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Lawrence of Arabia
Drama, Adventure, Biography, History, War
IMDB rating:
David Lean
Peter O'Toole as T.E. Lawrence
Alec Guinness as Prince Feisal
Anthony Quinn as Auda abu Tayi
Jack Hawkins as General Lord Edmund Allenby
Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali
José Ferrer as Turkish Bey
Anthony Quayle as Colonel Brighton
Claude Rains as Mr. Dryden
Arthur Kennedy as Jackson Bentley
Donald Wolfit as General Sir Archibald Murray
I.S. Johar as Gasim
Gamil Ratib as Majid
Michel Ray as Farraj
John Dimech as Daud
Storyline: An inordinately complex man who has been labeled everything from hero, to charlatan, to sadist, Thomas Edward Lawrence blazed his way to glory in the Arabian desert, then sought anonymity as a common soldier under an assumed name. The story opens with the death of Lawrence in a motorcycle accident in Dorset at the age of 46, then flashbacks to recount his adventures: as a young intelligence officer in Cairo in 1916, he is given leave to investigate the progress of the Arab revolt against the Turks in World War I. In the desert, he organizes a guerrilla army and--for two years--leads the Arabs in harassing the Turks with desert raids, train-wrecking and camel attacks. Eventually, he leads his army northward and helps a British General destroy the power of the Ottoman Empire.
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This crazy Limey nobody digs but you've got to admire his sand
"What's your favourite film, then ?" A dread unsettling question. But if harried by the Turks, say, I'd probably have to admit to this one - while agonisingly conscious of all the other favourite films being elbowed aside. And I write as one not overly enthused about Lean's other epic ventures. RIVER KWAI I find offensive for its wilful neglect of real p.o.w. horror in favour of smugly cooked-up ironies and hack-platitudes. ZHIVAGO is undermined by hollow leads chosen only for their beauty, RYAN'S DAUGHTER is insanely overblown soap-opera while A PASSAGE TO India collapses halfway through when the thread snaps and we're just watching the actors tread water. But LAWRENCE, for me, is the real deal, a bewitching tapestry so successful at what it sets out to achieve it's almost incredible. Gobsmacking to watch and a delight to listen to it makes you feel thrilled that movies were invented.

Sure, it plays games with history. "It's not the real Lawrence, of course," Lean admitted on the box. Quite so. The real Lawrence would require a mini-series or, at the end, a chamber-drama like Anglia's excellent TV film of the Nineties with Ralph Fiennes. The massive river of events, intrigues and personnel as recorded by Lawrence himself (though questioned in some quarters) has been simplified here, channelled into a tributary of pertinent moments and symbols, a loner's odyssey, with key support figures marginalised strategically along its banks. The true extent of Lawrence's role as an Imperialist agent did not begin to be disclosed, officially, until the end of the Sixties. To suit the film's left-wing leanings and better engage with the mass blockbuster audience he's depicted initially as politically naive, an amusingly bumptious misfit with a classical education packed off into the desert, via a wily politico, partly to get him out of the hair of his C.O. who has little faith in him or his mission to foster Arab unity against their Turkish overlords ("A sideshow of a sideshow !"). That celebrated cut from the blowing-out of a match to sunrise on the desert sweeps us literally into a new world (and still does). Lean's staging, Young's photography and Jarre's surging music combine to breathtaking effect. The winsome weirdo who enjoys preening himself and teasing his own flesh is tested against lethal tribal-rivalry but fires them with a bold vision - the taking of Akaba, a sea-port undefended on its landward side. During the long trek to this objective one of his men is lost in the desert. Lawrence goes out of his way to reclaim him, earning the respect of all and they clothe him in the robes of an Arab chieftain. (In real life this was a more pragmatic suggestion from the Brits). A further rite of leadership arises when he takes it upon himself to execute a man for murder, preventing an inter-tribal war. The man he kills is the man he saved (a deft juxtaposition of two separate incidents in real life involving different people). Lawrence is later to confess to his new C.O. that he enjoyed the experience.

