Lion of the Desert (1980) Poster

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I worked on this film
Lionel Strutt25 March 2003
In 1979 I was the Sound Recordist on 'Lion of The Desert' film of the film so had first hand experience of this terrific Production.

Moustapha Akkad is a first class Producer and the facilities he provided for the unit in the middle of the Libyan Desert were fantastic. I mention this because it had a strong influence on the subsequent quality of the film. I was recordist on the interviews and PR documentary material for this great film and I am proud to have been involved with it.

I had first hand experience with Anthony Quinn during the shoot. He was totally dedicated to his role. Olly Reed was able to put up a good performance but did give us a few problems with his usual antics! The rest of the cast were brilliant and the result impressive.

The scale of this Production was incredible and the thought that went into the organisation of it was amazing.

If you would like me to answer any further questions about this, please leave messages on my notice board. Look me up under Lionel Strutt. I did not receive a direct named credit on this production because I was working, as I said, on the film of the film or TV documentary. However I did spend months in the desert with the production and crew. So can relate a few interesting stories!
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Libyan resistance hero Omar Mukhtar leads a guerrilla campaign against Italian colonisers.
max-vernon13 April 2005
I came across my video copy of this film in 1995. I was surprised that I had never heard of the film as it uses such star actors as Quinn, Gielgud, Papas, Steiger and Oliver Reed. It is the only copy I have ever come across in UK shops. To the best of my knowledge, it has never been shown in the UK on either terrestrial or satellite TV. The reason for this remains a complete mystery to me. It may be because it was financed by Gaddafi who has been the subject of international embargos for many years.

The Arab-American Moustapha Akkad produced and directed the film in Libya with Gaddafi's full support. The film is reasonably accurate and, in my opinion, fair and balanced. Anthony Quinn had a long and distinguished career playing 'ethnic types' and his portrayal of Omar Mukhtar is undoubtedly one of his finest performances. Omar in the film is probably much more of an action man than the real Mukhtar who was more of a strategist than a fighter. Or so I was informed whilst on holiday in Tunisia. The film is (understandably) one of the most famous in the Arab world, dealing as it does with Arab suffering under recent European colonialism.

Akkad uses original black and white archive film to underpin its historical authenticity. At the start to set the scene of the Italian conquest of Libya from Turkey in 1911. In the middle to show an aerial view of the concentration camps built by the Italians and also the barbed wire 'Hadrian's Wall' built along the Egyptian border. Both these strategies were intended to cut off Mukhtar from his supply sources. At the end of the film there are still photos of the real Mukhtar in chains and also of the main Italian protagonists we see in the film.

Rod Steiger blusters through his role as Mussolini, the fascist dictator who wants to send Italian colonists to a peaceful Libya, an ambition being thwarted by Omar Mukhtar's stubborn 20-year long armed resistance. Oliver Reed plays a suitably ruthless General Graziani, the man charged with crushing Mukhtar. But his character is no two-dimensional brute.There is a very engaging private dialogue between himself and the captive Mukhtar. The two men debate historic claims to Libyan soil, with Graziani pointing out that the Romans were there before the Arabs. Reed gives a very controlled performance, one of his best.

The film is very balanced in its portrayal of the Italians. On the one hand we see some terrible reprisals-shootings and hangings-against civilians. On the other hand we have two sympathetic Italian officers whose conscience is afflicted by by the war they are forced to wage. The Raf Vallone character is particularly sympathetic- very courteous, generous and kind to the captive Mukhtar. This is history telling at its best. Italian fascists were not all the same. Individuals matter. Likewise, the Italian officer chosen to defend Omar at his trial argues that Mukhtar never committed treason against the Italian state because he never accepted it rule.

On the Arab side we have John Gielgud playing the high-ranking Sharif el-Gariani character who is sent to ask Omar to end his struggle. Some Arabs were willing to collaborate with an Italian rule which was helping to modernise their country. There is a nice reference to the fact that 'the League of Nations will not help you', highlighting the limitations of this predecessor of the UN. Come to think of it, things have not changed very much!

The action scenes are spectacular, with some inspiring ambushes by the insurgents against the Italian forces. The film credits Graziani (wrongly?) with being the first general to bring tanks into the desert. The Italian assault on the oasis town of Kufra is a theatrical masterpiece. Some viewers may think that all this is probably a bit over the top. It probably is but it certainly boosts the film's entertainment level. In fact, the film could have shown Italian planes dropping poison gas bombs as they did in Abyssinia a few years later. In his biography of Mussolini, the eminent historian Denis Mack Smith maintains that this did happen in Libya.

