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lawrence of arabia posterThis sweeping, highly literate historical epic covers the Allies' mideastern campaign during World War I as seen through the eyes of the enigmatic T. E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole, in the role that made him a star). After a prologue showing us Lawrence's ultimate fate, we flash back to Cairo in 1917. A bored general staffer, Lawrence talks his way into a transfer to Arabia. Once in the desert, he befriends Sherif Ali Ben El Kharish (Omar Sharif, making one of the most spectacular entrances in movie history) and draws up plans to aid the Arabs in their rebellion against the Turks. No one is ever able to discern Lawrence's motives in this matter: Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness) dismisses him as yet another "desert-loving Englishman," and his British superiors assume that he's either arrogant or mad. Using a combination of diplomacy and bribery, Lawrence unites the rival Arab factions of Feisal and Auda Abu Tayi (Anthony Quinn).

After successfully completing his mission, Lawrence becomes an unwitting pawn of the Allies, as represented by Gen. Allenby (Jack Hawkins) and Dryden (Claude Rains), who decide to keep using Lawrence to secure Arab cooperation against the Imperial Powers.

Two years in the making (you can see O'Toole's weight fluctuate from scene to scene), the movie, lensed in Spain and Jordan, ended up costing a then-staggering $13 million and won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

The 1962 Royal Premiere in London was virtually the last time that David Lean's director's cut was seen: 20 minutes were edited from the film's general release, and 15 more from the 1971 reissue. This abbreviated version was all that was available for public exhibition until a massive 1989 restoration, at 216 minutes that returned several of Lean's favorite scenes while removing others with which he had never been satisfied.

Cast: Peter O'Toole, Alec Guinness, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, José Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Wolfit
Directed By: David Lean
Rating: PG
Genre: Action & Adventure
Language: English
Runtime: 222 minutes (2 parts)

Review

By 4 Star Films

A film of truly epic proportions, in length, scenery, and brilliance, Lawrence of Arabia is essential cinema. Peter O’Toole delivers a stellar performance as T.E. Lawrence, a British soldier during World War I. The movie begins with his death from a motorcycle crash, which gives an early glimpse of the character.

lawrence of arabiaThen, a flashback goes to his time in Arabia where his task was to unite the Arab tribes, and lead them in rebellion against the enemy so the British might win. Against the better judgment of his commanding officer, a Mr. Dryden of the Arab Bureau suggests Lawrence be sent to assess the possibility of an Arab revolt against the Turks. Lawrence heads with his guide to pay a visit to Prince Faisal. However, his guide is shot by another man and Lawrence resolves to make the journey alone. Their paths cross again in the camp of Faisal. There Lawrence interests the Prince because his ideas are far different from his commanding officer.

Showcasing his audaciousness Lawrence suggests a bold attack on Acaba which would allow the British to bring in supplies. He leads a group of men across the brutal desert knowing that this will be less expected. Sheriff Ali (Omar Sharif) doubts it will work and disapproves that Lawrence takes two young outcasts as his servants. It is later during the journey that Lawrence truly wins over the other men, including Ali, because he is relentless, even going back for a lost straggler. With some luck, Lawrence is able to gain the help of Auda Abu Tayi, but it is not without tension. Ultimately, his forces are able to take out the Turks, and Lawrence heads back to Cairo to relay his progress. However, on the way back he must struggle with the loss of a servant and the guilt of executing a man.

lawrence of arabia4Lawrence is sent back to Arabia and there he leads his forces in guerrilla operations against the Turkish railroads. His exploits are documented by an American newsman, and by this point, he has become a mythical hero among his followers. However, after going to scout a town the seemingly invincible Lawrence is ultimately flogged and tortured, leaving him a broken shell of a man. He insists on leaving Arabia but his new commander, General Allenby orders him back for one final push towards Damascus.

This final mission sees a change in Lawrence, who has hired killers and missionaries to help him in his siege. Against the better judgment of Sherif Ali, Lawrence leads a massacre of Turks as they move onward. He takes Damascus, but his fragmented counsel of Arabs are unable to unite, and the city is given back to the English. Major Lawrence is promoted once more to Colonel, and then gets shipped home because his services are no longer necessary.

lawrence of arabia6 500This is one of those films you want to see on the big screen because the scenery and cinematography is just that impressive by itself. David Lean had a skill at making epics, and this is perhaps his masterpiece. The desert is often stark and desolate, and yet striking in the same instance. The expanse of space that is viewed in a single shot is often mind-blowing. A human being on the horizon is hardly a speck, and the ever-present camels are hardly any more substantial. To complement these grand images is an equally magnificent score by Maurice Jarre, complete with overture and all. The cast must be mentioned too with such supporting stars as Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Alec Guinness, Claude Rains, Jack Hawkins, and Anthony Quayle.

Then, of course, there is the man who played Lawrence. As portrayed so wonderfully by Peter O’Toole, Lawrence is an intelligent and, at times, arrogant man, who can be odd, distant, audacious, and also unscrupulous. That being said, he was an extraordinary man who was a mover and a leader of men. A very unique, at times controversial, and long unheralded man, who contributed to the war effort in a far different way.  In many ways, he was an adopted brother to the Arabs, and their country was also his. He was “Lawrence of Arabia.”

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