Akaba is successfully taken (in a stunning panning-shot) and Lawrence begins to make a name for himself. He gets promoted and becomes a guerrilla-leader in assaults on the Turkish railway. But a turning-point comes when he's captured by the Turks on a reconnaissance, is flogged and (possibly) raped before being released. His bodily integrity shattered he's further disillusioned to discover (in the film) that the promise of independence he's been peddling to the Arabs is a stitch-up to conceal the colonial interests of Britain and France. The self-hurting he once indulged in now penetrates too deeply and the self-image become abhorrent. His request to stand down is refused, he's too important now, and in bitterness and despair takes part in a revenge-massacre of retreating Turkish troops. When Allied victory is secured he's sent home, leaving the politicians to sort things out. While this makes for a fine symbolical end to the drama it also constitutes the film's biggest distortion of history. Prince Feisal effects to dismiss him in the movie while in real life Feisal needed him more than ever in the battle for nation-rights at the Versailles Peace Conference. Feisal, the real fall-guy, was treated very badly by the Europeans and only Lawrence's active intervention as his spokesman won him concessions. It's good that we now have the Ralph Fiennes film which rectifies the record.

Robert Bolt's quirky brilliant dialogue, for Lean, tends to short-change some of the characters, reducing the stature of Allenby and Sheik Auda in a generally cynical view of motives which spurred their descendants to seek redress from the film-makers. At the same time it's all wonderfully entertaining and impeccably played by a sterling cast. Omar Sharif showed potential he never has since. And though Lawrence was never really an 'innocent' Peter O'Toole riding the whirlwind with his piercing charisma (and newly-sculpted nose) has an iconic power that will live in movie-history forever - like Sir David's film the likes of which cannot be replicated now that computers have taken over much of the adventure and the excitement. One last thought - the real T.E. archaeologist and map-maker was involved in re-drawing the map of the Middle East with all its volatile consequences through the 20th century and beyond. The final irony indeed.
British officer is used to incite Arabs against the Turks
Ten it is and well deserved. I have seen this several times and always find something to dwell on. Of course, Peter O'Toole was superb, but so was his supporting cast.

Anthony Quinn looks more Arabic than Arabs. And Anthony Quayle always has been a favorite of mine and Claude Rains, Jack Hawkins, Alec Guiness, and Jose Ferrar were splendid. The latter was appropriately dissolute as the Turkish officer who captured Lawrence

The photography was spectacular, the skyline, deserts, and battle scenes. There were just enough of the fighting. The opening air bombing, the attack on the train, the massacre of the Turkish column, and the final raid.

What also was impressive was the relationship between Lawrence and the two Arab boys. All in all, a marvelous production that no one should miss.
I am totally gobsmacked!
I am totally amazed by some of the negative responses to this film. Yes it is a long film; a very long film. Perhaps this is a symptom of the short attention spans of people today. But you know what? I wish it was 3 or 4 times longer. Every time this film finishes I compare it to the badly acted special effects laden rubbish that passes for 'epic' cinema these days and wish that T.E Lawrence had his motorcycle accident at 93 (rather than 47 as he did in 1935) so I could have had more of Peter O' Toole's electrifying performance.

The cinematography is acknowledged as being some of the the best in any film ever. When Mr Lean wanted to capture a sun rise, he stood in the dark (in a REAL desert) and waited for the sun to REALLY rise (No computerized nonsense in this film). As for the reviewer who thought Lawrence looked like a homosexual because he had a 'effeminate' walk, well ... I can only hope that one day he joins the 21st century; hero's aren't all musclebound apes, leaders aren't all fluffy paragons of virtue, and so what if he did turn out to be homosexual?

If you and you dad like watching a man being whipped before being violated there is, I believe, a wealth of material available to cater for your taste at your local pornography shop.

In my opinion its one of the best films ever made and certainly the best film I've seen based on real events.

Forget the length feel the quality.
"He for whom nothing is written may write himself a clan"
Perhaps one of the greatest movies of all-time- in the league of The Godfather, 12 Angry Men and Schindler's List- and definitely David Lean's best. The background music scored by Maurice Jarre added to the gravitas of making it one of the greatest films. The soundtracks are full of energy and kept resonating in my mind right from the time the movie commenced. Peter O'Toole portrayed T.E.Lawrence, a man often marred by controversy for his radical thinking and insouciance. T.E.Lawrence is shown as a man respected by his fellowmen after his contribution to the Arab league in the beginning of the movie and the movie shows his journey from Cairo to Aqaba and then to Damascus as a member of the British army. He's considered arrogant, extraordinary and sadistic by his colleagues but that doesn't stymie the aid, leadership in attacking the Turks and the invaluable counsel he provided the Arabs . The movie is a landmark in every single aspect right from the geographical location of filming. I still contemplate over how few scenes were shot, especially the one in which the Arabs blast a railway track and all the horses aboard are set free.

