Lawrence of Arabia (1962) – David Lean

The next stop in the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book is David Lean’s classic film that made a star out of Peter O’Toole.  Grabbing seven Oscars at the 1963 Academy Awards, the film walked away with Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Sound, Best Film Editing and Best Musical Score. O’Toole lost out Best Actor to Gregory Peck for To Kill A Mockingbird.

The film, clocking in at over three and a half hours is nothing short of epic, even if there isn’t tons of story. O’Toole takes on the role of T.E. Lawrence who, while on assignment during World War I, finds himself uniting the warring Arabic tribes while serving as the liaison between the British Army and the Bedouin. He works with Prince Feisal (Alec Guiness) and his right hand man, Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif, who gets one of the single most exceptional screen entrances ever) and comes up with a plan to attack a Turkish outpost.

The cinematography is more than worthy of the Oscar it received. It is nothing short of stunning, and incredibly beautiful. Lean, and his cinematographer Freddie Young make fantastic use of the frame, and fills it with gorgeous images of the desert, and the life that is lived there. It is easy to see why Lawrence proclaims his love for this country.

Set to Maurice Jarre’s iconic score, O’Toole captivates with his performance and is surrounded by a fantastic supporting cast including Anthony Quinn, Claude Rains and Jose Ferrer.

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Lawrence is thought to have gone native when he returns to British Headquarters in Cairo and seeing the hand of British Imperialism there, one can’t really blame him. The British Army have no respect for the land, or the people, they are seeking to control, with the aid of the French, after they oust the Turkish forces (with Lawrence’s united Bedouin tribes helping them, of course).

The beautiful imagery of this film is nothing short of jaw-dropping in high definition. It looks like it could have been shot yesterday, and from its opening sequence to the last frame, it remains an amazing piece of celluloid, and an undeniable work of art.

Lean lets the story take its time, instead letting us leisurely take in the beautiful landscapes, watching camels and stallions work their way across the screen, usually from left to right as Lean wanted to convey the sense of an ongoing journey.

The only drawback to watching this film is the length. This is something you really have to set aside a chunk of time to sit down and watch. Happily, with the intermission, you can break it up a little, and is so worth the time to invest in it.

Iconic, stunning, beautiful, this one is Lean at his best.

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