It's almost inevitable that famous comedic actors will eventually go for a dramatic role. They seem to have the desire to prove themself capable of more than just making people laugh. These days most of us are pretty familiar with Bill Murray sometimes doing these dramatic roles, but The Razor's Edge was his first such film. He co-wrote the script with director John Byrum, adapting the novel of the same name. There was another adaptation of this book back in 1946, and from what I hear it is pretty different. Probably because Murray puts a lot of influence on the main character Larry Darrell. What's interesting is that no one wanted to produce this film and it was only because Murray agreed to do Ghostbusters that Columbia agreed to help make the picture.
The story is a fairly common one of a man in search of himself and the meaning of life. Larry is a carefree spirit, having much in common with the rascals we've seen Murray portray in film up to this point. But he's sent to Europe as an ambulance driver in World War I and the experience changes him dramatically, leaving him lost and confused. He postpones his planned wedding and declines an offer to be a stockbroker in order to go to Paris. His travels also take him to India before returning back to Paris. He spends time with Tibetan monks and tries to be a good man, though a sequence of tragic events make him question whether or not it all truly matters in the end.
While Murray's wit does come through in some of the scenes, overall this is a pretty quiet film, relying far more on drama than comedy. He handles it well and Catherine Hicks, Theresa Russell, Denholm Elliot, and James Keach round out a strong supporting cast around him. Perhaps the strongest scene happens while he's still in the war, when the man leading them (I'm not sure if he's meant to be a captain or not) dies. He had seen the man insult other servicemen who had just passed away, clearly a way of dealing with their deaths. As such, he leans over the dead man and talks about how much of a slob and a glutton he was, mourning him in much the same way. It's partly emotional because the man is playing by Murray's brother Brian Doyle-Murray, and partly because it was Murray's tribute to his recently deceased friend John Belushi.
Like a lot of adaptations, the movie has the feel of just scraping the surface. I get the feeling that the depth of the relationships Larry has with the other members of the cast probably goes a lot further than what we get to see in the film. His time in India deep in meditation would probably be better explored as well. That said, the movie doesn't feel like it's missing anything either. They seem to have done a good job of finding key points to build a proper story around.
I was surprised to find that this film was not well received when it was released. Maybe at the time people weren't quite ready to accept Murray as a dramatic actor. As for me I enjoyed it a lot. If you're the type of person who thinks the journey is far more important than the destination, I think you'll enjoy it too. While not well known, the film is currently available and I recommend watching it if you get the chance.