Lawrence of Arabia (1962) Poster


Production was halted to move to Spain, but filming did not resume for three months because writer Robert Bolt had been jailed for participating in a nuclear disarmament demonstration. He was released only after Sam Spiegel persuaded him to sign an agreement of good behavior.
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King Hussein of Jordan lent an entire brigade of his Arab Legion as extras for the film, so most of the "soldiers" are played by real soldiers. Hussein frequently visited the sets and became enamored of a young British secretary, Antoinette Gardiner, who became his second wife in 1962. Their eldest son, Abdullah II King Of Jordan, ascended to the throne in 1999.
Peter O'Toole claims he never viewed the completed film until nearly two decades after its original release, by which time he was highly impressed.
Peter O'Toole finally mastered his camel-riding technique by adding a layer of sponge rubber under the saddle to ease his bruised backside...a practical innovation quickly adopted by the actual Bedouin tribesmen acting as extras during the desert location filming.
Alec Guinness was made up to look like the real Faisal as close as possible. When they were shooting in Jordan, several people who knew the man mistook him for the real thing.
The film was banned in many Arab countries as they felt they were misrepresented. Omar Sharif arranged with President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt to view the film to show him there was nothing wrong with the way they were portrayed. Nasser loved the film and allowed it to be released in Egypt where it went on to become a monster hit.
For the 1989 reconstruction and restoration, many scenes of dialog were missing. As a result Peter O'Toole and a number of living principals returned and re-recorded dialog from more than 20 years previously. For principals who had died in the intervening years sound alike actors were employed (for instance for Jack Hawkins).
To film Omar Sharif's entrance through a mirage, Freddie Young used a special 482mm lens from Panavision. Panavision still has this lens, and it is known among cinematographers as the "David Lean lens". It was created specifically for this shot and has not been used since.
During an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962) in the 1970s, Peter O'Toole was describing just how long the movie took to make by referring to the scene when T.E. Lawrence and Gen. Allenby, after their meeting, continue talking while walking down a staircase. According to O'Toole, part of the scene had to be reshot much later, "so in the final print, when I get to the bottom of the stairs, I'm a year older than I was when I started walking down them."
Almost all movement in the film goes from left to right. David Lean said he did this to emphasize that the film was a journey.
Peter O'Toole was nearly killed during the first take of the Aqaba scene. A gun (used to signal the beginning of the scene) went off prematurely, and O'Toole's camel panicked, throwing him to the ground, while the extras on horseback began charging. Fortunately for O'Toole, his camel stayed still and stood over O'Toole, saving him from being trampled.
Musically, Maurice Jarre was hired to write the dramatic score, Aram Khachaturyan was handling the eastern themes and Benjamin Britten was to provide the British imperial music. Neither Khatchaturian or Britten were able to properly get involved so Sam Spiegel hired Richard Rodgers to fill in the musical gaps. When Spiegel and Lean heard Rodgers' compositions, they were hugely disappointed, so they turned to Jarre to see what he had done. The minute Lean heard Jarre's now-classic theme, he knew they had the right composer. Jarre was given the job of scoring the whole film - in a mere six weeks.
David Lean didn't see his first royalty check for the film until 1978.
Initially the production used white plastic cups for its drinking water but the wind would frequently pick up and blow them into the desert. After having numerous shots ruined due to errant white plastic cups, David Lean had them banned and replaced with ceramic mugs instead.
While filming, Peter O'Toole bonded with co-star Omar Sharif. Recalls Sharif, "Peter and I were like brothers immediately. He said to me, 'Your name is not Omar Sharif - no one is called Omar Sharif. Your real name is probably Freddy something!' And for the rest of the film and the rest of our lives, he's never called me Omar. He calls me Freddy."
When filming in Jordan, every drop of water for the production was brought in by truck from the nearest well, 150 miles away.
Steven Spielberg estimated that to make the film today would cost in the region of $285 million.
The 35mm master interpositive produced by Technicolor in 1966 had reel 2A flipped so that left and right became reversed on screen in all prints, including initial video releases. During the Harris restoration, David Lean himself pointed out this error and it was corrected.
