Lawrence of Arabia

on December 21, 1962 by BOXOFFICE Staff
Classic Reviews In any list of the great adventure films of all time, the Sam Spiegel-David Lean production of "Lawrence of Arabia" must stand near the top. In the power, sweep and realism of its story dealing with the legendary war hero, the picture has rarely been equalled. Add to this, the brilliance of its acting, most particularly by the strikingly handsome newcomer (to the screen), Peter O'Toole, the excellence of David Lean's direction and, most particularly, the breathtakingly beautiful outdoors photography of the Sahara Desert locations and the film becomes a "must" for every discerning moviegoer. In all, "Lawrence of Arabia" is a cinematic triumph.
   Five years ago, the Sam Spiegel-David Lean production for "Bridge on the River Kwai" swept the Academy Awards field by garnering the best production, best actor, best direction, best screenplay and best cinematography awards, among others, and then became one of the top grossers of all time and this 1962 production is likely to duplicate this triumph.
   Boxoffice-wise, the Alec Guiness and Jack Hawkins names, plus those of Anthony Quinn, currently at the peak of his acting career in "Barabbas," "Requiem for a Heavyweight" and on Broadway in "Tchin-Tchin," and Jose Ferrer and Arthur Kennedy, will insure marquee draw, while Lawrence himself who wrote "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" and "Revolt in the Desert" and was the subject of the Lowell Thomas book and the recent London-Broadway stage hit, "Ross," is a name to attract all serious-minded patrons. For the women and teenagers, the striking good looks of the widely publicized Peter O'Toole, will cause discussion and a "want-to-see" attitude.
   The Producers wisely duplicated several of the outstanding features of "River Kwai," in addition to Lean's direction, including casting of the Award-winning Guiness and Hawkins in starring roles. To write the screenplay, a most difficult assignment because of the controversial nature of T.E. Lawrence, a hero in every sense of the word, yet a rabble-rouser and exhibitionist, Spiegel chose Robert Bolt, British playwright whose "A Man For All Seasons" is a widely acclaimed Broadway stage hit. Bolt deserves high praise for his script in which dialogue plays a lesser part than does action. While the picture is long, interest falters only slightly during a few overly talky sequences in the second part of the film.
   Visually, the picture has rarely been surpassed, with F.A. Young's magnificent photography in Super Panavision-70 and Technicolor creating striking desert vistas and capturing the fury and terror of battles between the Arabs, the Turkish forces and the desert tribesmen. The photography is so clear and sharp that tiny figures appearing on the distant horizon can be picked out by the naked eye of the spectator.
   The music score by Maurice Jarre, played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, is tempestuous but with many hauntingly lovely quieter strains.
   But it is in the astute casting of Peter O'Toole as the enigmatic T.E. Lawrence, that the producers have scored their greatest triumph. Perhaps a shade too tall and handsome for a physical re-creation of the man, O'Toole is, nevertheless, a superb actor who brings out Lawrence's awkwardness, his conceit and fondness for Arab dress and his loyalty for the desert tribesmen, as well as the loneliness and despair of his later years. This will be one of the most talked-about performances of recent years.
   Overshadowing all the others are Anthony Quinn, almost unrecognizable with his hawk-like nose in the character of the ferocious Auda Abu Tayi, head of the Howeitat desert tribesmen, who is magnificently realistic, as always, and Omar Sharif, the Egyptian star, who is gentle and understanding as the Arab Sherif Ali, friend to Lawrence.
   Alec Guiness is fine, too, as Prince Feisal, one of the star's quieter roles, and Jack Hawkins is gruff and thoroughly British as General Allenby. Jose Ferrer adds an authentic acting gem in the comparatively small part of the sadistic Turkish Bey who tortures Lawrence. Arthur Kennedy makes his scenes count as the news correspondent who covers Lawrence's battles, and the veteran Claude Rains is good as a soft-spoken, tactful British diplomat. Anthony Quayle and Donald Wolfit also do well as do I.S. Johar and several native actors.
   The nearly-four hours running time opens with T.E. Lawrence's tragic death in a motorcycle crash in England in 1935 and then flashes back to 1916 in Cairo, when he was attached to the British general staff and requested to be transferred to Arabia. After being given his wish, the familiar story of Lawrence's exploits in the desert unfolds -- and it makes a fascinating telling.
Frank Leyendecker Columbia 221 mins.
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