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Classic English Movies- Lawrence of Arabia
Jan 01, 2007 07:39 PM 1691 Views

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As Hollywood spectacles go, Lawrence of Arabia(1962) is a movie that spells E-P-I-C in every frame of it. This is a movie that has everything which you would associate with a Hollywood big screen blockbuster, the sweeping scope of the 70mm panorama, wonderful panoramic shots of the harsh desert landscape, rousing music score and a host of top class actors. Yet at the same time director David Lean, does not let the background overpower the drama and emotions of the story. He ensures that the backdrop does not take over the story telling, which is a common failing of many Hollywood costume dramas, where too much emphasis is laid on the background, costumes, sets and little to the character development and drama. And that is what makes this movie a classic for all times, in spite of its length.


Lean is also helped by the fact that the original T.E.Lawrence, on whose life the movie is based, was the perfect material for a Hollywood script. A loner, an adventurer, with masochist tendencies, violent and arrogant, everything which we associate with a Hollywood hero. In his time Lawrence himself was a larger than figure, thanks to his exploits in Arabia, and his attempt to unite the warring tribes against the Turks. And in the end it was a tragic failure, as the Arab unity was short lived.


The movie starts off with Lawrence( Peter O Toole) dying in a motorcycle accident in England. At a memorial service to honor him, people likeCol Harry Brighton( Antony Quayle) and Gen Lord Allenby( Jack Hawkins) pay tribute to him. However an American journalist calls him a shameless exhibitionist. And this triggers off the flashback to his days in Cairo, working at a desk job as a cartographer. He hates the lowly desk job and wants to go out into Arabia where the action is.Mr Dryden of the Arab Bureau  proposes a transfer to Arabia for him, due to his knowledge of Arab affairs, but primarily due to the fact that he is insubordinate, and hoping that a stint there would make him more obedient. Dryden’s real purpose is to make Lawrence negotiate with Prince Faisal( Sir Alec Guiness), get his support and investigate the progress of the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire. The real purpose is however to keep the Turks busy. Its WW1 time and the British want to ensure that the Turks and their allies the Germans don’t take hold of the Suez Canal. In the desert he learns the ways of the Bedouin and be like them. In the desert Lawrence meets Sherif Ali( Omar Sharif) who introduces him to Faisal.  The British though don’t want to get too deeply involved in the Arab-Turk struggle, their main aim is to secure the Suez Canal. Lawrence understanding that the Bedouin tribes are not at all conversant with modern weaponry, proposes a raid on the port of Aqaba, to get the ammunition. Sherif thinks he is mad, as to go to Aqaba, he needs to cross the Nefud desert, a place where even Bedouins fear to go. On his journey he also meets Auda abu Tayi( Antony Quinn), the leader of the rival clan. How Lawrence carries out his plan, unites the various tribes, and whether he is ultimately successful or not needs to be watched on the big screen.


The movie contains some astounding scenes, using symbolism, way ahead of the times,


When Lawrence is informed of his departure to Arabia, he tries to stop a burning match with his finger, the shot visually metamorphoses into a blazing sun and showing the vast desert.


The introduction scene of Omar Sharif, is one of  Hollywood’s greatest scenes, a small, speck on horizon, as it comes closer and closer, and we see Sharif in a black bedouin’s dress.


Lawrence’s adventure through the Nefud desert and his daring rescue of Qasim( I.S.Johar in a cameo).


The tragic death scene of  his aide Daud in the quicksand.


The attack on Aqaba garrison. T


he climatic battle scene where the Arabs mount an attack on the Turks.


His confrontations with British officers. T


The movie basically explores 3 issues- the fight of the imperial powers like Germany and Britain for supremacy in the middle East, the lack of unity among the Arab tribesmen which is apparent even after their victory and finally Lawrence’s personality himself. In spite of the length of the movie, the movie does keep you engaged with it’s wonderful dialogue, particularly those where Lawrence falls foul of his British superiors, who are content on playing with the Arabs, and not really helping them.In one of the movie’s most significant scenes, Lawrence burns his British uniform and changes into Arab dress, signifying his transformation. Also impressive are the scenes where he negotiates the meeting between the British and Prince Feisal.


Also not much has changed since the time of Lawrence, the big powers like US, Britain, Russia still clamor for supremacy. As Iraq has shown, the Arab tribes still fight among themselves and the only difference is there is no Lawrence who can understand their psyche. The movie ends with the victorious Arab leaders squabbling in Damascus, and not being able to administer the province. The same happens even today in all the Arab lands.


And of course the movie has some standout performances


Omar Sharif in one of the best movie debuts as Sherif Ali, is first rate, in his introductory scene. He is brilliant in his confrontation with Lawrence.


Sir Alec Guiness is excellent as Prince Feisal, who has the job of leading a fragmented Arab society.


Antony Quinn is solid as usual in the role of the rival tribesman, who joins forces with Lawrence.


And of course in the title role, Peter O Toole, delivers one of the best performances. As an egoistic, masochistic, arrogant, reckless adventurer and leader, he displays all shades wonderfully.


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