The town of Aqaba was recreated in a dried river bed in southern Spain, consisting of over 300 buildings.
David Lean never saw any dailies while filming. He only missed one day of work, though the production endured many illnesses.
T.E. Lawrence's brother, A.E. Lawrence, who was also executor of his will, wasn't keen on the film's representation of his brother so he didn't allow the use of his sibling's autobiography title "Seven Pillars of Wisdom".
Anthony Quayle thought the character of Colonel Brighton was an idiot but David Lean told him Brighton was the only honorable character in the film.
David Lean personally supervised the first cuts that brought the film down to 3 hours as he wanted it to enjoy more showings per day. During the 1989 restoration, he would later pass blame for the cuts onto the then deceased Sam Spiegel.
The film missed out on a 11th Oscar nomination - for Best Costume Design - because someone forgot to submit Phyllis Dalton's name for consideration.
Peter O'Toole won his career-making (and legendary) part as Lawrence of Arabia after it was turned down by superstar Marlon Brando and a then-unknown Albert Finney. Both director David Lean and producer Sam Spiegel (who produced On the Waterfront (1954), the movie for which Brando and Spiegel won their first Oscars) wanted Brando, but he turned the role down (allegedly saying he didn't want to spend two years of his life riding on a camel). Their second choice Finney was put through extensive screen-tests costing 100,000 pounds, but refused to sign a seven-year contract demanded by Spiegel. O'Toole signed the seven-year contract and got the part.
David Lean hoped to film in the real Aqaba and the archaeological site at Petra. Much to his regret, however, the production had to be moved to Spain because of cost overruns and outbreaks of illness among the cast and crew before these scenes could be shot.
Soldiers from the Moroccan army were employed as extras without pay, which they understandably resented. During off-hours they actually took potshots at cast and crew, Lean included. Others deserted between takes and never came back.
Gen. Murray (Donald Wolfit)'s line about the Arab revolt being "a sideshow of a sideshow" was actually spoken in real life by T.E. Lawrence himself, several years after the war.
So long was the production schedule that Sam Spiegel insisted on a 2 month break. This afforded him the chance to find a filming location that was less arduous than Jordan, ultimately settling on Spain. Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle, Alec Guinness and Omar Sharif all took advantage of the break to work on other films.
When film conservationists Robert A. Harris and Jim Painten got permission from Columbia to restore David Lean's film, four tons of extraneous footage was delivered to their door. It took them nearly a year to get through all the material.
The character of Jackson Bentley is based on the real-life journalist and travel expert Lowell Thomas, whose writings first brought Lawrence to public attention.
The famous cut from Lawrence blowing out a match to the desert sunrise was originally just going to be a dissolve. But editor Anne V. Coates suggested to David Lean that he use the cut in the fashion of the then current French New Wave.
Because filming was not possible in the complete darkness of night, the night scenes were filmed during the day with light filters on the lenses; this is also the reason there is shadows from the camels during the night scenes.
David Lean watched John Ford's The Searchers (1956) time after time for inspiration.
David Lean happened to catch a B-movie called The Day They Robbed the Bank of England (1960) which featured a young Peter O'Toole. He was immediately taken by the striking looking young actor.
Peter O'Toole and Jack Hawkins became close friends on set, much to David Lean's consternation; Lean thought Hawkins should maintain a fatherly distance from O'Toole to help with the part, but Hawkins "didn't see the point" of Lean's advice. The two frequently went drinking after shooting concluded, including one instance in a Seville restaurant (where Alec Guinness was also present) where a drunken O'Toole threatened a waiter, backing down when the waiter produced a knife. O'Toole and Hawkins would also frequently improvise humorous dialogue on set (often during takes), which infuriated Lean.
Sam Spiegel, the producer of this film, was once known as S.P. Eagle. He had an amazing talent for finding unusual material and hiring exactly the perfect director to execute it. He produced one of Orson Welles's few commercial successes The Stranger (1946). David Lean, the director of this masterpiece, was a well-respected director of moderate-budgeted English films when Spiegel brought him to international prominence with Lean's direction of The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). He also worked with John Huston, first on We Were Strangers (1949) and most notably on The African Queen (1951). Finally he found the funding from Harry Cohn at Columbia for Elia Kazan's controversial On the Waterfront (1954). Perhaps no other independent producer has been associated with so many brilliant film directors on so many diverse and original stories.
