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Lion of the Desert (1981)

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In the Fascist Italy Pre-World War II of Benito Mussolini, the cruel General Rodolfo Graziani is directly assigned by Il Duce to fight in the colonial war in Libya to vanquish the Arab ... See full summary »



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Title: Lion of the Desert (1981)

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Colonel Diodiece
Sharif El Gariani
Andrew Keir ...
Gastone Moschin ...
Major Tomelli
Stefano Patrizi ...
Lt. Sandrini
Adolfo Lastretti ...
Colonel Sarsani
Prince Amadeo (as Sky Dumont)
Takis Emmanuel ...
Rodolfo Bigotti ...
Al Fadeel
Eleonora Stathopoulou ...
Ali's Mother


In the Fascist Italy Pre-World War II of Benito Mussolini, the cruel General Rodolfo Graziani is directly assigned by Il Duce to fight in the colonial war in Libya to vanquish the Arab nation. However, his troops are frequently defeated by the national leader Omar Mukhtar and his army of Bedouins. But the Butcher of Ethiopia and Libya uses a dirty war against the natives, slaughtering children, women and aged people, to subdue Mukhtar. Written by Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


A giant of a man against a general seeking glory...a spectacular adventure of arch enemies in battle.


PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






Release Date:

16 May 1981 (Japan)  »

Also Known As:

Omar Mukhtar: Lion of the Desert  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$35,000,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| (DVD)

Sound Mix:


| (archive footage)| (Eastmancolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Publicity for this picture stated that director Moustapha Akkad intended to make another multi-million epic after this movie, 'Saladin', about the life of the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria and founder of the Ayyubid dynasty. The film was to be filmed in Turkey and Morocco, but this never eventuated due to this film's massive failure at the box office. See more »


When Diodiece meets with Graziani and Prince Amadeo about starting peace talks, a map behind him, depicting the Horn of Africa, is inaccurate. The map clearly shows no borders between Ethiopia and the adjoining Italian colonies of Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, a situation that existed only after Ethiopia had been conquered by Italy and was united with the other two territories as the colony of Italian East Africa. However, this did not occur until 1936, and since the film takes place from 1929-1931, such a map could not possibly have existed at the time of the three men's meeting. See more »


Gen. Rodolfo Graziani: I want to ask you one question. Why did you keep going for so long? I mean, surely you didn't hope to drive us out of Libya with so little, did you?
Omar Mukhtar: We fought you. That was enough.
Gen. Rodolfo Graziani: And you cared nothing for the ruination of your country?
Omar Mukhtar: You are the ruination of my country. What would you do if someone occupied your land?
See more »


Referenced in 'Halloween': A Cut Above the Rest (2003) See more »


Marcia Reale
Music by Giuseppe Gabetti
See more »

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User Reviews

A true financial disaster, but one of the greatest films to watch.
25 July 2003 | by (Denmark) – See all my reviews

Moustapha Akkad, who produced the "Halloween" series is a Syrian-born filmmaker who has two ambitious epic films as a director. His first, the relatively forgotten film The "Message", about Mohammed and the Koran, it was (mistycal enough for me) a huge success worldwide. Then, Akkad lured Libyan dictator Molomar Qaddafi to invest million $35 in the war epic "Lion of the Desert".... One of the largest financial disasters in film history, though one of the greatest films I've seen... (Does this make sense???..)

Anthony Quinn (somehow reprising his role in the epic "Lawrence of Arabia") portrays the Libyan Guerilla fighter "Omar Mukhtar" who pledged his (as well as his countrymen's) life to drive the invading Italian forces out.

The story depicts post World War 1, pre WW2 era where Benito Mussolini (played by Rod Steiger) tries carving up the globe with empires for Italy. He uses Libya as an "easy" stepping stone to the the Middle East (Libya's occupation was not started by him.. funny and demagogical enough the young Mussolini demonstrated against the occupation of Libya in 1911).

Mukhtar, the village teacher, on the other hand made this difficult and was so successful waging his campaign against the Italians, that Mussolini sends in his top general "The Butcher" Graziani, played deliciously by the late Sir Oliver Reed (the Trap 1966, The Four Musketeers 1974, Gladiator 2000 and many more) to straighten things out.

First, the Italians just "tour" Libya, raiding, burning, killing and raping... but when an entire attack convoy is completely wiped out by rebels, Graziani decides to wage an all-out war against Libyans. Graziani pretends to come to terms with Mukhtar, but, at the same time, brings thousands of fresh Italian troops to Tripoli and marches them inland. He is the first general to use planes and tanks in the desert, destroying town after town. This way he successfully corners Mukhtar and his rebels in the mountains.

Historically accurate, in its portrayal of the Italian army and of the campaign itself, Lion of the Desert is an action packed, nearly (I say nearly..) flawless epic war film.

Rod Steiger starts with some over-acting marching around his offices barking at people. But the film quickly shifts towards the vastness and splendor of the Sahara desert. It has excellent action sequences, that employ splendid special effects and lots of stunt work.

On top of this, it's one of the bloodiest war films I've seen, with bullet wounds spraying blood and people smashed to pulps by Italian tanks. God knows how this film faded away with a mediocre rating, but then again noone really saw the film right?

The film is also a fascinating portrayal of the Arabs way of life and how it conflicts with European ideals.

The musical score of this film, by Maurice Jarre (Lawrence of Arabia), is only great at times, but often seems uninspired and lame compared to his previous works on David Lean's great films.

The cinematography and editing are classy, (one con though.. the cameras seemed a little shy of hanging around close to the big gasoline truck explosion. The best scenes in the film are battle scenes, one involving a vast army of extras destroying a nearly helpless arab village, another with Graziani's army battling the Libyans for control of a mountain bridge. Other than those two, I can't say great about the 3 or so other battle scenes (compared to these two).The overall effect of battle senes is though quite satisfying.

The cast of this film, doesn't lack big-names like Irene Papas and Sir John Gielgud but the roles were inconsequential as Mukhtar's friends. Then, there's a lot of the old Italian B-movie stars in small roles as Italian soldiers and aides..

Akkad's strong point seems to be showing Italian artillery blowing the bewildered Bedouin warriors while his weak point seems to be spending the money. The film didn't really need the lavishness and authenticity of the picture. Do you really have to hire thousands of extras and build many many replica tanks just to go destroy them for the authenticy? No surprise this movie lost money, but the fact that it made almost no money astonishes me. Could be cause early 1980´s were wrong timing for an epic film. People watched "The Empire Strikes Back" and didn't want to see a thorough recreation of some war, most never heard of.

Lion of the Desert may not be perfect, but it's just as splendid a viewing as any of the old big-budget war films like Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, only this one's got a bit more action and politically ignored (as propoganda or is it the propoganda that endorses ignoring it??).

I highly recommend seeing the DVD in Widescreen, crisp quality and good 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, plus lots of informative extra features.

46 of 54 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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