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Overview

This 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 the ultimate fate of Lawrence (a confident move on the part of director David Lean, who manages throughout to keep us biting our nails over a character whose death is a foregone conclusion), 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, who makes 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: Sherif dismisses him as yet another "desert-loving Englishman", while his British superiors merely assume that he's either supremely arrogant or stark-staring mad. Using a combination of diplomacy and bribery, Lawrence unites the rival Arab factions of Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness) and Auda Abu Tayi (Anthony Quinn). To implement his strategy of attacking the seacoast fortress of Aqaba from the rear, Lawrence and his compatriots must make an arduous trek across the treacherous Nefud Desert, appropriately nicknamed "The Sun's Anvil". After successfully completing his mission, Lawrence becomes an unwitting pawn of the Allies, as represented by Allenby (Hawkins) and Dryden (Claude Rains). They decide to keep using Lawrence to secure Arab cooperation against the Imperial Powers. Though Lawrence is led to believe that the Arabs will be allowed to chart their own destinies after the war, the Allies have every intention of slicing up this valuable territory for their own use (Lawrence's wide-eyed innocence in these political matters is a fabrication of the script, and not borne out by the facts). As he continues his guerilla activities with his Arab comrades in arms, Lawrence is made an international celebrity by a Lowell Thomas-like newspaper correspondent (Arthur Kennedy). While on a spying mission to Deraa, Lawrence is captured and tortured by a sadistic Turkish Bey (Jose Ferrer). It is implied that the Bey's brutal treatment of him has aroused Lawrence's own repressed homosexuality: true or not, it is clear that he has undergone a radical personality change when he makes it back to his own lines. In the heat of the next battle, a wild-eyed Lawrence screams "No prisoners!" and fights more ruthlessly than ever. When peace is declared, Lawrence is declared a victor; but after he witnesses the chaotic, indecisive Arab peace council in Damascus, and watches as the greedy Europeans swoop down to pick up the leavings, he knows he has failed in his original dream to secure Arab independence. The pace of Lawrence of Arabia bogs down during the political squabbling of the final reels, proving the wisdom of director Lean's decision through the rest of the film to concentrates on heroics and spectacle. Screenwriter Robert Bolt, with uncredited assistance from Michael Wilson, used T. E. Lawrence's own self-published memoir The Seven Pillars of Wisdom as their principal source. Some of the characters are composites, and many of the "historical" incidents are of suspicious and unconfirmed origin, but the screenwriters do an admirable job capturing the essence of the mysterious Lawrence. Two years in the making (you can see O'Toole's weight fluctuating from scene to scene), the film, lensed in Spain and Jordan, ended up costing a then-staggering $13 million (Lean was notorious for taking all the time in world when filming on location; wait until he got to Doctor Zhivago) Lawrence was honored with seven Academy Awards: best picture, director, color cinematography (Freddie Young), music (Maurice Jarre), art direction, sound, and editing. The 1962 Royal Premiere in London was virtually the last time that 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 Lawrence was all that was available for public exhibition until a massive restoration project took place in 1989. The resultant 221-minute version returned several of Lean's favorite scenes, while removing others he'd never been satisfied with. Those actors who were still living were brought back to re-record portions of the soundtrack; Arthur Kennedy, deep into retirement, was finally located via a telephone directory. Prior to Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, RKO's Ernest Schoedsack-Willis O'Brien team (of King Kong fame) made a stab at bringing Lawrence's story to the screen. Schoedsack and O'Brien never got any farther than a few atmosphere shots of Arabs and camels, many of which were used as stock footage in the 1944 RKO B-picture Action in Arabia. -- Hal Erickson, All-Movie Guide

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780800116910
Publisher: Columbia

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