Anthony Quinn applied his own make-up and would often arrive in real Arab clothes. At one point, David Lean mistook him for a native on the studio lot and so he sent his assistant to tell Quinn that he had replaced by this new arrival.
Director David Lean originally wanted Albert Finney for the title role. Katharine Hepburn urged producer Sam Spiegel to cast Peter O'Toole instead.
Albert Finney's screen tests in Arab costume as T.E. Lawrence are the most requested viewing item in Britain's National Film Archive.
Lawrence's rescue of the lost Gasim actually happened, as Lawrence recounts in his book "Seven Pillars of Wisdom". Though in the film Lawrence is hailed for the heroism, he was in reality ridiculed and chided for what was seen as a waste of effort anyway.
The film spent 2 years in pre-production before 14 months of shooting in locations like Jordan, Spain and Morocco.
General Allenby's Jersualem headquarters was filmed at the Moorish mansion, Casa de Pilatos, in Seville. While setting up there, the lighting crew accidentally smashed a centuries old statue. Fortunately, the authorities were appeased and filming was allowed to continue.
The charge on Aqaba employed 450 horses and 150 camels.
This is Steven Spielberg's all-time favorite film.
An urban myth stated that T.E. Lawrence's watch switches from his left wrist to the right in the film. Restorer Robert A. Harris actually found this to be true, but only because the second reel of film had been spliced in reverse.
At one point when filming was progressing far too slowly for his liking, producer Sam Spiegel invited William Wyler to visit the set. He wanted Wyler to encourage Lean to rely more on his second units for filming additional scenes, as he had done on Ben-Hur (1959). The visit was to no avail, however, as Lean was too much of a perfectionist to relinquish control.
Two miles of track were laid for the train scenes.
Alec Guinness had a life-long interest in T.E. Lawrence, and had played him in a production of Terence Rattigan's play "Ross" on stage. Guinness wanted very much to play Lawrence, but David Lean and Sam Spiegel both told him he was too old. Laurence Olivier was the original choice for Prince Feisal, and Guinness was shifted to that role when Olivier turned it down.
When he first heard that the movie was going to be produced, Lowell Thomas (on whom the Jackson Bentley character was based) offered to give producer Sam Spiegel a large amount of background material on T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt that he had collected, but was rejected by Spiegel.
The Allenby family lodged a formal complaint against Columbia about the portrayal of their ancestor. The descendants of Auda abu Tayi and the real Sharif went even further and actively sued the studio. The case dragged on for 10 years before being dropped.
Robert Bolt's original writing contract with Sam Spiegel was for three months as he was needed to work on another play. But due his immersion on material, he ended up working for 14 months on the script and totally forgot his work on the play.
Sam Spiegel was much taken with Robert Bolt's successful play A Man for All Seasons. When he and David Lean weren't happy with Michael Wilson's stab at the screenplay, he sent it to Bolt for rewriting. Bolt found the script lacking in good dialog and also character depth. He essentially rewrote the whole thing, using T.E. Lawrence's book 'The Seven Pillars of Wisdom' as his starting point.
Marlon Brando, who had won an Oscar in the Sam Spiegel-produced On the Waterfront (1954), was desired for the title role by both producer Spiegel and director David Lean. Still involved in the editing of his directing debut One-Eyed Jacks (1961), Brando turned the offer down, saying he didn't want to take two years out of his life riding a camel in the desert. Ironically, Brando signed for the role of Fletcher Christian in the Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) remake, which ran way over budget and way over schedule. Whereas "Lawrence of Arabia" was a great success, "Mutiny on the Bounty" was considered a flop and damaged Brando's career. Keen to work with Brando, Lean later offered him the role of Komarovsky in Doctor Zhivago (1965) and the schoolteacher married to Ryan's Daughter (1970) in the eponymous film. Brando did not respond to either offer. (Rod Steiger, who played Brando's brother in "Waterfront", played Komarovsky, while Robert Mitchum appeared in "Ryan's Daughter".)
