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Lawrence of Arabia
Drama, Adventure, Biography, History, War
IMDB rating:
David Lean
Peter O'Toole as T.E. Lawrence
Alec Guinness as Prince Feisal
Anthony Quinn as Auda abu Tayi
Jack Hawkins as General Lord Edmund Allenby
Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali
José Ferrer as Turkish Bey
Anthony Quayle as Colonel Brighton
Claude Rains as Mr. Dryden
Arthur Kennedy as Jackson Bentley
Donald Wolfit as General Sir Archibald Murray
I.S. Johar as Gasim
Gamil Ratib as Majid
Michel Ray as Farraj
John Dimech as Daud
Storyline: An inordinately complex man who has been labeled everything from hero, to charlatan, to sadist, Thomas Edward Lawrence blazed his way to glory in the Arabian desert, then sought anonymity as a common soldier under an assumed name. The story opens with the death of Lawrence in a motorcycle accident in Dorset at the age of 46, then flashbacks to recount his adventures: as a young intelligence officer in Cairo in 1916, he is given leave to investigate the progress of the Arab revolt against the Turks in World War I. In the desert, he organizes a guerrilla army and--for two years--leads the Arabs in harassing the Turks with desert raids, train-wrecking and camel attacks. Eventually, he leads his army northward and helps a British General destroy the power of the Ottoman Empire.
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O'Toole Is Lawrence
I saw the restored version over 20 years ago but in a pan and scan version on television. I watched it again recently with the recent passing of Peter O'Toole, this time on widescreen and high definition.

The film is known for its epic cinematography and vistas of the vast desert landscape. David Lean's film is the definition of the epic picture.

When John Milius made the Wind and the Lion, he boasted look we are making our own epic film just like Lawrence of Arabia and then realised why it was so easy, Lean did it first and they were just following in his footsteps.

Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorcese were involved in the restored version and have also acknowledged the film's influence on them. In fact the screenplay of Lawrence of Arabia is the prototype that other's have used as a template whether its drama, action or adventure. You do not just go to Aqaba, you take a detour to find a fallen Arab (Gasim) and head back to find the rest. Later when a blood feud is ignited and Lawrence decides things would be better if it was he who killed the murderer, who does the culprit turn out to be, Gasim, the man who he risked his own life to save.

The film's opening scenes acknowledges Lawrence flawed character as we get differing opinions of him from the off. Peter O'Toole's Lawrence is perplexing, infuriating, cultured, enigmatic and pig headed. O'Toole sculptured a character that very much defined his career. It seems unbelievable that he never won an Oscar for best actor for this film or for any of his subsequent nominations.

There might be liberties taken with actual events. In reality Omar Sharif's character 'Sherif Ali' is a composite of several people and Anthony Quinn's Auda was more urbane, intellectual and cultured rather than the brute shown in the film.

Maybe there are too many desert scenes in the film with sunrises and sunset. There are hardly any female characters in the movie. However you get a vast epic and a literary screenplay that will stand the test of time. It is a deserved classic.
Nothing is written…Lawrence of Arabia
Lawrence of Arabia is oftentimes listed as one of the greatest films of all time. Not only that, but many say Peter O'Toole's performance as T.E. Lawrence is the greatest piece of acting ever to be captured on screen as well. Being that the movie was made 45 years ago, I wasn't going into it thinking I would agree with either statement necessarily. Whether the four hour run time was too daunting to get my hopes up or not, I knew that no matter what, I needed to finally see this film. I was going to go for the ride from Cairo to the Middle East along with the band of Arab tribes trying to take back their land from the Turks.

On a technical level, Lawrence of Arabia has few equals. Director David Lean has created something with true epic focus. There are no advanced computer graphics multiplying fake people into huge battle scenes, this had to be done with real extras, sweltering in the desert heat waiting for their opportunity to fight amongst the movie's stars. The scope is wide and Lean is never afraid to show the desert as a desolate wasteland because the shots are beautiful to behold. The British didn't understand what Lawrence saw in the sand, but viewing the landscape shots here, the audience can see the tranquility and beauty that it truly holds. This was a big-budget movie and it shows by the settings besides the desert. When we arrive in Cairo and see the excess with which the soldiers live; its affluence is on display. Not only by the material objects, but also by the soldiers' utter ambivalence to the fight while their Arab counterparts are trekking through the sun-ravaged desert to claim victory.