It is one of the movies i sat and watched with inquisitiveness and enjoyed thoroughly, albeit many complain about the running time of the movie. The cinematography is a treat to sore eyes. There couldn't be a better movie in terms of being a complete amalgam of War, Adventure, Drama and History. And special appreciation to the make-up and costume crew who had made sure the Caucasian actors looked like real Arabs. This is a movie that is truly appreciated when watched than read about. Hats off to the men behind this Epic.
Peter O'Toole's Iconic Role.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962): Dir: David Lean / Cast: Peter O'Toole, Alec Guinness, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins: Extraordinary epic about reputation as British Army Lieutenant T.E. Lawrence treks across a massive desert in the midst of a war between the Arabs and the Turks. He meets with Prince Faisal who leads this revolt against the Turks. The film depicts how these events at first come as a humorous challenge, to gaining respect for saving a life of someone who falls behind, to performing an execution, to being flogged. Director David Lean previously scored success with The Bridge on the River Kwai and now he creates another broad scale film of desert landscapes and riveting war violence where Lawrence leads in the blowing up railroads. Peter O'Toole delivers a masterful performance as Lawrence who experiences the exhilaration of violence to the extremes of human decay. Alec Guinness plays Faisal who looks on at Lawrence with curiosity. Omar Sharif steals scenes as Sheriff Ali who first shoots Lawrence's companion for unauthorized drinking from an Arab well, then they become close companions. Anthony Quinn is also featured as a tribal leader persuaded to join in the revolt. Jack Hawkins is cast as General Allenby. This is a powerful film about the exploits of violence and its wages upon the human soul. Score: 10 / 10
One of the greatest epics ever.
How does one make a film about a figure that just as many felt was a hero, as felt was a villain. That was the question posed to one of the greatest directors in American cinematic history, David Lean.

Strangely, the film starts off with the death of Lawrence in a motorcycle accident. We then see his funeral, complete pageantry befitting a man of Lawrence's accomplishments. And as one man tells a reporter that Lawrence was a great man, he takes no time to degrade Lawrence as the reporter walks away. This prompts an man eavesdropping to defend Lawrence, even though he only knew him through press clippings. And here is where the story begins.

We find Lawrence at his beginnings, a rather average British solider given a rather average task. He spends most of his days sitting behind a desk, until he gets an assignment. One that calls for him to seek out Prince Fiesel, played by Alec Guiness in perhaps his greatest performance. Torn between two countries, Lawrence is caught between what he feels is loyalty to help a struggling people, and the orders from the military in his native land.

Lawrence is a complex man who can be calm, and charismatically charming one moment, has shown in his concern for two orphans he takes under his wing, to a brutal man with the ability to kill without remorse.

The film makes no apologies for Lawrence, painting a brutally honest picture on the man, and leaving the question to the audience. Was Lawrence a good man, or an evil one with dreams of being a God? Yes the film is 3 hours long, but take heart, there is actually a intermission in the film. However, this film is paced well, the story is interesting, Peter O'Toole, Omar Shariff, and Alec Guiness are all amazing performers who each give the best performance. In a small role as a ruthless dictator, Jose Ferrer, and Claude Rains, know for his role as Captain Louis Renault, plays the role of Mr. Dryden. An epic movie made from a Hollywood that has sadly faded away. This is one of the movies they are talking about when they say "they don't make them like they used to."
Why this classic is THE classic.
On the IMDb discussion boards a few years ago, someone asked what made "Lawrence of Arabia" (LofA) such an important movie. The poster had watched the film but was left scratching his head as to why this was such a significant and revered movie. If you have seen the movie and are asking yourself the same questions, hopefully this will help.

