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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) - Sweeping Grandeur

Peter O'Toole's Tour de Force as Lawrence

Original film poster Lawrence of Arabia 1962 movieloversreviews.blogspot.comt

There are certain films that never should be remade under any circumstances. "Citizen Kane," "Gone with the Wind," and "The Third Man" spring immediately to mind. Add "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962) to that list. The British excel at films like this, recounting their own glorious past (see "Zulu," "Chariots of Fire," and "Ghandi" as prime examples) in exotic environments. While this nominally is a Columbia Pictures presentation, this historical epic is a David Lean production all the way.

Lawrence in new robes Lawrence of Arabia 1962 movieloversreviews.blogspot.comt
Lawrence admiring his new robes. This scene was O'Toole's idea

This is a film about journeys. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) is a low-level British specialist on the Middle East. He takes a journey through the desert to find the Arab forces and barely survives. Later, the Arab forces journey across the desert to Aquaba and achieve what is thought to be impossible. After that, again Lawrence must journey almost alone across the Sinai desert to get heavy forces in support of his victory. But the most important journey in the film is internal, as Lawrence comes to realize the depth and limitations of his own personal power. The Arabs allies, too, begin to understand where events are leading them and begin to realize their own expanding powers.

In the desert Lawrence of Arabia 1962 movieloversreviews.blogspot.comt
War is taking its toll on Lawrence

Aside from everything else, this film is excellent history. Sure, certain liberties are taken with the character of , who probably wasn't as tortured by his experiences as is made out here, but that is a minor quibble. A career performance by Peter O'Toole in the title role keeps the entire movie rolling and sends this into film Nirvana.

O'Toole and Sharif Lawrence of Arabia 1962 movieloversreviews.blogspot.comt
Lawrence and his best friend

Omar Sharif is around, too, as a sort of voice of reason and stability, along with Anthony Quinn and Alec Guiness. Jack Hawkins plays General Allenby, also known as "Allenby of Armageddon," who provides Lawrence with the necessary support but secretly loathes him. All of these amazing actors did the best work of their storied careers right here, in this film, and that is saying a lot.

Quinn, Sharif, O'Toole Lawrence of Arabia 1962 movieloversreviews.blogspot.comt
Lawrence with his Arab lieutenants

Briefly, the plot (based on Lawrence's memoir "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom") involves an attempt by Allied forces in the Middle East to open a second front against the Ottoman Empire, Germany's ally, which had controlled the entire region since seizing it from the Byzantine Empire centuries before. The best way to do this, they figured, would be to instigate a revolt of the locals, who chafed under foreign rule from Constantinople. It was an alien environment where the British had few friends, so they turned to one of their few officers who actually understood the politics and geography: Lawrence.

Lawrence in native garb Lawrence of Arabia 1962 movieloversreviews.blogspot.comt
Lawrence under great strain

Lawrence, who had traveled extensively throughout the region before the war on Ottoman/German trains, had to ingratiate himself with the locals and earn their respect. The balance of the film shows how he does that, and how the locals, in turn, affect him personally. Not all is good and positive, just as it isn't in real life. He is assisted by local tribesmen who admire him personally, but their admiration is severely tested by events.

Lawrence and his warriors Lawrence of Arabia 1962 movieloversreviews.blogspot.comt
Lawrence and his troops

Once he adapts to the local customs and traditions, Lawrence tries to turn a bunch of disparate and feuding tribes into an effective force against the Turks. This is accomplished, but not without trials and tribulations for all concerned.

Lawrence attacking Lawrence of Arabia 1962 movieloversreviews.blogspot.comt
On the attack

Oscar-winning Director David Lean uses the desert vistas to their maximum impact, and the Oscar-winning music by Maurice Jarre perfectly complements the sweeping desert vistas. The title theme, in fact, is one of the most recognizable in film history. A favorite scene is when Lawrence earns white robes due to a noble deed, and admires himself in the reflection of his own dagger. That scene was O'Toole's idea completely, and Lean was smart enough to go along with it.

Troops in the desert Lawrence of Arabia 1962 movieloversreviews.blogspot.comt
The scenery is intense

Just to give you an idea of how well they cast the leads, Peter O'Toole as Lawrence and Alec Guiness as Faisal, check out the below picture. O'Toole got that slightly impish/eccentric quality of Lawrence down to perfection.

Prince Faisal Lawrence of Arabia
The real deal

You need to see this Best Picture winner film on a big, wide screen with good sound - preferably in a movie theater - to appreciate it. If you do, afterwards you will feel as if you were there, in the desert, with Lawrence and his comrades. This is one of my top films of all time, and I highly recommend you take the time to watch it.

Peter O'Toole passed away in 2013 after having been nominated for 8 Academy Awards. You may view more pictures of O'Toole, learn a bit more about his career, and read a brief tribute here.

The original theatrical trailer is below, followed by Jarre conducting the theme.


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