The music is very effective and the film is emotionally charged throughout, especially during the hanging scenes. The Omar Mukhtar character is accorded a great deal of dignity and honour. The film is hagiography but so are 'Spartacus', 'Ben-Hur', 'El Cid' and scores of other epics. Does this make the film a piece of Arab propaganda? Yes and no. The film emphasises the central role of Islam in giving Omar the inner strength to continue his fight. It tells an historical tale with a great deal of accuracy but it is also a feature film which aims to entertain. In that respect it is no different to any Hollywood blockbuster about the Alamo or Pearl Harbor. In my opinion it is superior to many such blockbusters. It's just that white Caucasians have to get used to being the bad guys for a change.

Gaddafi is now coming in from the cold and opening up his country to tourism. I can only hope that this will result in the film becoming more widely available and better-known in the UK. 'Lion of the Desert' is an excellent historical epic which tells one side of the story. Some historians would argue that Mukhtar's defeat and death paved the way for the enlightened rule of Italo Balbo who governed a 'pacified' Libya after 1934 with few executions and much building of infrastructure. I would not accept this view as all imperialisms are self-justifying and ultimately unacceptable.
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An exciting tapestry of history coming alive under the great direction of Mustapha Al-Akkad...
Nazi_Fighter_David14 July 2000
"Lion of the Desert" stars Anthony Quinn as the real-life Beduin Leader Omar Mukhtar who fights with pride and courage, rage and anger Mussolini's invading troops in the Libyan Desert...

Quinn (strong, confident, never broken) plays the charismatic Islamic Libyan fighter who commits himself to a lifetime war against Italian Colonialism: "We have stood against you for 20 years and with the help of God we will stay with you till your end!"

Enraged by the 20-year war carried on by Beduin patriots opposed to the Italian occupation, the arrogant Mussolini (Rod Steiger) - the first of Europe's fascist dictators - orders his new military governor the ruthless Rodolfo Graziani (Oliver Reed) to crush and silence the Beduin rebellion by "whatever means" and capture their great leader Omar Mukhtar...

Mukhtar is forced to face his conviction and the power of Italy at its glorious height...

The film is based on the life of a brave resistance leader, a teacher of the Quran by profession... Mukhtar is a cunning warrior who masterminded the Libyan resistance... He stood against tyranny and oppression, and with the fire of his wisdom, he rallied his countrymen to liberation...

The film depicts the cruelty of Graziani's coward acts: the massive killing rampage in Kufra... We watch the invaders attacking with war-planes, tanks, cannons and machine-guns the poor village, but we also see a fascinating portrayal of the heroic Libyan forces fighting the mighty Italian artillery with old rusted rifles, giving their life for their land and their convictions...

Syrian director Mustapha Al-Akkad captures the horrific methods of the Italian army holding the helpless population in concentration camps; isolating the warriors from their families; setting fire to their fields; closing their wells; raping their women; destroying their homes; controlling the country by hanging old men and women; shooting innocent civilians, and specially the capture of the 'Old Lion', a natural fighter against 'educated' officers...

With great special effects, excellent action sequences and with the splendor of the Sahara Desert, Akkad's motion picture combines history with spectacle to create a moving drama of heroism and commitment...
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Desert Master Piece!
LoayOmran4 November 2001
It is a great shame that only 158 users have voted for this movie until now, this probably reflects great ignorance about this Master Piece. This is the real story of the Great Libyan Hero Omar Al Mukhtar, who fought the Italian occupation of Libya early in the 20th century. You will be surprised with what this movie has to offer. It will take your breath away ... You will laugh and you will cry ... You will scream and shout ... You will hope it never ends. BraveHeart? Yeah that was a good movie, but nowhere as brilliant as this is. This does not only tell the life story of a Great man, it also teaches you the noble aspects that build up a truly Unforgettable Warrior. It explains what Tolerance is all about.

This movie truly shows the the savage means which the conquering Italian army used to treat the Libyan natives. The struggle for freedom took place in the heart of the African desert. Omar Al Mukhtar (The Lion of the Desert), who led the Libyan resistance, a role played in this movie by Anthony Quinn ... this has to be his best ever performance. An Oscar Nominee worth ... nothing less. Director, Moustapha Akkad, who is also famous for the great yet unknown classic Risâlah, al- (1976), gives his best shot at direction here. Excellent work.

