Lawrence of Arabia is an epic film based on the life of T.E. Lawrence and his adventures in Arabia during World War I. It was directed by David Lean and produced by Sam Spiegel. It stars Peter O’Toole in the title role. It is widely considered to be one of the most influential and greatest films in the history of cinema. It was filmed in Panavision 70. (Running Time: 227 minutes)(Rated PG)
To start, I believe this film has been seriously underrated and panned in the last couple of decades. Originally released, it was met with huge acclaim and David Lean’s career skyrocketed…again! He often spoke very proudly of this epic, and I can see why! Lawrence of Arabia brought several new rhythm patterns and themes to the big screen. And although the desert-epic has fallen into a lull, let us examine a few elements of the making of the movie, shall we?
There had been a T.E. Lawrence movie cooking for some time before Lean’s vision was realized. As Lean and Sam Spiegel (friend and producer) were riding on the success of The Bridge on the River Kwai (1958), they were preparing to do an epic detailing the life of Gandhi with Alec Guinness in the lead role. The idea fell through though when studios declined to tackle such a film, which led Lean to look for another historical figure’s story to retell on the big screen.
Once Lean hired a screenwriter (Michael Wilson), he reportedly watched John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) countless times for inspiration before filming commenced. Casting was another matter entirely, with the director and producer choosing a still yet-to-be-known young actor named Peter O’Toole in the titular role, who took to reading Lawrence’s personal journals and talking with acquaintances of the man to prepare himself for the role. He would later been nominated for an Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Actor in this film, but would lose both to Gregory Peck in To Kill A Mockingbird (1962). Production suffered many delays, with camels running amok, hundreds of extras falling asleep in the sun, and major studios leery on funding the project they deemed as the next Cleopatra (1963), which was eating away money left and right. In the end, Lean shot what he wanted and spent an incredible amount of time in the editing room, viewing hundreds and hundreds of hours worth of footage.
Next to Gone With The Wind (1939), it is the second longest film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. It won a total of seven, including Best Director for David Lean (making it his second win in that category). It was acclaimed by critics and audiences immediately, and was a box office success!
Lean employed many “French new wave” style of filmmaking into this film, and in reality started a new trend that moviemakers followed thereafter. I note Lawrence of Arabia as a true epic. The main reason I was sold on the idea was one particular wide shot of a valley, where all the Arabs mount their hundreds of steeds and gallop out into the desert. A beautiful shot. Incredibly epic!
4 out of 7 stars. Perhaps on the lower scale. It has a slower pace to it, but is a classic to note and study.
“…The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.”