You might have wondered why this movie lasts almost four hours with an intermission. When LofA was made, going to the cinema to watch a movie was a bigger deal than it is now. It was commonplace for movies to last this long, and lengthy epics with a cast-of-a-thousand were the flavor. This is the only significant quality this movie shares with other contemporary movies of the time.

Obviously, this movie takes place in the Middle East. As far as western audiences were concerned, LofA might as well have taken place on the moon for all that was understood of Arabian culture and history in 1962. LofA transports us to an alien land with strange characters and values. To help tell this story, the movie is anchored by established actors like Sir Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, and Claude Rains. While Hawkins and Rains perform familiar characters, Guinness and Quinn paint credible portraits as Arabic royalty and tribal leader. That their characterizations still ring true today is a testament to their portrayals. Only in the last 10 years or so has western cinema begun to maturely portray Middle Eastern culture. Omar Sharif, one of the few actual Middle Easterners with a prominent role, demonstrates the complex beauty and brutality of this culture.

Of course the real star was newcomer Peter O'Toole. His was a risky casting and proved to be one of the best of all time. The real genius of LofA is its simplicity. Here is the man Lawrence, here is what happened, here's how he felt about it all. This is made possible by O'Toole. At the time, campy presentational acting was still the prominent style of movie acting. O'Toole was part of the new blood of method acting, made en vogue famously by Brando and "On the Waterfront", that was showing the audience, not telling, the emotional fabric of a character. Watch O'Toole's eyes on his close-ups. He communicates more depth and presence than any dialog could provide. He draws the audience in, includes them in his triumphs and despairs, all the while impressing the hope and ambition of Lawrence.

Steering the ship is David Lean. He makes nearly every minute of the movie matter. An important part of the story is the environment of LofA, the desert. It's such an integral part that Lean treats the desert as a character. Lean takes the audience to another world to show how the desert is a huge factor to the method of madness Lawrence finds there; why a man is killed simply for drinking from a water well, why Lawrence is the Giver of Life, why crossing the desert for gold is honorable, why it is important that Arabia be ruled by Arabians, not the British or Turks. There's a scene where Lawrence is crossing the Devil's Anvil. In that sequence Lean includes a shot of a dust devil (the tornado-looking thing) spinning fiercely on the baked ground. If this movie were made today, a CGI-artist would make this. Of course CGI didn't exist in '62, but nonetheless Lean patiently set up in the desert to capture this phenomenon and include it. It's a small color, but important the vast and vibrant world he communicates.

If this movie were made today, it would be filled with snappy dialog and probably focus on big action sequences. Lean makes every minute of the movie matter because everything that happens serves the characters. The movie lasts nearly four hours, not because that was the style of movies in that era, but because it takes that long to diligently explore the characters of Lawrence, Feisal, Sheriff Ali, and abu Tayi. Lean's direction and crafting was revolutionary. The movie stills holds currency in our modern culture because the movie's direction, acting, and characterizations ARE timeless and of no particular era.

There are a thousand variables that make a great movie, but if you're looking for the important qualities to latch on to, it's how this movie is timeless. This movie was a radical departure from the hammy "epics" of the time and set a nearly unreachable standard for every movie that follows. It was great in 1962, great today, and will be great in 50 years.
Truly sublime, one of THE all-time greats
Viewing this film at a small cinema as a birthday treat around 1972 when I was 10, I was absolutely stunned by the 'size' of this film. Revisiting it many times over the years, I have come to appreciate its finesse more and more, and rare it as one of my favourite films alongside The Shawshank Redemption, The Deer Hunter, 2001; A Space Odyssey and Breakfast at Tiffany's. The attention to even the minutest detail is stunning, as if a Michelin-starred chef had built the most exquisite dish whilst adding the tiniest of infusions to layer the taste. The scope of the film demands the viewer to sit back in a comfy chair, with a glass of Pimms and lemonade, and watch the spectacle in its original format; to view on anything other than letterbox view loses some of the detail that, whilst almost un-noticeable, is essential. Like a great painter, Lean laid down exquisite layers of images that make the film almost second to none in this department Iconic images abound, and ones eyes are treated to a visual feast, not only during the action sequences but also in the quieter, more reflective moments. A truly magical film.
All Around Perfect!
Lawrence of Arabia is said to be the best epic ever made and I understand why. In order for an epic to succeed, it has to hold the viewers' attentions throughout the film. Of course there can be moments of down time, but every movie has that. Lawrence of Arabia not only holds attention, it feature everything to make a great movie at all-time heights.