Rent this now, if its available, Its worth every penny. You will be the witness of utter brilliance and great performances. Watch it, vote for it, Give it the respect it deserves.
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A true financial disaster, but one of the greatest films to watch.
zhrmod125 July 2003
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.
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Still banned in Italy
vernetto24 July 2006
The movie, although not a masterpiece, is quite realistic and historically accurate, actually it shows only a very small part of the ruthless brutality used by General Graziani against the civilian population. Some 120.000 civilians were killed in concentration camps in the attempt to quench the resistance. Graziani served only 2 years imprisonment for his crimes after the fall of Fascism, and later became honorary president of the (legal) neo-fascist party. This movie is still banned in Italy, and still recently the Italian Secret Services have prevented its official projection. The majority of Italians, even the anti-fascists, are still persuaded that our troops went to Lybia to build roads hospitals and bridges. It should not surprise that recently the former Prime Minister Berlusconi said that Mussolini never did any harm to anybody - probably not considering some hundred thousands Lybians casualties. Italians love to imagine their soldiers fraternizing with the locals and helping farmers in the fields - sadly the reality of war is quite different.
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The late, great Anthonny Quinn
OttoVonB19 July 2006
Prelude to WWII. Omar Mukhtar, a brilliant Bedouin leader, wages war against oppressive Italian Fascist forces (led by the bloodthirsty General Graziani) in his native Lybia.

Director Moustapha Akkad (The Message) clearly learnt a few lessons from "Lawrence of Arabia", mainly how best to use the charismatic Anthony Quinn. As Mukhtar, Quinn gives a nuanced portrayal of compassion and wisdom. Whenever he features in a scene, it becomes impossible to tear one's eyes off the screen. Thankfully, Oliver Reed proves a magnificently cruel and seething counterpoint as General Graziani. Irene Papas provides strong supporting work and Rod Steiger turns in a delightful cameo as Benito Musslini.

Moustapha Akkad uses a solid structure and keeps it riveting throughout, extracting fine performances from all his actors and technical collaborators. Where "The Message" was impressive but cold (due to its invisible hero and reverence), "Lion in the Desert" has an emotional core and throws up scene after impressive scene. The desert battle scenes are incredibly messy and savage and have a sense of multiple individual action amid chaos, rather than elaborate choreography. This perfectly suits the theme of Bedouin guerrilla. Production values are considerable and Maurice Jarre provides one of his most underrated scores.

Some viewers will find qualms with the fact that, despite the coda that proclaims that Lybia managed to liberate itself, the country was then for long under the oppressive rule of Kadaffi. In truth, this little addition might have something to do with the fact that Kadaffi assisted in funding the film. If you can overlook this (not to difficult), you can appreciate the true focus: Mukhtar. This remains a beautiful film about a people's resistance.

"Lion in the Desert" is an important film, if only because it offers a very accessible (to Western audiences) Arab perspective. It is also impressively well made: an accomplished chapter in the era of great epics that flourished with David Lean's masterpieces and ended with Richard Attenbourgh's Gandhi.

See this!
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Anthony Quinn's best!
Frank DeLa Cour6 June 2001
Warning: Spoilers
***SPOILERS*** ***SPOILERS*** According to the documentary Quinn was so obsessed with the role, that he refused to shave for more than a year after the movie had been completed. I like movies like 'The Guns of Navarone' and 'Zorba the Greek' as much as the next guy, but in 'Lion...' he shows his true potential as a marvellous actor playing a teacher who turns beduin leader fighting the italians from 1911 (when the italians first set foot in Libya) to 1931.

'Lion of the desert' is sort of a 'Braveheart' meets 'Lawrence of Arabia'. I like 'Lion.' more than both of them though- can't really explain why, perhaps because of its minute historical accuracy.

'Lion...' is a great example of how marketing can either break or make a movie. Sadly, upon it's release it wasn't given the typical Hollywood treatment (this movie is not made by a major Hollywood studio), so many people missed out on this masterpiece. The critics loved it though, although many thought it was too violent (there's a lot of blood and you get to watch people run over by tanks and such).