It is this juxtaposition between the British forces and Arab fighters that backbone the film. Yes, T.E. Lawrence is the focal point and his journey from army outcast to Arab liberator is the story arc we follow, but it is the fact that he tries to live in both worlds which really defines the course of actions on display. Credit does have to go to Peter O'Toole for his ability to grow his character throughout and display the emotion and conflict living inside him. Lawrence saw an opportunity to help the Arab tribes regain control of their land despite Britain's refusal to give them artillery. Even at this early moment, he might have suspected this lack of true support as a sign of future motives, but he was so focused on his cause and the fact that he could do anything he set his mind to, he just didn't care. When he finally succeeds with his first mission, he returns a broken man, having killed and seen things he never wanted to see. He knew it was all for the best, though, and needed to stick by his word of setting his new friends into a free land. Only when the men at Cairo, who once laughed at his expense, praise him with accolades and promotions does Lawrence first start becoming a man without a clear purpose. A man that was accepted by no one now finds himself loved by two distinct cultures, and must somehow cope with the success or eventually fall as a result.

Besides the excellent performance by O'Toole—intense, sarcastically humorous, and heartbreakingly real throughout—we are also treated to an acting clinic from the supporting players. Omar Sharif is fantastic as the Arab Sheriff Ali who agrees to accompany Lawrence on his suicide mission to take a Turkish outpost. Sharif gives Ali a realistic progression from a man who cannot see a white man surviving anything in their future, to one who would follow Lawrence into Hell if asked. Anthony Quinn is also great as Auda abu Tayi, a leader of a tribe that can be bought by whoever offers most. His interactions with O'Toole are some of the best moments in the film because Lawrence always knows what to say to persuade Auda into doing something for his own interests and not for monetary gain, (although he still likes to take something as a souvenir for his troubles). Even Alec Guinness brings an effective performance despite playing an Arab Prince. There are many moments where the allusions to his later Obi-Wan Kenobi character come through making me smile, but the accent is hidden nicely into a British educated Arab speech that helps me forget he is as much an Englishmen as O'Toole is Irish.

In the end, however, it is the story which truly leaves a mark. During the runtime, I was slowly seeing some redundancies and wondering if an hour could have easily been chopped off without a second glance. Disappointment was setting in and I was thinking I might have to give it a 7 or 8 rating as a whole. Once the final scenes play out though, you realize why we needed everything that came before. It is Lawrence's success in battle that both leave him broken but also ripe for persuasion into continuing on. The British were looking for a way to have Arabs do the work but eventually swoop in and take the Middle East for themselves, and with Lawrence, they had their man to rally the troops. Lawrence was neither British nor Arab, but instead a man beyond his dreams and ideals. The Arab tribes would never be able to live in harmony for a peaceful unity, and the British were just waiting for the implosion to occur. When all is said and done, Lawrence realizes he is not the God that people, and himself, saw him as, but a pawn that has been played from the beginning. His sanity and drive for good is sucked out of him because while it seemed he was accepted by both worlds, he really didn't belong to either.
This crazy Limey nobody digs but you've got to admire his sand
"What's your favourite film, then ?" A dread unsettling question. But if harried by the Turks, say, I'd probably have to admit to this one - while agonisingly conscious of all the other favourite films being elbowed aside. And I write as one not overly enthused about Lean's other epic ventures. RIVER KWAI I find offensive for its wilful neglect of real p.o.w. horror in favour of smugly cooked-up ironies and hack-platitudes. ZHIVAGO is undermined by hollow leads chosen only for their beauty, RYAN'S DAUGHTER is insanely overblown soap-opera while A PASSAGE TO India collapses halfway through when the thread snaps and we're just watching the actors tread water. But LAWRENCE, for me, is the real deal, a bewitching tapestry so successful at what it sets out to achieve it's almost incredible. Gobsmacking to watch and a delight to listen to it makes you feel thrilled that movies were invented.

Sure, it plays games with history. "It's not the real Lawrence, of course," Lean admitted on the box. Quite so. The real Lawrence would require a mini-series or, at the end, a chamber-drama like Anglia's excellent TV film of the Nineties with Ralph Fiennes. The massive river of events, intrigues and personnel as recorded by Lawrence himself (though questioned in some quarters) has been simplified here, channelled into a tributary of pertinent moments and symbols, a loner's odyssey, with key support figures marginalised strategically along its banks. The true extent of Lawrence's role as an Imperialist agent did not begin to be disclosed, officially, until the end of the Sixties. To suit the film's left-wing leanings and better engage with the mass blockbuster audience he's depicted initially as politically naive, an amusingly bumptious misfit with a classical education packed off into the desert, via a wily politico, partly to get him out of the hair of his C.O. who has little faith in him or his mission to foster Arab unity against their Turkish overlords ("A sideshow of a sideshow !"). That celebrated cut from the blowing-out of a match to sunrise on the desert sweeps us literally into a new world (and still does). Lean's staging, Young's photography and Jarre's surging music combine to breathtaking effect. The winsome weirdo who enjoys preening himself and teasing his own flesh is tested against lethal tribal-rivalry but fires them with a bold vision - the taking of Akaba, a sea-port undefended on its landward side. During the long trek to this objective one of his men is lost in the desert. Lawrence goes out of his way to reclaim him, earning the respect of all and they clothe him in the robes of an Arab chieftain. (In real life this was a more pragmatic suggestion from the Brits). A further rite of leadership arises when he takes it upon himself to execute a man for murder, preventing an inter-tribal war. The man he kills is the man he saved (a deft juxtaposition of two separate incidents in real life involving different people). Lawrence is later to confess to his new C.O. that he enjoyed the experience.

