Lawrence of Arabia (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | October 22, 2012 | 1 Comment

Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)Lawrence of Arabia tells the epic true story of T.E. Lawrence, who is serving in the British Military during World War 1. It opens with him riding on a motorcycle, crashing, and getting himself killed. At his funeral men comment on the legend and the movie goes back in time to tell his tale. At first he is seemingly expendable but he is then acclaimed as a hero and a leader, and is worshiped by the British and Arabs alike. But Lawrence’s adventures are dangerous, life threatening, and (for him) exciting. He pushes himself by doing unimaginable things such as extinguishing a match with his fingers, not drinking water while in the desert even though he is being offered some, and traveling long distances in the desert. He meets many people during the war: Sherif Ali, a fellow fighter, Auda Abu Tayi, a tribe leader, Prince Feisal, a thoughtful leader, Turkish Bey, an evil man who tortures him, General Allenby and Colonel Brighton, two English officers, Mr. Dydren, an English leader, Jackson Bentley, an English journalist and photographer, and many others. As he goes mad, how long will Lawrence last in the tiresome, treacherous, and explosive war?

Lawrence Of Arabia is simply masterful. And that’s why 50 years after it’s worldwide premiere in London on December 16th, 1962 it’s still a classic. On Thursday, October 4th this year, the movie was re-released for special one day only showings in the US. Despite this terrible scheduling (it should have shown for many months or at least a special weekend) I got the chance to see the film on the big screen. And in a way you have never seen it before. The movie was restored looking better than any of the previous restorations. In addition there was behind the scenes footage including a few words (literally) from Omar Sharif one of the stars, an introduction from Martin Scorsese in which he talks about his experiences viewing the movie, footage of the crew shooting in the dessert, technicians telling about the process of 4K, and a video of stars arriving at the premiere of the film. And lastly I had only seen the movie once before, earlier this year at home on a TV, but no matter how terrific your TV is there is absolutely nothing that rivals seeing Lawrence Of Arabia on the big screen.

Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)The movie was incredibly difficult to make. It was shot in the desert and there wasn’t always a script when it was being shot. Peter O’Toole, who plays T. E. Lawrence, nearly got killed when he fell of his camel and extra’s horses almost trampled him. He also hurt his hand and needed a bandage. During production I’m not sure if the cast and crew thought it was worth it just to make a movie. Many of the lead actors had other films they were also appearing in that were being released the same year as Lawrence and might have been wondering what would make this one so special. Peter O’Toole was the lead of a movie for the first time after acting in bit parts in a few films in the early 1960’s. But O’Toole wasn’t the original choice for the part. Antony Perkins and Montgomery Clift were briefly considered, Marlon Brando was offered the part but said he didn’t want to spend two years of his life riding a camel. Alec Guinness (who played Lawrence in a play titled Ross) was asked but then thought of to be too old, and Albert Finney, an unknown at the time, was the first choice. But after seeing O’Toole in The Day They Robbed The Bank Of England and viewing his stunning screen test, David Lean proclaimed “This is Lawrence”. In fact there were many things that made this production unusual as well. David Lean has been quoted as saying that most movement in the film is from left to right to emphasize that the story is about a journey. Lean also called Omar Sharif “Fred”, during the shooting phase because he told him “No one in the world is called Omar Sharif. Your name must be Fred.” Lean never watched dailies until editing and missed only one day of work even though many cast and crew members endured illnesses. There isn’t a single woman who speaks a line of dialogue in the entire movie. To discover more about the making of Lawrence of Arabia go to the IMDB trivia page  to learn more about one of the most fascinating productions of all time. It would be great if someone made a movie about the making of this one (documentary or otherwise).

Despite this odd, harrowing, and difficult production, I’d say it was all worth it. Especially on the big screen. Never has a film been better on the big screen. The desert visuals, sweeping train explosion, beautiful panoramic shots, and the loud, terrific, catchy score all combine to create a movie going experience unlike any other. Oh and it doesn’t hurt to throw in a bucket of popcorn, some nonpareals, a nice salty pretzel, a couple chocolate chip cookies, and a bottle of nice cold water, in case you get stuck in the desert watching the movie.

Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)David Lean is undoubtedly one of the finest directors who ever lived and this film proves it. Though I haven’t seen any of his other work, except for the 1946 Great Expectations, he is also famous for The Bridge On The River Kwai, A Passage To India, Doctor Zhivago, Brief Encounter, Oliver Twist, and more. Lean does a great job handling all the elements of Lawrence of Arabia: the action scenes, stunning visuals, and existential pondering as well as the script, acting, music, cinematography, editing, and other mandatory parts of a movie production. There is an epic train explosion and stunning visuals but the story about the heart of Lawrence is what drives the film. In the introduction by Martin Scorsese he says that David Lean was quoted as saying that he never felt he finished editing the movie but when I watched it the movie seemed complete if not rock solid, masterfully finished. Everything about the movie seems definite and planned out. That’s a good thing. However I do understand Lean’s comment. In some respects because the story is focused only on Lawrence’s time in the War. He may have deemed it incomplete because it is not a full biopic. Rather it only focuses on the most important part in Lawrence’s life and maybe that was the right choice. The screenwriters Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson might have thought the rest of this legendary man’s life was uninteresting and boring. Although based on the film that ended up being made, I doubt that any unused ideas were anything less than thrilling pieces of exemplary cinema.

The cast is incredible. The supporting actors are mostly seasoned professionals, if not at the time big stars in the US: Alec Guiness, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, and more. The cast is great and the film simply wouldn’t be the same without them. But this is a character study of one man. Lawrence. And O’Toole delivers. If you didn’t know that this was his first starring role you certainly wouldn’t be able to guess when you’re watching the movie. He dissolves into the role, embodies the character, and brings great depth. It’s a realistic and iconic performance.

The musical score captures the rousing, heroic feeling that Lawrence feels and makes you feel it too. Without the music the film simply wouldn’t be the classic that it is. Maurice Jarre, the composer, demonstrates what music can do to movies. It can enhance them. Sear them into your mind (that’s a great thing in this case). How could you forget Lawrence running across the desert with hundreds of other men about to plunder a train that has just been blown up as the theme is playing loudly and magnificently. These stunning images solidify the film as classic.

My favorite character is Lawrence. There’s really no other choice, despite the great acting and interesting complexities of the supporting characters and cast. Peter O’Toole is, as previously mentioned, amazing, but there is much to be said about the character as well. Is he good or bad? Well it’s not that simple in this kind of movie. Which is what makes it so great. Amongst the beautiful desert vistas is a study of a man’s soul.

My favorite scene is when Lawrence and one of his two young helpers return, after going back to find a lost man who turns out to be dead.  The cinematography is stunning and the theme song is once again excellently used here.

The film is rated PG by the MPAA. I would rate it PG-13 for some war violence, bloody images, brief bad language, complex situations, and a scene of intense torture. Anybody 9 and up with a long attention span and a strong love of history and movies will enjoy this film.

Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)Anchored by a whirlwind central performance and peppered with a superb supporting cast, this is a film that still holds up after half a century. David Lean ingeniously assembles all of his pieces for this one of a kind masterpiece. One of my favorite movies of all time Lawrence Of Arabia is epic, exciting, excellent, existential, and extremely entertaining. The trick is not minding that it’s long.

Stay tuned for an interview with a Political Science Professor (our grandfather) who we interviewed about this movie.


One Response to “Lawrence of Arabia (Flack’s Review)”

  1. Anisa
    October 23rd, 2012 @ 12:33 am

    Excellent review. Thanks for sharing so many interesting facts and comments about the actors, the making of the film and the challenges faced making a film in such a challenging location. I cannot believe that I had never seen it until this year. And I agree, seeing it on the big screen is magnificent. Lean is truly gifted. I saw Dr. Zhivago on the big screen at PPAC another of his great works.

    I agree that Lawrence’s character is complex and it is unclear at times what his motives are. I wonder if Lean meant, when he said that the film was not finished, that he wanted to explore more of Lawrence’s time in the desert (and how he changed as a man) rather than extending beyond his time in the desert?

    I wonder what the film would have been like if Lean did go with one of those other actors for Lawrence?

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