Movie #82: Lawrence of Arabia

Director: David Lean

Starring: Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Omar Sharif, and Arthur Kennedy

Academy Awards (1963):

Best Picture: Sam Speigel

Best Director: David Lean

Best Art Direction: John Box, John Stoll, Dario Simoni

Best Cinematography: Fred A. Young

Best Film Editing: Anne Coates

Best Music, Score: Maurice Jarre

Best Sound: Shepperton Studio Sound Department, John Cox

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Peter O’Toole

Best Supporting Actor: Omar Sharif

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium: Robert Bolt, Michael Wilson

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Following a fatal motorcycle accident, a reporter tries to gain insight into the life of T.E. Lawrence (O’Toole) from those who crossed paths with him over the years.  Lawrence of Arabia tells the story of Lawrence’s service in World War I as a leader of the Arab tribes in their revolt against the Turks.

This film was a marathon to watch, needless to say.  Just shy of 4 hours, I ended up watching it in three sittings.  That was good, for me it made the film more enjoyable.  I don’t think the film would have had as big of an impact had they cut out anything, so in that way the length of film was acceptable, if far longer than usual.

Visually this film is deserving of the 5 Academy Awards it received with its use of visual and audio elements.  Lawrence of Arabia is considered one of the greatest films of all time in part because of its influence and lasting effect in cinematic history.  Films of this scale have to be done right.  In contrast, Cleopatra, which was released just a year later, was a mess and a half to film and went way over budget.

To bring it back to Lawrence of Arabia, there was a good balance of visual effects, background music, and a score that I found enjoyable.  The battle scenes were done very well, though there were a few times that it was a little over-dramatized for my liking.

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The cast worked well together.  Though Sherif Ali (Sharif) was resistant to Lawrence at first, and a constant sounding board and skeptic, it was interesting to see the progression of their relationship throughout the film.

A film like this absolutely has to have a strong lead, so going with an unknown actor like Peter O’Toole is a tremendous gamble.  However, that gamble paid off.  O’Toole, having been trained as a stage actor to this point in his career, brings a certain level of professionalism and class that is a unique quality.  Playing T.E. Lawrence required a tremendous acting range, and O’Toole did an excellent job of portraying them all.  It’s one thing to be a strong military leader, but to struggle with losing an orphan kid who tags along, having to shoot a friend to maintain peace, and so on can wear down a person.  It speaks to the strength of Lawrence himself and O’Toole in his acting range.

lawrenceofarabiaotooleguinnessOne pleasant surprise in this film was the performance by Alec Guinness as Prince Feisal.  It’s a fine line having the British accent and yet pulling off a convincing Arab prince, but Guinness does a great job in this film of separating his native accent with the person he is portraying.  He wrote that while filming, a few people had mistaken him for the late prince.  I’ve come to expect acting greatness from Alec Guinness, regardless of how big or small the part.  He certainly didn’t disappoint.

The only part I didn’t like was at the end of the film when Feisel essentially brushed Lawrence aside after Lawrence had done the military side.  Feisel had shifted his primary alliance to the British leadership in order to maintain power after the Arab council in Damascus can’t get anything done.  It’s not so much a critique on his performance but instead on how the script was written.

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Lawrence of Arabia is a great film.  Without a doubt, it deserves the accolades it has received over the years.  Strong lead actors, brilliantly balanced music and visual effects, and an entertaining script make this film one worth watching.  I probably won’t watch this one too many more times, it’s a good one to see at least once.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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