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Lion of the Desert (1980)

In 1929, Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini appoints General Rodolfo Graziani as colonial governor to Italian Libya with orders to stamp-out all resistance from Libyan nationalists led by rebel guerrilla leader Omar Mukhtar.


Moustapha Akkad


David Butler (additional material), H.A.L. Craig | 1 more credit »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Anthony Quinn ... Omar Mukhtar
Oliver Reed ... Gen. Rodolfo Graziani
Irene Papas ... Mabrouka
Raf Vallone ... Colonel Diodiece
Rod Steiger ... Benito Mussolini
John Gielgud ... Sharif El Gariani
Andrew Keir ... Salem
Gastone Moschin ... Major Tomelli
Stefano Patrizi ... Lt. Sandrini
Adolfo Lastretti ... Colonel Sarsani
Sky du Mont ... Prince Amadeo (as Sky Dumont)
Takis Emmanuel ... Bu-Matari
Rodolfo Bigotti Rodolfo Bigotti ... Ismail
Robert Brown ... Al Fadeel
Eleonora Stathopoulou ... Ali's Mother


In Fascist Italy pre-World War II, the cruel General Rodolfo Graziani is directly assigned by Benito Mussolini 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 women, children, 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:

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Did You Know?


The production of this movie intentionally evoked British epic auteur David Lean and his movie, Lawrence of Arabia (1962). The movie used two Lean regulars, Composer Maurice Jarre and Cinematographer Jack Hildyard. Anthony Quinn appeared in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) as Auda Abu Tayi, this movie also using Jarre for its music score. See more »


After the attack on Kufra, as men were lined up to be shot, two of the characters throw themselves to the ground without hitting a single bullet, after the person on their left falls; While the shooting was from their right to the left. See more »


Omar Mukhtar: You can only do to me what God decides for me.
See more »

Alternate Versions

The U.S.A. Home Video VHS release in the '80s runs 160 minutes. Footage has been added in the Director's Cut released on Anchor Bay Video. This version, released in 1998, runs 206 minutes. See more »


Referenced in Anthony Quinn: An Original (1990) See more »


O sole mio
Music by Eduardo Di Capua
Lyrics by Giovanni Capurro
See more »

User Reviews

A misunderstood film
21 April 2004 | by BlueghostSee all my reviews

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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Libya | USA


English | Arabic | Italian

Release Date:

16 May 1981 (Japan) See more »

Also Known As:

Lion of the Desert See more »

Filming Locations:

Italy See more »


Box Office


$35,000,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


| (DVD) | (theatrical)

Sound Mix:



Color | Black and White (archive footage)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »

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