One thing that crossed my mind is that this movie has so many elements also appearing in the Oscar winning 'Braveheart' by Mel Gibson, (SPOILERS:) Both movies have the enemy wanting 'time', in order to organize its troups, both movies use clever guerilla ambushing techniques, both movies have the hero executed in the end, both movies have nobels trying to convince our hero to surrender- the list goes on. Perhaps Mr. Gibson thought that no one would notice? (SPOILER END)

'Lion...' has everything that a true epic requires: Brilliant battle scenes, a great script, lots of extras and great actors (Rod Steiger as a very convincing Mussolini, Oliver Reed as a fascist general and John Gielgud as a beduin noble).

If you find this movie at your local video store, don't hesitate to rent it (or buy the DVD).

Interesting sidenote: Mussolini was actually arrested in 1911, because he participated in a demonstration against the italian invasion of Lybia. Sort of ironic that he tightened the grip when he himself came to power in 1921.
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A great epic!
miagil14 November 2005
I believe that one needs to be made of a special material to direct/produce such an epic. Moustapha believed in what he was doing when shooting the movie. He went to out of his way to make sure that everything he filmed was as real as possible. The battle scenes were planned with all detail but also the small scenes with Tony Quinn, Irene Papas or any other actor. It is a real pity that death has taken him before he could produce/direct "Salahadin", his long wanted project that would have shown the world another face of Islam. He tried with Omar Muhktar but I am sure that he would have done much better with Salahadin. Moustapha Akkad and his work as a film maker will be remembered.
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One man lead resistance against the imperialist designs of the Italian dictator.
Bikram Singh4 March 2005
7.1 is a ridiculous rating. This movies deserves much higher and I can assure those who have not seen it that they will agree with me once they have seen it.

Almost all aspects of movie making are amazingly rendered. It will easily compare with any movie about war and politics. The savagery, otherwise recorded only in books, is depicted marvelously. I want to praise a couple of actors but it would not be correct to leave anyone out so I am just saying that they were all tailor made for their roles. There is some real reel footage in the movie and that drives home the points raised in this movie.

On a tangent – it is interesting that the so called civilized countries continuously plumbed new depths of uncivilized actions only for land and riches…. It is an amazing display of imperialistic debauchery.
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A great movie!!
Engin-Ozdemir28 September 2004
The movie tell us the true story of Omar Mukhtar, a Libian guerrilla fighter who fought against the Italians who occupied Libia before WW 2.

Omar Mukhtar is played by Anthony Quinn, who did a great job. Ollie Reed was brilliant as general Graziani also Rod Steiger was successful playing dictator Benito Mussolini. Sir John Gielgud plays a Libian betrayer who helps the Italians. A brilliant cast!

"Lion of the desert" is a great epic movie with a lot of action, very good battle scenes, good conversations and excellent locations. Director of photography Jack Hildyard did a great job and the music is very good. (conducted by Maurice Jarre).

This movie must be seen by everyone who loves war movies.

A true masterpiece!!
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what a great movie!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1
abu_zannad14 June 2003
This movie symbolizes heroism , revenge , history, vanity, and a lot more.It has a great cast , Anthony at his best and reed proving that he can make a great bad guy.The story is just wonderfully rich with a lot of events , it's a true story about an Arabic Muslim hero who fought against the Italian's occupation of Libya with a great bravery and intelligence.the production is amazing , it's a really big budget movie that had all the authenticity of that period.And last but not least the director Mr. Akkad who did an mazing job on this movie.

All i can say is that it's a must see and it's on my top 10 movies of all time.
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A really great movie and highly underrated at IMDb!
fiqbal117 January 2006
hi, my thoughts on this movie getting such a low rating at IMDb really shocked me as it really deserved 9 out of 10 for its excellent screenplay and outstanding performance by the lead cast. Anthony Quinn blended into the Libyan desert like he was a Bedouin and nobody could recognize him had it not been for the casting! I was really fooled into believing that he was an actor of Arab origin or so. Highly recommended to all the good epic movie lovers out there. If you miss this one then you haven't seen much I guess. I got to see this movie upon my friend's insistence that I watch it. I wasn't much of an epic movie viewer but after seeing it I realized that there were more to movies than simple (summer movies) at the box office. The actors have done a great job with there acting.

