Starring: Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy, Jose Ferrer
Director: David Lean
Summary: A British military officer enlists the Arabs for desert warfare in World War I
Other Nominations: Director*, Actor (O’Toole), Supporting Actor (Sharif), Adapted Screenplay, Original Score*, Sound Recording*, Color Art Direction*, Color Cinematography*, Film Editing*
-Presentation-wise, it’s pretty much unbeatable. The color cinematography is a textbook display of why Technicolor was so great and unusual, and it succeeds at the relatively difficult task of making the barren desert look interesting and beautiful, along with generally flawless cinematography in general. Maurice Jarre’s score is one of the best ever for an epic, with the main theme being stuff of legends. The sets and costumes all look incredibly authentic (they made up 300 buildings just for the town of Aqaba). They simply don’t make movies like this anymore.
-The cast is excellent-you know you’re living good when you get Claude Rains and Jose Ferrer to do bit parts. Peter O’Toole was actually the third choice, after Marlon Brando (who didn’t want to film for ages in the desert) and Albert Finney (a then unknown who balked at the producer’s contract demands); it’s hard to imagine anyone else as Lawrence, playing him with the requisite showmanship, charisma and inner struggle of the man. Sharif is the other standout in his first English speaking role (and was the 4th choice for his role). You really do get the sense of a great friendship (or maybe something more?) between the characters due to the eventual quiet warmth of his performance.
-One thing that really distinguishes David Lean’s epics from most others of the time was that he gave some real thought to his themes and characters. Lawrence is a complex character with a lot of different but still coherent with each other motivations, personal demons and interests, and he comes across as an exceptionally vivid character (especially when combined with O’Toole’s performance). One thing interesting with Lean is that a number of his films criticize “Britishness”, despite being British himself, with this kind of commentary about one’s own people being unusual at the time; here, the longstanding British interest in empire building without caring about what the people themselves wanted or how they got it, along with the stuffiness of his own countrymen drives Lawrence away from his own people and results in him feeling like a man out of place in his own country.
-At 3 Hours and 47 minutes, it’s either the longest or second longest Best Picture Winner ever (along with Gone With the Wind), depending on if you count the musical breaks. While I never got bored or anything, it took multiple sittings to get through it simply because of its length, something that I consider a negative in a movie.
-The film certainly took liberties with the story and the character, giving him the primary trait of being an attention-seeker, yet the opposite was true in real life according to most. It didn’t bother me that much, but still.
-Strangely enough, it wasn’t nominated for Color Costume Design; apparently, this is because the studio forgot to submit the designer for a nomination.
-Alec Guinness plays King Faisal, which is interesting because just the previous year he had been playing Lawrence on a West End production of the play “Ross.” He wanted to play Lawrence in the movie, but producers thought he was too old for the part.
-Despite being almost 4 hours long, there is not a single line of dialogue from a woman in the movie.
When you think of film epics, you think of Lawrence of Arabia, and for good reason. The movie on a presentation level is stunning and probably the best you’ll ever see for a movie of the time period (heck, maybe ever) and the performances, characters and themes are substantially better than most other films in the genre.