Akaba is successfully taken (in a stunning panning-shot) and Lawrence begins to make a name for himself. He gets promoted and becomes a guerrilla-leader in assaults on the Turkish railway. But a turning-point comes when he's captured by the Turks on a reconnaissance, is flogged and (possibly) raped before being released. His bodily integrity shattered he's further disillusioned to discover (in the film) that the promise of independence he's been peddling to the Arabs is a stitch-up to conceal the colonial interests of Britain and France. The self-hurting he once indulged in now penetrates too deeply and the self-image become abhorrent. His request to stand down is refused, he's too important now, and in bitterness and despair takes part in a revenge-massacre of retreating Turkish troops. When Allied victory is secured he's sent home, leaving the politicians to sort things out. While this makes for a fine symbolical end to the drama it also constitutes the film's biggest distortion of history. Prince Feisal effects to dismiss him in the movie while in real life Feisal needed him more than ever in the battle for nation-rights at the Versailles Peace Conference. Feisal, the real fall-guy, was treated very badly by the Europeans and only Lawrence's active intervention as his spokesman won him concessions. It's good that we now have the Ralph Fiennes film which rectifies the record.

Robert Bolt's quirky brilliant dialogue, for Lean, tends to short-change some of the characters, reducing the stature of Allenby and Sheik Auda in a generally cynical view of motives which spurred their descendants to seek redress from the film-makers. At the same time it's all wonderfully entertaining and impeccably played by a sterling cast. Omar Sharif showed potential he never has since. And though Lawrence was never really an 'innocent' Peter O'Toole riding the whirlwind with his piercing charisma (and newly-sculpted nose) has an iconic power that will live in movie-history forever - like Sir David's film the likes of which cannot be replicated now that computers have taken over much of the adventure and the excitement. One last thought - the real T.E. archaeologist and map-maker was involved in re-drawing the map of the Middle East with all its volatile consequences through the 20th century and beyond. The final irony indeed.
A good film, for those who like the type
If you are looking for desert vistas, sharp action, excellent acting, directing and camera- work, this is the film for you. But take everything you see with a pinch of salt: the filmmakers based the script entirely on Laurence's memoirs, and are thus guilty of perpetuating a number of myths, among them:

1 the Arab revolt. Myth: the Araba as a people, rose up in revolt against their Turkish overlords. Truth: only those tribes Prince Feisal, and later, Hussein, had direct influence over rose in revolt, the myth of the Arab revolt was largely conceived and perpetuated by Laurence.

2 leader of the Arab army. Myth: Laurence was the only Britisher leading Arabs. Truth: Laurence was only one of a number of British and Australian officers assigned to lead Arab forces, although he was arguably the most successful.

3 Allenby. Myth: General Allenby was a demanding, unscrupulous man who used Laurence and the Arabs without a second thought. Truth: Allenby had a great deal of respect for Laurence and the Arabs, and vice-versa.

4 British inaction. Myth: while the Arabs were busily fighting the Turks, the British were lazing around in Cairo, accomplishing nothing. Truth: at the time of the Film's opening, the British army had already fought the first and second battles of Gaza, and the vast majority of British and Imperial troops were up at the front, closely facing the Turks

5 Damascus: The greatest myth of all, and quite libelous. Myth: Laurence and the Arab army made it to Damascus a day and a half before the British got there. Truth: The Australian Light Horse, having crossed 400 miles in 6 weeks, made it into Damascus a day ad a half before Laurence and the Arabs got there.

Conclusion: This is not an historically accurate film, so don't watch this for history class, but if it's a good war movie you want, you should try this one out.

I give it 8 stars(9 if they hadn't spent a quarter of the film on desert vistas)
Freedom from the shackles of "civilization"
David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia may be well over 50 years old now, but it stands the test of time like all truly great works.

The movie details T.E. Lawrence's experiences as a British liaison who inspires the Arab revolt against Turkish rule during World War 1 (1916-1918).