Get 9 1/2 out of 10 from me.
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A buried treasure
jjulian100930 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I was amazed at the first-rate production values and excellent and fascinating historical period recreation of "Lion of the Desert", which I'd never heard about before stumbling upon it in the DVD rental shop this week. For starters, it's director, Moustapha Akkad, employed the same cinematographer and soundtrack composer that David Lean had for "Lawrence of Arabia", which is the film both historically and thematically related to "Lion". The lead players are Brits or Yanks, diminishing the impact of the film considerably (at least "Lawrence" had Omar Sharif play its most significant character other than O'toole in the title role). Having said that, credit must be given to Quinn, Steiger, Reid and Gielgud for giving solid and credible performances. The action scenes are pulled off with considerable élan. It's one of the last of the films with thousands of real extras, rather than computer generated soldiers, being masterfully orchestrated to provide great verisimilitude and a sense of genuine chaos which would be inherent in such pitched battles. Well worth watching is the "Making of" bonus material in which Director Akkad discloses not only his meticulous devotion to historical accuracy (battle scenes were filmed on the actual locations where they transpired, costumes copied from the extensive Italian photograph and film archives of the period, and even Mussolini's old barber was hired to cut Rod Steiger's hair precisely as the "Duce" had his done.) Akkad and his cast obviously were passionate about making this film in very difficult desert conditions, and it shows nearly every scene. I was particularly impressed with Reid's ability to make the villainous General Graziani seem an interesting, if repellent character.

I recommend this film highly to David Lean fans or anyone who likes to see historical epics unstintingly produced and handsomely mounted.
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True Epic
Natheer11 June 2003
Warning: Spoilers
I was only an 11 years old boy when I first watched this movie back in 1981 on a VHS tape. I still remember my tears falling in the last scene, when the Italians hanged Omar Al Mukhtar and the young boy (Ali) ran to the hanging stage and took the Omar's eye glasses in one of the most poetic scenes of the film. Unfortunately not so many people in the USA & Europe have seen this film, although it's a classic here in the Middle East. Anthony Quinn have portrait his role so accurate we could be easily mistaken him for an Arab. His role in this film rivals his role in Lawrence of Arabia, and we must give the director a credit for guiding Quinn to the true essence of this character. Lion of the Desert is a great epic film which deserves to be listed among the best films ever.
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A great movie most have never heard of.
spaceharb24 July 2005
I just finished watching this movie, and man was I impressed. It's better if you don't know the history here, because then it doesn't spoil the surprises. The movie started out slow (as do most movies based on true stories), but started to get good about 15 minutes into it. This was a great action film for it's time. The Muslim world needs more leaders like Omar Mukhtar.

Anthony Quinn is truly one of the greatest actors I've seen. He never lets his role veil the story. I found that he made this movie better than Braveheart, which was also a good movie, but had too much over-acting and exaggerations. Oliver Reed was also good, I wish they did more movies together. Credit to Mustapha Akkad as well, he needs to stop wasting his time with the Halloween movies, and make some more war movies, that's what he's good at.

The only problem with this film is the terrible audio, so you have to constantly play with the volume whenever it switches between fighting scenes and conversations. So keep the remote close by and enjoy!
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A misunderstood film
Blueghost21 April 2004
A pretty good desert epic with lots of action, this film is often thought to be a propaganda piece for Libya and Islam, with anti-Italian overtones.

Not quite.

The film is no more anti-Italian than it is pro-Islam. That is to say it is neither. It's a grand scale film that shows a Facist state's attempt to colonize and reign over north Africa in the early half of the 20th century, and how the native populace waged a guerilla war against this effort. It does not cast aspersions on Italians, nor pushes Islam as a religion. Italy happens to be swept up in a facist mindset whose forces are at odds with a people who are predominantly Muslim.

Anthony Quinn himself states in the "Making of..." documentary that the lead character, Omar al-Mukhtar, was not fighting for Islam, nor proselytizing in any way. He was one of many guerilla leaders who was trying to push the facists out of Libya. And even then he's only trying to regain that which was taken by facists, and not so much force Italians themselves to leave. Facists who, at the time, happened to be from Italy. From what I've seen the film does its best to accurately depict what went on during Italy's expansionist period under Mussolini, and shows this episode of political and military contention between the two sides in Libya.

There's lots of good acting here, and grand battle scenes. The cinematography is the usual style for this sort of film. Unfortunately the cast was chosen more for their names to sell the film than anything else. Even so they, Quin, Reed, Steiger and the rest do a pretty good job of showing us how the men of the time acted and behaved, and Quinn does en exceptional job of showing a humble but resolved Mukhtar. The battle scenes, for the most part, are pretty good. There's one or two hammy performances by a couple of the supporting cast members, but they're overshadowed by the rest of the film.