Maurice Ronet was replaced by Omar Sharif in the part of Ali once filming commenced. Ronet was bought out of the film for four times the amount that Sharif was paid for his performance.
Restorer Robert A. Harris and editor Anne V. Coates went through 450 rusted old film cans for the 1989 restoration.
Omar Sharif was originally cast to play T.E. Lawrence's guide Tafas.
After the tremendous success of The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), producer Sam Spiegel and David Lean were keen to work together on a similarly worthy topic. Initially the pair considered making a film of the life of Mohandas K. Gandhi but soon gave up on that.
Peter O'Toole's performance as T.E. Lawrence is the #1 ranked performance of all time in Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time.
In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #7 Greatest Movie of All Time.
[June 2008] Ranked #1 on the American Film Institute's list of the 10 greatest films in the genre "Epic".
In the early days of the production, when the Bentley character had a more prominent role in the film, Kirk Douglas was considered for the part. However, Douglas wanted a star salary and second billing after Peter O'Toole. Douglas' demands were rejected by producer Sam Spiegel and the Oscar-winner O'Brien was cast in the part. O'Brien filmed the Jerusalem scene, and supposedly Jackson's political discussion with Omar Sharif's character Ali before being felled by his heart attack. He was replaced on short notice by Kennedy, who was recommended to director David Lean by Anthony Quinn. Kennedy had replaced Quinn as King Henry II on Broadway in the play Becket (1964). (Ironically, when "Becket" was made into a film, it was Peter O'Toole who was cast as Henry.)
Producer Sam Spiegel was initially opposed to the casting of Peter O'Toole. He had already worked with the actor when he was understudy for Montgomery Clift on Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) as Clift's alcoholism had made him unreliable to work with.
The role of Sherif Ali was originally intended for Horst Buchholz but he was forced to turn it down owing to his commitment to Billy Wilder's movie One, Two, Three (1961). Second choice Alain Delon tested successfully but suffered problems with the brown contact lenses required for the role. Maurice Ronet was then cast but was replaced after difficulties with his French accent and his Arabian dress (Lean complained "He looked like me walking around in drag").
After deciding to cast an unknown actor in the role of T.E. Lawrence, David Lean arranged a screen test for Albert Finney shortly before the release of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), which made Finney a star. The extensive screen test involved costumes, sets and included actors Ferdy Mayne and Laurence Payne, and was shot over four days at a cost of £100,000. In addition to Lean, the test was attended by cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, assistant director Gerry O'Hara, editor Anne V. Coates, producer Sam Spiegel and Anthony Nutting, an expert on Arabian history. It was unanimously agreed that the screen test was excellent, and Finney was offered the part of Lawrence but turned it down, as he did not want to be committed to the long-term contract he would have been required to sign.
T.E. Lawrence declined invitations to film his writings as early as 1926, when Rex Ingram suggested the idea. Later, Alexander Korda tried to launch a version starring Leslie Howard, written by John Monk Saunders and directed by Lewis Milestone. Over the years, such stars as Robert Donat, Laurence Olivier, Cary Grant, Burgess Meredith, and Alan Ladd were all promoted as leads. Screenwriter Michael Wilson finally convinced Lawrence's brother to sell the film rights to Sam Spiegel by submitting his screenplay for approval in 1960.
Jack Hawkins shaved his head to play General Allenby.
Dilip Kumar was offered the role of Sherif Ali but declined.
T.E. Lawrence's brother, Cambridge archaeologist A.W. Lawrence, saw the film and said he didn't recognize his brother in it.
Montgomery Clift coveted the role of Lawrence and actively lobbied for the part with David Lean. Sam Spiegel, however, had a low opinion of Clift after the latter's drinking problems surfaced on Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) and refused to consider his casting.
The film had been slated to go into production in 1953 with John Wayne in the lead. It collapsed due to lack of funding.
Cary Grant was Sam Spiegel's first choice for General Allenby, but David Lean convinced him to cast Jack Hawkins due to his work for them on The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).
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Arthur Kennedy replaced Edmond O'Brien in the role of Jackson Bentley, the photo-journalist character based on Lowell Thomas, after O'Brien had a heart-attack on location after filming some scenes.