At 3 hours and 47 minutes this is a LONG movie but somehow strangely hypnotic. The awesome music plays a huge part in this effect.

If you're weary of the moronic approach of too many modern films (too much CGI and roll-your-eyes action, etc.) Lawrence of Arabia is the perfect antidote.

It's mainly the story of a European man who sheds his stuffy "civilized" upbringing to revel in a new-found freedom in the desert wilderness as he integrates with the Arabs and basks in their glowing acceptance. He accomplishes this by, first, disregarding his superior's orders and honestly relating to the Arabs and, second, by proving himself unbiased to any specific tribe and willing to risk everything in helping them to defeat the Turks.

Those spoiled by modern blockbusters won't likely appreciate "Lawrence of Arabia" but those who have an eye for artistic cinema will revel in it.

Agony and Ecstasy
As others have commented, the visual aspect of Lawrence is indeed almost overwhelming, but another aspect stands out too. The love theme. As was pointed out, Lawrence is a film with no women. Despite that it is the love tension which feeds the whole plot from beginning to end. That Lawrence himself was homosexual, is alluded to throughout the film, but the deeper love for the land and the people, is the one that carries him mercilessly onwards. The tragedy is that Lawrence is continually rejected, both physically and ultimately spiritually. The film is one of a few which manages to show the reality of love in both its pain and it's glory.
Simply a great film!
Because of its length, I always postponed watching this film. But now that I've finally seen it, I regret postponing it. This film is visually a masterpiece. The scene where the army rides through the town is extraordinary. It is real, no CGI. Pure film.

If you want films with realism, you'll love this.
A miracle of a film! The true definition of an epic
I am not one of the guys who can sit and watch a 3 hrs epic film just like that. I have to be in a proper mood and have to be willing to get on a journey or an adventure, if you will, to another place and time. Happily, the conditions were right for me to watch an epic and I did watch Lawrence. A lot of things were intriguing about that film: The amazing cinematography, the framing of shots, the impeccable crowd control, and, you know, all the technical stuff. Although not as good as Lawrence's, these qualities are present in other epics as well. What really drew me into the film was T.E Lawrence's character in the film. Usually in epics, the characters take a back seat for the sake of the action or events. But here we see this intimate personal story of a man who, for some reason, challenges and tests himself: Burning his hand with the matchstick, standing in front of a man firing bullets towards him and almost killing him, and constantly going to dangerous battles with the Arabs. For what? He's not doing it for his country and most probably not for the Arabs. He is trying to prove something to himself about himself. He is a deeply self-destructive character and to have such small exquisite story of a man within the epic canvas of the wars and the desert is just extraordinary. I can't believe that Sam Spiegel really took a chance on this madly genius (and very risky) film. I give credit to him, to Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson for the amazing screenplay, to the terrific Peter O Toole and Omar Sharif and , of course, to the man himself, one of cinema's greatest filmmaking artists, Mr. David Lean.
Somewhat as boring as watching sand dunes but nice acting by all.
Lawrence is a misfit British Army lieutenant, notable for his insolence and knowledge. Over the objections of General Murray, Mr. Dryden of the Arab Bureau sends him to assess the prospects of Prince Faisal in his revolt against the Turks. On the journey, his Bedouin guide is killed by Sheriff Ali for drinking from his well without permission. Lawrence later meets Colonel Brighton, who orders him to keep quiet, make his assessment, and leave. Lawrence ignores Brighton's orders when he meets Faisal. His outspokenness piques the prince's interest.

Brighton advises Faisal to retreat after a major defeat, but Lawrence proposes a daring surprise attack on Aqaba; its capture would provide a port from which the British could offload much-needed supplies. The town is strongly fortified against a naval assault but only lightly defended on the landward side. He convinces Faisal to provide fifty men, led by a sceptical Sheriff Ali. Teenage orphans Daud and Farraj attach themselves to Lawrence. They cross the Nefud Desert, considered impassable even by the Bedouins, travelling day and night on the last stage to reach water. Gasim succumbs to fatigue and falls off his camel unnoticed during the night. When Lawrence discovers him missing, he turns back and rescues Gasim—and Sheriff Ali is won over. He gives Lawrence Arab robes to wear.

Lawrence persuades Auda abu Tayi, the leader of the powerful local Howeitat tribe, to turn against the Turks. Lawrence's scheme is almost derailed when one of Ali's men kills one of Auda's because of a blood feud. Howeitat retaliation would shatter the fragile alliance, so Lawrence declares that he will execute the murderer himself. He is then stunned to discover that the culprit is Gasim, the very man whom he risked his own life to save in the desert, but he shoots him anyway.
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