Lawrence of Arabia: Somewhere, over the sand dune...
May 9, 2000 (Updated Feb 17, 2006)
Review by George Chabot
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Direction, Cinematography, Score, O'Toole, Hawkins, Rains, Quinn
Cons:The fact that so few films measure up to this standard
The Bottom Line: A true classic, Lawrence of Arabia belongs in every videophile's collection. Must see!
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
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If you give them artillery, youve made them independent. Dryden
Then I cant give them artillery. Gen. Allenby
Its your decision. Col. Brighton
No. Ive got orders, thank God. Not like that poor devil; hes riding the whirlwind. Gen. Allenby
Lets hope were not. Dryden
Peter OToole made his acting debut in the title role of Director David Leans epic tale "Lawrence of Arabia".
Set in the trackless expanses of the middle East in World War I, the film shows T. E. Lawrences attempt to make a nation of the Arabs, something quite different from the continued exploitation intended by the British crown.
Lawrence begins as a mapmaker in the intelligence section of the British army, stationed in Cairo. The film does a masterful job of character development: we learn that Lawrence is quite an uncommon man, right in the first few frames. He is oblivious to pain, subjecting himself to burns from lit matches, apparently to temper his will. His associate tries to do the same and is surprised it hurts. "Whats the trick", he wants to know. "The trick is not to mind that it hurts", says Lawrence.
He is posted to spy on King Feisal, and report back to HQ. But Lawrence is a two-edged sword, who ends up identifying more with the Arabs than his British countrymen. King Feisal, admirably brought to life by Alec Guiness, is monarch of a host of petty tribes with little idea of unity.
Lawrences harrowing journey by camel from Cairo to King Feisals encampment must be seen to be appreciated, with the vast distances across the trackless desert under the glaring sun. The journey culminates in the death of his guide at the hands of Arab chieftain Sherif Ali, played by Omar Sharif. Lawrence shows a curious passivity when confronted alone by the savage Arab, Sherif Ali. Later, it will appear that the savagery of which he accuses Ali is a part of Lawrences character, as well.
Acting without orders, Lawrence takes on the responsibility of leading the Arabs against the Turks at Aqaba. With a ragtag army of 50 men on camels, he crosses the burning desert and surprises Aqaba with the help of Bedouins under Auda Abu Tayi (Anthony Quinn). With that victory under his belt, his immortality is assured when U.S. newspaper reporter "Jackson Bentley" (based on real-life Lowell Thomas) brings the story to the American newspapers.
Many adventures later, the story ends with Lawrence going back to old England. His untimely death is shown during the opening credits, as a prologue to the story, which is told as a long flashback from the newspaper reporter, Jackson Bentley (Arthur Kennedy).
"Lawrence of Arabia" is a film which celebrates the silence and emptiness of the vast Arabian desert. The film was produced in a time when only the best would do. Clearly, Director David Lean only used the finest snippets of film to make his epic. The vast shots across the shimmering desert showing a miniscule rider approaching, the glorious sunsets, the Arab encampments, the battles, all combine to make this film a must-see masterpiece. Make sure to see the 30th Anniversary Edition which has been restored to the absolutely glorious color of the original 70 mm print.
Despite the fantastic camera work, direction, acting, and score, the film should not be viewed as an historical account, in my opinion, but a typical Hollywood adaptation of a legend.
It is a pity that epics such as this may never be made again due to Hollywoods obsession with formula films.
Other fine adventure stories I highly recommend:
The Four Feathers (1939)
The Wind and the Lion
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