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When Omar Sharif signed on with Sam Spiegel to do "Lawrence," it was a seven picture deal at $15,000 per film. The others were Doctor Zhivago (1965) Behold a Pale Horse (1964), The Night of the Generals (1967) Genghis Khan_, Mackenna's Gold (1969) and Funny Girl (1968).
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Was voted the 18th Greatest Film of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
David Lean wanted Malcolm Arnold to score the film, while Sam Spiegel wanted William Walton to do it. Both composers turned down the chance to work on the film.
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Alec Guinness shaved his head for his role.
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The role of Jackson Bentley was originally much bigger and was intended for Kirk Douglas. However, Douglas wanted too much money and equal billing with Peter O'Toole, so the role was scaled down.
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Jack Hawkins was originally set to take on the part of Colonel Harry Brighton. When he was shifted over to play Allenby, Anthony Quayle got the part of Brighton.
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The idea of filming the life of T.E. Lawrence had been floating around for many years. Herbert Wilcox had even been approached by Lawrence himself about it in 1926.
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Contrary to some sources, Richard Burton was never offered the lead role, due to the financial failure of Look Back in Anger (1959) which had caused 20th Century Fox to release him from his film contract.
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While preparing the film for its 25 year restoration, David Lean pointed out that all the images had flipped. All of the TV and VHS versions are backwards because Technicolor made an error in 1966 when it created a 35mm anamorphic interpositive from which everything else was based. the entrance into the desert, which takes place about ten minutes into the film, and reversed, with no writing on the screen, so no one was able to catch the error.
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When the restoration was being made, those involved had a hard time locating Arthur Kennedy. They had heard he was living in Savannah and phoned every Kennedy in the phonebook. The actor finally returned their call a rerecorded his dialogue on a 3/4" tape in a local TV station.
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Charles Gray re-voiced some of the vocal performance of Jack Hawkins for the 1989 restored edition.
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The train wreck sequences were filmed in Spain.
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Original choice to play Faisal was Laurence Olivier.
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Arthur Kennedy was an 11th-hour casting choice, replacing Edmond O'Brien who had become ill and had dropped out after rehearsals.
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Elaborate screen tests with Albert Finney as Lawrence were shot at a cost of 100,000 pounds. Finney later balked at producer Sam Spiegel's demand that he sign a seven-year contract if he accepted the role, and dropped out, replaced by Peter O'Toole, already under contract to Speigel.
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The film credits list Sir Adrian Boult as the conductor. According to the liner notes on the Varese Sarabande (VSD 5263) release of the original soundtrack, composer Maurice Jarre actually conducted every note of this recording with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. According to "Beyond the Epic: The Life and Films of David Lean" by Gene Phillips, Sir Boult found conducting a film score so overwhelming that he handed the job over to Jarre. Sir Adrian's name was still listed for contractual reasons, apparently because he was the chief conductor of the orchestra at that time.
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Gamil Ratib was dubbed by Robert Rietty.
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While the team behind the restoration of the film in the late-1980s found all of the surviving footage cut after its premiere, they learned that the soundtrack to said footage had been lost. Thus, the team recruited the then-surviving members of the cast to re-record their lines for the scenes. David Lean complimented Peter O'Toole for his effort, telling him that he did a better job than in the original film. O'Toole replied: "After 25 years, I think I have learned enough to play the scene properly."
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The trivia items below may give away important plot points.

Although 227 minutes long, this film has no women in speaking roles. It is reportedly the longest film not to have any dialogue spoken by a woman.
The film took longer to make than it did for the real T.E. Lawrence to go from lieutenant to colonel, to see the desert tribes united and tip the balance in the Allies' favor against the Turks in World War I.
Peter O'Toole claimed that he learned more about acting from his few days of filming with José Ferrer than he did in all his years at drama school.
José Ferrer was initially very unsatisfied about the small part he was offered. He only accepted on condition that he be paid $25,000 - more than Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif combined - plus a factory made Porsche. Ironically Ferrer once said about his tiny role that he considered it to be the finest acting of his career.