The DVD transfer is OK. Anchor Bay's gone to some extra lengths to put some extra goodies on the disk, but the film's image could've used a dual layer process.

If you're a fan of military epics this film should entertain. A good watch.
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Saw it when it was released in theaters
samkat131731 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I was almost out of high school and a big history and war movie buff when I saw the marque poster in a nearby cinema. I caught it on a matinée and was captivated throughout the whole movie. It's definitely an epic, with wide shots of the deserts, immense deployment of extras, intense battle scenes, all whirling around the main character, Omar Mukhtar, played quite well by Anthony Quinn. While there is the sense of futility in the struggle between the old world of the desert and the new order of the industrial 'modern' world, I found a feeling of half-victory, where the battle was lost(despite some tough fighting), but the war was in no way won by the Italians. Overall a great picture. One of the most memorable scenes for me: after an Italian column is smashed by Mukhtar's men, one of his men shoots an Italian who surrendered. Quinn grabs the weapon, and insists they do not shoot those who surrender. The shooter retorts that the Italians do it to their people, and Quinn asks 'and you will allow them to be your teachers?'. That scene always stayed with me...
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"As for me, I will live longer than my hangman"
BaronStein23 March 2006
From the first time I saw this movie I thought it great. It is refreshing to see an historical movie done accurately and yet prove entertaining. I thought it was the finest performance ever given by Anthony Quinn. A couple of years ago I saw an interview with Quinn in which he said that it was the role he was proudest of and he was right about it.

It's not really amazing though that the such a great film was a commercial failure in the US certainly. One only has to recall the line about the right of settlers (Italian) "not one minute of right, to the pasture not one cow" to see the parallel drawn to events in a country some 1000 mile or so to the east. Italian justification of their occupation based on a two thousand year old pedigree got to the nub of today's headlines in the middle east.

Lybia, the 'Berber Kingdom', has a long history. It has been part of the civilized world and great empires dating back to Carthage and including Greeks, Romans, Moors, etc. For those interested in music they have the chance to see how 'bagpipes' were and are played from where they came. Early on the movie, when the young men return to the village, their dance is accompanied by bagpipes.

Omar's last words are brilliant and haunting: "As for me, I will live longer than my hangman". One of the militias in Lebanon, during its civil war, was called the 'Omar Mukhtar brigade'.
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A True Masterpiece
Claudio Carvalho17 January 2013
In the Fascist Italy Pre-World War II of Benito Mussolini (Rod Steiger), the cruel General Rodolfo Graziani (Oliver Reed) is directly assigned by Il Dulce 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 (Anthony Quinn) 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.

"Lion of the Desert" is an epic masterpiece that shows part of the cruel colonization of Arab population, this time showing the fascist army of Mussolini in Libya.

This movie is simply among the best I have ever seen, with magnificent direction, performances, dialogs, cinematography and music score by Maurice Jarre. The work of Moustapha Akkad is perfect and it is amazing the reality of the battle scenes in a time where the industry did not use computer to simulate them. He also entwines footages from archive with the realistic scenes.

Anthony Quinn and Oliver Reed give the performance of their lives and their duel is among best in the cinema industry, and supported by names such as Irene Paps, Raf Vallone, Rod Steiger and John Gielgud among others. My vote is ten.

