1 scenes. The production crew had appropriated some soldiers from the local infantry battalion in Warminster, and I managed to get invited along via some or other army connection.

Bill Murray and James Keach on location in Salisbury Plain, England

We had to be – at various stages of filming – French, German or British troops, either standing guard, walking wounded, or dead, draped over the edge of a crater, etc. I recall one scene where we were wounded soldiers in the back of an ambulance, and there were two lead actors up front.

As the script required we would all bounce vigorously along muddy tracks and over the grassy rises until the Director shouted “Cut!”, and then if he was not satisfied we might have to do it all over again. It was summertime, but a cold windy day up on top of the Plain, and during a break in the filming the two actors up front took pity on us extras, popped open a flask of whiskey, and offered it round the ambulance.”

Only after a year had gone by did I found out that they were Bill Murray and his half-brother Brian Doyle-Murray. This was before Ghost Busters and Groundhog Day, and I had never seen Saturday Night Live, so at the time I had no idea who they were! Later on in the filming, we had to inhabit some “trenches”, sit in dugouts in front of braziers, drink tea, etc, while the actors walked by and the cameras panned along with them. We had to pretend that it was winter time, and the crew was blowing fake snow around to help us get “in the mood”. As I was lifting a mug of tea to my lips some of the fake flakes landed in my tin cup … and instead of melting floated on top of the tea and made it taste salty!

Anyway, the years went by, and this became a long forgotten memory, but I was recently reminded of it when I was researching the famous “Over The Top” painting by John Nash. I then stumbled on this website dedicated to the movie, including the gallery with some stills and production shots: Pictures #15-20 are the ones related to the WW1 scenes. Image #20 is – I think – taken around the time of the whiskey incident! Thanks so much for creating this website.

Great memories! I can’t believe that 30 years has gone by already!”

William Mackain-Bremner

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A Razor’s Reflection by Jesse James Schroeder

“You should see it. It has that funny guy in it but it’s not a funny movie.”

I can still hear my father’s enthusiastic movie recommendation insomuch I remember making a mental note of the film’s title as I headed off to bed that night; never suspecting Dad would pass away just three months later.

Jesse's study

The film was the 1984 re-make of The Razor’s Edge starring Bill Murray and only recently was I finally motivated to see the movie my father praised so long ago.

Unlike my father’s endorsement, the film was roundly panned by critics and ultimately failed at the box office. However when reading online reviews from moviegoers now, I see it highly rated with many stating this was “their favorite film” and others even commenting it “changed their life.”

My personal appreciation came from how I was drawn into the deep contrasting layers of the story and understood how aspects of this drama could resonate deeply to audiences’ own life experiences. (But I must admit the first time Bill Murray appears on screen, I briefly thought, “Stripes meets Sergeant York”.)

The storyline begins on July 4th, 1917 with two Americans, Larry Darrell (Murray) and Gray Maturin volunteering into WWI. For baby boomers like myself, these characters could represent our own grandfathers then heading off to Europe.

The film covers a span of about 15 years and encompasses such subjects as the stock market crash of 1929, the subsequent Depression, alcoholism, post traumatic stress and spiritual enlightenment. As the years pass, a reoccurring backdrop of climbing stairs and mountains are used metaphorically to illustrate the quest for higher learning and the ability to move on from life’s challenges.

But more importantly, it’s a film about second chances and the capacity of saving someone’s life mentally, spiritually as well as physically. In a pivotal early scene, Larry’s perspective on life is altered forever when he is saved by his commanding officer during a battlefield ambush. Years later we see Larry saving a fellow coalminer from a runway cart; saves former comrade Gray from a suicidal depression and lastly saves a jilted aristocrat wannabe from dying in sadness. However the one person Larry wants to save the most, he ironically cannot.

Production wise, the movie was shot on location in Paris and India which cinematographically is an upgrade over the 1946 version. The cast’s performances are solid but it is the role of Sophie by Theresa Russell that should have been Oscar worthy. The musical score by Jack Nitzsche will inspire goose bumps you might have thought disappeared from within.

Two years before ever seeing The Razor’s Edge, I experienced moments of time alone in my backyard shed, “to think”. I had the joy and anxiety of being a first time father at 48, but seven months later, I was dealt with my ex-wife’s death from cancer; six months later the death of my mother. Reflecting back on these two losses, I realized I was searching in my isolation for answers that simply did not exist.

Thus, it hit home for me when Larry upon returning from war, tells fiancée Isabel he needs time to “think”. Years later, Larry is seen sitting alone in a shed-like hut in the mountains of Tibet sorting out for himself, “life’s meaning.” ` These scenes connected to an acceptance of my life and I have fancied the thought that my father was foreshadowing a path of guidance. As far fetched as that seems, I no longer feel the need to visit my shed, “to think”.

Recently I again thought of Larry Darrell when he explains to Isabel the purpose of his life, “I found out there’s another debt to pay, for the privilege of being alive.” Last year, my fiancée faced and endured the physical side effects of precautionary chemo for early stage breast cancer. I saw the “debt” she paid to ensure a full recovery and that early detection gave her, that second chance.

The film concludes at Isabel’s home in Paris, where Larry announces he is going “home.” When asked, where home is, he replies patriotically, “America”. Larry is last seen slowly climbing – then running up the Montmartre stairs and into his future, a changed man with his second chance at life.

As for my life, I know I will never sit in a wooden hut in the Tibetan Mountains to comprehend its meaning. But if I did, I’ll know the reasons why.

Jesse James Schroeder

East Setauket, New York
USA

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