Peter O'Toole is considerably taller and better looking than the real T.E. Lawrence (6'2" to Lawrence's real life height of 5'5"). Noel Coward is rumored to have said, on seeing the premiere, "If he'd been any prettier, they'd have had to call it Florence of Arabia."
Costume designer Phyllis Dalton deliberately made Peter O'Toole's army outfit too small and ill-fitting to signify T.E. Lawrence's discomfort with the military uniform.
In an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (1992), Peter O'Toole confessed quite proudly that, out of fear of falling off during a big camel riding scene, he and Omar Sharif decided to get absolutely hammered and then tied themselves down on the camels before shooting. By his own admission, he was so drunk he had no idea where he was or what he was doing for the entire scene (attack on Akaba).
The real T.E. Lawrence was actually riding from the Bovington Army Camp to his cottage in Cloud Hill when his tragic accident occurred. The scenes where Lawrence was tortured and assaulted by the Turks was actually from the book "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom," the supplementary material of "Revolt in The Desert." Due to the humiliation which he suffered, Lawrence refused to publish "The Seven Pillars," his life's work, but did publish it exclusively for 120 people only. The 120 people who read the book were delighted with it, and the book was published sometime after Lawrence died.
José Ferrer had to be talked into taking the role of the sadistic Bey, dubious about it being such a small part. David Lean convinced him that the Bey was a pivotal character in T.E. Lawrence's history.
The moment when T.E. Lawrence - freshly adorned in his new flowing white robes - raises his dagger to look at his reflection was an improvisation by Peter O'Toole. The moment would be repeated at the end of the film in a wholly different context when a battered Lawrence looks at his bloodied dagger after the battle for Damascus.
The film was largely based on T.E. Lawrence's autobiography "Seven Pillars of Wisdom," which a 1955 revisionist biography by Richard Adlington claimed was highly exaggerated.
Costume designer Phyllis Dalton devised a subtle way to indicate T.E. Lawrence's failing grip. As the film progresses, his robes become thinner and thinner until they are virtually translucent.
Despite the film's success, many people disliked this film due to its fictional elements (fictional characters in this film such as Sherif Ali, Colonel Brighton, Jackson Bentley, Mr. Dryden etc.). Another reason why others disliked the film has to do with the death of T.E Lawrence in this film. Many people believed T.E Lawrence was murdered. One of the principal witnesses of the accident of T.E Lawrence was an army corporal named Catchpole who testified about a black van heading toward Lawrence. After the crash, the black van raced off down the road and the corporal ran over to T.E Lawrence who lay on the road with his face covered in blood. The corporal was instructed not to mention the van as being involved in the accident and the suspicions increased when it was reported that Catchpole killed himself shortly after testifying about the black van. Right before his death, Lawrence had been planning to see his friend Henry Williamson, who was facilitating a meeting between Lawrence and Adolf Hitler for making peace between England and Germany. T.E. Lawrence abhorred the idea of yet another war in Europe.
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Although women have no lines in the film, they occasionally can be seen in the background of some scenes. For the Arabian ones, tradition forbade Bedouin women from being photographed so costume designer Phyllis Dalton had some Christian women dress up in the flowing robes.
In his autobiography and in a letter to George Bernard Shaw's wife, there are indications that T.E. Lawrence was forced to perform homosexual acts for the Turkish governor of Deraa, something which this film skimmed over. However, both friends and enemies of the governor alike vehemently dismissed Lawrence's claims as fantasies and insisted the governor was not a homosexual.
When first telecast (by ABC-TV), the film was shown in two parts on two successive nights because of its four-hour length. Even so, it was edited so that Lawrence's torture by the Turks was even less explicit (and less comprehensible) than in the original film.
The only studio set built for the film was the crypt in St Paul's Cathedral, London, home of T.E. Lawrence's bronze memorial.
The motorcycle T.E. Lawrence was riding when he was killed is a Brough Superior. He owned seven of them.
Despite the fictional elements, many people who watched this film acknowledged the fact that the film did correctly portray the honest intentions of Lawrence of Arabia in giving freedom to Arabs.
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See also

Goofs | Crazy Credits | Quotes | Alternate Versions | Connections | Soundtracks

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