Lawrence of Arabia is easily the best movie made about the First World War. Being the best epic is arguable, but there's only a margin of movies about WW1 and none are simply better than this. Newcomer Peter O'Toole is dead-on as Thomas Edward Lawrence--a role many people say he should have won for instead of Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird. If O'Toole did win, the backlash would be the same. I personally liked O'Toole and Lawrence of Arabia more. Lawrence is a hip and cool soldier who wants adventure and is assigned to help Arabian tribes face the Turks. He unites the different tribes and leads them to victory. Throughout the movie are beautiful images of the sun clearing the sky in the deserts of the middle-east with glamorous music. Watching this movie is like looking at an ocean sunset. No matter how many times you see this or how bored you get, you will not be able to take your eyes off this.

Anybody that does not like this obviously misses the underlying themes and characterizations. As I mentioned, O'Toole is captivating. But everybody else is amazing too. Alec Guinness plays Bedouin Prince Feisel who was actually mistaken by residents for the real prince. Lawrence is a complex, multi-layered character who is one of cinema's all-time greats. He is a rebellious misfit who brings his theories with him to Arabia. Seeing it is his biggest challenge, he tries to become one with the army while still keeping his own self. Lawrence is an idealist. When he turns out to be a success, he lets it all get to his head and his ego grows. He unites the tribes and leads the men in courage than only he could give. We understand why Lawrence becomes vain, but still want him to keep his general humility. When a tragic situation changes his whole perspective, he wants out but his influence brought them far. That is where the themes of inspiration and leadership/influence really soar. Despite a terrible trauma to him, he still stepped up with the aide of people he once inspired to fight. He gained everybody's loyalty and friendship--two crucial things the movie is about. Just one man whom everybody doubted created such a bang and legacy that forever changed history. When the war finishes, unity breaks with disagreements but there is still some peace among the groups. I found that to be realistic instead of a picture- perfect happy-ending where everybody becomes best friends.

I wouldn't say Lawrence of Arabia is sad entirely, there's just one depressing scene. But it is not happy either. It is all fully realistic and we have characters and situations where we can be proud of. The movie succeeds in everything it tries to get across, which is more than enough. Literally everything this movie has is perfection.
Visually Stunning, Yet Without Enough Structure…
Some time back I read ' The Uncrowned King of Arabia ', Michael Asher's BIO of T. E. Lawrence. In the book, Asher traces Lawrence's history, his sexual conflicts, his motives for doing what he did, as well as the geo-politics of the region, in great detail.

So as visually breathtaking as Lean's film is, it is still nonetheless frustrating to watch, for me at least, because it makes little if any attempt to touch on any of the above topics.

This frustration starts right at the beginning, when Lean devotes several minutes in the main title sequence, to a static shot of Lawrence's parked motorcycle (???). Then, after we are shown Lawrence crash, and his church memorial service, we are abruptly transported back in time.

Now those of us with some familiarity with the story will of course know that this is WW1, in which Lawrence is serving as a young British Intelligence Officer, & where he started out as essentially a map clerk, somewhere in Arabia.

Yet the uninitiated are basically just left to guess.

And soon, and again abruptly, Lawrence is assigned to make contact with the nomadic Arab tribes, in order to facilitate revolt against the enemy German-allied Turks.

Did Lean not believe that any back story was necessary to explain how Lawrence arrives at this point in his life? Such as:

-How he came to serve in the Military?

-How he came to speak Arabic?

-How he came to be selected for such an esoteric assignment?

Moreover, as I watched the film, it was striking to me that there was not a single subtitle or voice-over to provide the date/location/details of any of the events.

Contrast this with other historical films such as ' The Longest Day ', or ' Raging Bull ', or even ' Chaplin ', which provides such info, and also makes its significance clear.

The absence of this info creates the effect of a circular panoramic mural: Beautiful to look at, but challenging to follow, without a clear beginning, or clear direction, or clear ending.

So IF this ' Panoramic ' effect was in fact Lean's intention, then he succeeded brilliantly, but I would have preferred more clarity.

See Also
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