Title (Brazil): "O Leão do Deserto" ("The Lion of the Desert")
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Why on Earth was this a financial failure?
TBJCSKCNRRQTreviews4 July 2009
I'm not questioning the math of it, that part's quite clear. No, why did this not get more attention? Perhaps too few know the history, which I must admit that I, myself, was unaware of, though it feels quite authentic. It could be the violence... this is rather brutal, and there are those that would call it downright distasteful. Personally, I call it "realistic" and "not unnecessarily toned down". War is not pleasant, much less glamorous. That is a myth, perpetrated by those who wish to keep it going, the people who benefit. This gives an accurate depiction of the fighting, for both sides. Regardless of the reason, I hope that this film is no longer overlooked. Akkad directed three times, and I've now seen, and rated perfect 10's, two of them, the one remaining being an Arabic version of Mohammad: Messenger of God, which was in English. I don't know what kept him out of the chair apart from these instances, but I hope he felt he had told all that he had in him, for it would be a true shame if he did not get the chance to. The plot is incredible, and genuinely inspirational. Writing, all the way, is excellent, the credible characters with proper motivation, the memorable and quotable dialog, and the script as a whole, all amazing. The music is an epic, orchestral score. All of the effects and action are impeccable. The acting performances are beyond reproach. While this does, off course, hold some bias, I never felt manipulated or lied to, as I watched it. Instead, I was engaged and experienced a recreation of the past, and a portion of it that should not be forgotten. In spite of the listing here on the site, the cut I saw was 153 minutes, or about two and a half hours, long. There is no sexuality or language in this. The DVD comes with a theatrical trailer and a making of, produced around the same time as the feature, and they are good and well-done with that in mind. I recommend this to anyone who believes they can stomach the gruesome visuals that are found(I maintain that the use, and amount, are not gratuitous) in it. 10/10
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Interesting epic, strongly acted by its leads and impressive in scale but hurt by occasional imperfections.
Jonathon Dabell24 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Despite being one of the most financially disastrous films ever made (costing a lot to make, and making very little back), Lion Of The Desert is a surprisingly good epic film about the Italian occupation of Libya in 1929. The film focuses on two of the key players on each side – the Italian forces are marshaled with ruthless iron-like discipline by their notorious Colonel Graziani, while the Libyans defend themselves under the guidance of spiritual guerrilla freedom fighter Omar Mukhtar (a.k.a the Lion of the Desert). It's an interesting clash of ideals and personalities which makes for a worthwhile – if never truly outstanding – historical epic.

In 1929, the Italians grow desperate as their occupation of Libya reaches crisis point. The Libyans simply refuse to accept that another country has any rights to their homeland and reject all attempts by the Italians to justify their presence there. Mussolini (Rod Steiger) sends one of his most promising and fearsome soldiers to resolve the tension – Colonel Rodolfo Graziani (Oliver Reed). Graziani's approach is one of ruthless and merciless force – he has Libyans executed in front of their families for working with guerrillas; he sets up concentration camps in the desert where Libyans are frequently hanged or starved to death; he orders his tanks to wipe out villages and towns with the aim of total annihilation. Yet somehow, against this modern army armed with their tanks and machine guns, the Libyans manage to fight back under the guidance of an elderly freedom fighter named Omar Mukhtar (Anthony Quinn). Mukhtar continually embarrasses his mighty opponent by leading cunning Arab attacks against them. They come from the desert like lightning, strike at the Italian soldiers and communication lines, then fade back into the landscape before they can be caught or killed. It is nearly two years before Graziani finally captures and hangs Mukhtar in front of his people, hoping to finally crush the spirit of the Libyan resistance.

Lion Of The Desert has plenty to admire. Quinn's performance as Mukhtar is certainly very convincing, and Reed belies the fact that he was making one terrible film after another at this point in his career by turning in a very menacing portrayal of Graziani. Both of them almost have the film stolen from under their noses by Rod Steiger's immense cameo as Mussolini – exuberant acting by an exuberant actor. The film is also strong during the battle sequences – the size of the forces involved is impressively captured in some genuinely epic-scale clashes, and we are spared nothing of the unpleasant reality of combat. People are shot to pieces, tanks roll over legs and bodies crushing the lifeblood from them, and none of it is hidden or glamorised for the viewers. We certainly get to glimpse the full horrors of a battlefield. There are still flaws with Lion Of The Desert, one being the unfathomable decision to have several well-known British actors play Libyan freedom fighters. With their too-proper Queens' English accents, blue eyes, and fake-tanned skin they look foolish rather than convincing. Poor John Gielgud suffers most of all in this manner. Also the film's narrative is not always as clear as one might hope, with some characters and events that don't feel as if they've been developed properly and come across as rather hard to follow. Generally-speaking Lion Of The Desert is a good film though, certainly worth a look.
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Excellent Movie. A++++, Anthony Quinn did a spectacular job and realistic portrayal of Omar Mukhtaar
joejackson121 November 2001
Excellent Movie. A++++, Anthony Quinn did a spectacular job and realistic portrayal of Omar Mukhtaar. Can be also a good documentary on the weapons , military gears and machines used in that era. The movie is a great documentation of colonial oppression and injustice.Would highly recommend to people interested in learning about freedom fighters and the history of the middle east
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Old style Hollywood converts to Islam, pt 2
jaibo21 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The second (follwing Mohammed, Messenger of God) of producer turned director Moustapha Akkad's rather foolhardy attempts to create a popular Islamic cinema using Western cinematic and narrative forms which were 20 years (at least) out of date even in Hollywood, Lion of the Desert tells the story of the 20 year campaign of resistance against Italian imperialist occupation by the Bedouin desert armies of Omar Mukhtar. Anthony Quinn, who was also in Mohammed, play Mukhtar as someone's kindly old uncle, a wily old desert lion with one spectacled eye on the Koran and the other on the field of battle. Oliver Reed plays his nemesis, the Italian fascist General Rodolfo Graziani.

