• Publication date: November 26, 2010

Lawrence of Arabia Lawrence of Arabia

Director David Lean struck gold in 1962 with a movie about an enigmatic ...

Director David Lean struck gold in 1962 with a movie about an enigmatic British war figure, T. E. Lawrence, played by Peter O'Toole in the epic war classic Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence is a lieutenant in the British Army, stationed in Cairo during World War I. Though a low-ranking officer, he possesses some knowledge of the Middle Eastern region, and is sent by the Arab Bureau to gauge the prospects of Prince Faisal's (Alec Guinness) revolt against the Turks. On the journey, Lawrence's bedouin guide is killed by Sharif Ali (Omar Sharif) for drinking out of a well without permission. When he arrives at Faisal's camp, Lawrence runs into his commanding officer, who orders him to appraise the tribe's situation and leave without comment. Lawrence, however, has other ideas, and when they meet with the prince, he proposes a bold attack on a less heavily defended side of the Turkish city, Aqaba. The prince is convinced, and he gives Lawrence the service of fifty men on camels. They set out and cross the torturous Nefud Dessert, traveling several days and nights. One of the men, Gasim, suffers from exhaustion and falls from his camel at night. When they finally reach water Lawrence turns around to rescue his man. This act earns him the respect of his fellow travellers, particularly Sharif Ali. Lawrence then meets with Auda abu Tayi (Anthony Quinn), the leader of another bedouin tribe. He convinces him that the city of Aqaba contains gold, and to join his forces and invade. But the agreement is almost ruined when one of Sharif Ali's men kills one of Auda's over a blood feud. In order to save the alliance, Lawrence agrees to execute the culprit himself. To his dismay, he discovers that it was Gasim, the man he had just rescued. But, keeping his eye on the larger goal of tribal unity, Lawrence ends up shooting him. The next day the alliance successfully invades. Lawrence is promoted to Major and given additional weapons and money to help support the Arab cause. The charismatic Lawrence makes plans to scale up his guerrilla tactics and lead the Arabs against the Turkish Empire. However, many dangers await, and the real intentions of the British remain unclear. “Lawrence of Arabia” was shot over the course of two years, with a $13 million budget (astronomical for 1962), and a three-and-a-half hour final edit with sparse action and no romantic sub-plot. That such a film was both a tremendously popular and critical success is one of cinema's greatest triumphs. The Academy Awards honored the picture with seven Oscars, including one for Best Picture, and three nominations. The film's popularity persists to this day, with the American Film Institute rating it as the fifth best movie of all time. Also noteworthy is the fact that “Lawrence of Arabia” was one of the last pictures to be shot on true 70mm film. Throughout the years, critics have frequently lamented that the film's stunning desert visuals could never be appreciated outside of the widescreen theatre format. However, recent advances in affordable high definition technology may finally do the film justice for those watching at home as well.