Due to his knowledge of the native Bedouin tribes, British Lieutenant T.E. Lawrence is sent to Arabia to find Prince Faisal and serve as a liaison between the Arabs and the British in their fight against the Turks. With the aid of native Sherif Ali, Lawrence rebels against the orders of his superior officer and strikes out on a daring camel journey across the harsh desert to attack a well-guarded Turkish port.Written by
As production wound down in Jordan, Omar Sharif and Peter O'Toole wanted to prepare themselves for their return to civilization. Having read about the sudden popularity of the "Twist" dance craze in one of the magazines shipped to the company's desert compound, they flew in a teacher from Paris to give them lessons in the evening after the day's filming was completed. The production dragged on for so long, however, that by the time they were back in England, the "Twist" had fallen out of fashion. See more »
General Sir Edmund Allenby (promoted to Field Marshal in 1919) is characterized in the film as being cynical, manipulative, obstructive, and dismissive of Lawrence and his Arab allies, and is shown to come into conflict with them several times. However, there is significant evidence that Allenby and Lawrence enjoyed working with one another and had a good relationship that stretched into the post-war period. Allenby even endorsed Lawrence's book, "Seven Pillars of Wisdom," while Lawrence remembered him fondly as "great." Allenby also appeared to respect the Arabs working alongside him, as evinced by his congratulating Prince Faisal on the "great achievement" of his "gallant troops." See more »
The "Columbia" logo that begins the feature is still in original version. However, some versions (like the general theatrical release) replaces it with a animated one. See more »
There are technically four versions of the film: the original 222 minute print, then cut to 202 minutes after its 1962 premiere, the 187 minute 1970 theatrical re-cut and the 228 minute including the overture, entr'acte music and play-out music in the 1988 restoration. Full details as follows: Originally released at 222 minutes for the UK premiere in December 1962. Shortly after premiere which took place in London in December 1962, David Lean, reportedly under the orders of producer Sam Spiegel, cut 20 minutes from the film to 202 minutes. Cuts included the shot of goggles on the tree, Brighton's "remarkable man" line to the priest, early shots of the drafting room scene, the whole officer's mess sequence where he's called a clown and upsets water on someone, and some dialogue between the General and Dryden. The 1970 theatrical re-release cut the film further to 187 minutes. The film was restored in 1988 at 228 minutes. This version, supervised by David Lean, was advertised as a Director's Cut and has been the version made available to home video formats since. See more »
The moment David Lean makes you aware you are in the hands of a master comes early on in "Lawrence of Arabia." Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) holds a lit match close to his lips and with one quick puff of air blows it out. Before the action is even completed, however, Lean has cut to a shot of a desert vista, with the sun slowly rising over the lip of the horizon. It's one of the most famous elliptical edits in cinema history, second maybe only to the bone/spaceship cut in "2001: A Space Odyssey." And it's only the first of countless memorable moments in "Lawrence of Arabia." The appeal of David Lean epics has always been his ability as a director to maintain an equilibrium between the scope of his films and the characters in them. Character development is never sacrificed to massive set pieces or knock-your-socks-off action sequences. "Lawrence of Arabia" has these elements too, but at heart it's a character study of one remarkable man. Lean seemed to understand that impressive landscapes alone are not inherently interesting; but if you place a fascinating character among those impressive landscapes, you can have movie magic.
"Lawrence" feels unlike other historical epics of its time. In most "big" films--I'm thinking of movies like "Ben-Hur," "Spartacus," "Cleopatra," all movies that premiered roughly around the same time as "Lawrence"--one gets the sense that directors framed compositions based on how much they were able to fit into their widescreen lenses. One rarely sees characters filmed from anything closer than a medium shot, and usually the background is stuffed to overflowing with garish art direction. Everything feels static and wooden. But in "Lawrence," Lean keeps his frames constantly alive by juxtaposing huge landscape shots with extreme close-ups of actor faces. In one especially brutal scene, after a battle that results in the slaughter of many people, the action cuts to a close-up of O'Toole, looking panicked and crazed, gripping a bloody knife in his hand as if he's reluctant to drop it, obviously both disturbed and titillated by the carnage he just witnessed. It's moments like that---not just an impressive battle scene but a character's reactions to the results of that scene---that set "Lawrence" apart from other standard epics.
And of course, I have to reserve space in my review for the performance of Mr. O'Toole. He is perhaps my favorite actor, not one of the most prolific, but certainly one of the most unpredictable. He has a flair for choosing eccentric characters that give him almost unlimited room in which to perform. He carries "Lawrence of Arabia" almost singlehandedly on his slim shoulders. That's not to say the supporting cast isn't great, but O'Toole towers above them all. O'Toole understands that the most influential figures in history could also be the most difficult and ruthless when they needed to be, and he gives Lawrence an incredibly complex characterization, leaving his audience in doubt as to whether he should be worshiped or feared, or perhaps both.
Lean would never direct an equal to "Lawrence of Arabia" again. His later films are certainly more than watchable, and "A Passage to India" is even quite remarkable in its own way, but we would never get another "Lawrence." Even more reason to appreciate it now.
My Grade: A+
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