The film is a fairly simplistic affair. Mukhtar and his fellow Bedouin are the personifications of good, patiently and relentlessly opposing the mechanistic might of the Italians. It's horses and guns versus tanks and bombs for the most part, and the film makes no bones about being propaganda for Mukhtar's resistance movement - not too difficult to swallow, considering the army he was facing. Yet in creating such a black and white view of reality (reminiscent of the many popular films the allies produced during and after the 2nd World War), the film comes across as dated, unambiguous and conceptually crude. The society that Mukhtar was defending is not questioned, even though it is clearly a society which is relentlessly anti-modern and in which women have very little active role to play. There is an intriguing scene in which a grieving war widow brings her son to Mukhtar's tent, and the old lion gives the boy his father's book and instructs him to "tell your mother to keep it safe for you." The woman must be told by the man, even when the man is her tiny child...

The film is pretty successful in cramming a long historical story into two and a half hours of screen time, and the narrative is pretty clear. H.A.L Craig's screenplay makes rather too much use of repetitive motifs, which don't develop as the story goes on but simply come up again and again at intervals. The two most notable of these motifs are the constant encounters with "good" Italians who although they wear a fascist uniform shrink from the more abhorrent crimes they are asked to perform and have a scarcely hidden admiration for Mukhtar (exemplified by Raf Vallone's veteran negotiator), and Bedouin children in jeopardy but learning from the "spirit of Mukhtar" - this latter strand of motif leans towards the cloying and sentimental.

There is a lot to admire in the film as an achievement in big-scale movie-making. The camera-work is excellent throughout, the battle sequences impressive and certain set-pieces (the montage of the concentration camps the Italians put the Bedouin in; the hanging of Mukhtar) are impressive and worth watching the film for. The performances are pretty ripe, except for Quinn, who over-eggs his pudding by being too kindly, too scholastic, too intrinsically good to convince as a real human being. We expect Reed to be hammy, but he is large without being absurd, and predictably outdone by Steiger doing a shouting turn as Mussolini (a role he also played in 1974's Mussolini: Ultimo atto). Far worse is the tendency to cast veteran British Thespians as elder Arabs: Andrew Keir just about gets away with it, but John Gielgud as a wily old collaborator with the Italians is preposterous, with his rich upper class English tones and pale skin.

There's a certain pan-historical element to the story - the Bedouin stand for all colonised peoples fighting their colonisers; this is made explicit in the film by Mussolini comparing the wall Graziani builds with Hadrian's, and one gets the feeling watching the film that it could be inspirational to the oppressed people of Palestine now. Mukhtar, with his high ideals and refusal to torture or kill prisoners, is a very different Muslim fighter to the popular Western image of the suicide bomber today, which only makes director Akkad's death in 2005 in Amman, Jordan by an Al-Qaeda suicide bomber the more bitter and tragic.
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Colonialism not only enslaved people but it crushes all other cultures that were standing in its way...
abdelb10 January 2000
Very interesting and very well done. This masterpiece shows the real tragedy which resulted from the colonialism. Colonialism not only enslaved people but it crushes all other cultures that were standing in its we end up with a world with one view and dominated by the western culture. If we make a wrong step the whole earth will be affected...they call that globalization! Look how people were aware about Y2K! like the world existed only 2000 years ago...they forget that the Chinese have a calendar 4000 years old, the Jewish has a calendar 3000 years old..and the Muslims have a lunar calendar... A smart person should ask questions of the following type at least once a year: What if my whole conception of life is wrong? What if I have picked the wrong religion? What if there are other better economical and social order? What if I am trashing treasures and I am treasuring trash?
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