Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

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"Look, they even have a McDonald's out here now."
“Look, they even have a McDonald’s out here now.”

Twitter Plot Summary: The story of TE Lawrence, a British officer serving in the Middle East during World War 1.

Five Point Summary:

1. “The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.”
2. “Have you no fear, English?”
3. “It’s for him!”
4. “The best of them won’t come for money; they’ll come for me.”
5. “NO PRISONERS!”

Lawrence of Arabia is quite rightly considered a classic movie, one in which all the various elements of the production – acting, direction, cinematography, score, etc – unite to form a quintessential piece of cinema. So much so in fact that its almost four hour running time feels more like a standard two hour venture, such is its quality and story telling power. That story is of TE Lawrence, a soldier in the British army who finds himself torn between his allegiance to Britain and those he befriends in the Arabian desert during the first World War.

Split down the middle with a convenient intermission at just over the 2 hour mark, the first half sees Lawrence’s indoctrination into the desert world, its people and its customs and traditions. Here we see him demonstrate that he’s not the same as the other white folk who come swanning into the desert, and earns the respect of many of those he encounters. Good thing too, as he’s seen as somewhat of an odd one in the eyes of his superiors. The second half focuses more on the war effort and the various attacks orchestrated against the Turks, specifically those on Aqaba and Damascus, and the terrible effect the fighting is having on Lawrence. It never gets bogged down with military details, though – this is all about Lawrence, his efforts at uniting the desert tribes and his quirky mannerisms. The fact the plot remains relatively sparse despite the epic running length is never a cause for concern.

"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hur... OW!"
“The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hur… OW!”

Lawrence of Arabia is yet another of those epic productions that Hollywood was so fond of during the 1950s and 1960s, every frame of the production dripping with style and attention to detail. The cinematography does many favours to the setting, with the desert landscape looking phenomenal at all times. The introduction of Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) in particular is a highlight, the mirage-like effect of the desert being used to great effect. It’s a scene of great tension and is played out in full without need to speed things up – it takes a long time for Ali to be fully in focus, but you’re too focused on the appearance of this mysterious stranger to care – a sign of good film-making if there ever was one. It would be remiss not to mention Maurice Jarre’s score, which is equally as epic as the film itself. The film’s overture has become synonymous with the desert and this era of cinema – you can probably ask anybody to hum a theme that represents the desert and they will likely hum Jarre’s theme without even knowing where it’s from. It’s easily one of the best film scores ever written, a fitting companion to the production.

Peter O’Toole is a revelation as Lawrence, opening as a softly spoken Brit and slowly becoming akin to the guerrilla fighters he commands in the desert, bloodthirsty and with violent intent. The desert has a power to change a man, and that is entirely evident in Lawrence’s demeanour as the fighting ensues. Joined by Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn and Omar Sharif, amongst others, it is a cast brimming with talent, although in modern society it would have been more appropriate to hire Arabian actors to portray Auda Abu Tayi and Prince Feisal rather than relying on white men, no matter how good at acting those men happen to be. This is a completely superfluous point in the grand scheme of things though, as Lawrence of Arabia works perfectly well despite this casting choice. It’s a film that everybody needs to have seen at some point, even if only once. In terms of imagery and thematic content, it will be a film you return to time and time again.

Score: 5/5

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