Directed by David Lean
Based on the writings of T.E. Lawrence
Screenplay by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson
Starring: Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Claude Rains, Omar Sharif
T.E. Lawrence (O’Toole) is a free-spirited young officer that has been thrust into the Middle East during World War I. His assignment is to assess the capabilities of Prince Faisal (Guinness) and his army. Soon Lawrence becomes more than a bystander as he helps Prince Faisal fight against the Turks who have invaded their lands. As Lawrence becomes more involved in the war, he begins to gain status. Soon this status creates conflicts in his loyalties as he struggles to serve the people he leads and the government he works for.
This is one of the classic Hollywood epics. Director David Lean (The Bridge on the River Kwai) took the helm on this massive movie filmed on an enormous scale. The production took place in Jordan, Morocco, Spain, and a number of other locations. The production called for hundreds of extras, and recreations of entire cities. The film was written by Michael Wilson (A Place in the Sun) and Robert Bolt (The Mission), based mainly on T.E. Lawrence’s personal writings on his time in the war. The cast features a fantastic list of huge stars, beginning with Peter O’Toole (The Last Emperor) and Alec Guinness (Star Wars: A New Hope). The list goes on with Anthony Quinn (Lust For Life), Jack Hawkins (Ben-Hur), Claude Rains (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), and Omar Sharif (Doctor Zhivago).
The success of this film is almost immeasurable. The film was an instant financial success, playing around the world. In the Middle East, many countries wouldn’t allow the film to be played, but Omar Sharif’s home country of Egypt welcomed the film. The film was also a huge critical success, winning seven Oscars out of ten nominations. In addition, the film won multiple Golden Globes and British Academy Film Awards. The Oscar wins were for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Score, Best Editing, and Best Sound. The nominations included Best Actor (O’Toole), Best Supporting Actor (Sharif), and Best Screenplay (Bolt, Wilson). These three awards were lost to Gregory Peck (To Kill a Mockingbird), Ed Begley (Sweet Bird of Youth), and Horton Foote (To Kill a Mockingbird). This movie is also included in the United States National Film Registry, and is #7 in AFI’s Best Films list.
The story for this movie is part history, part fiction, and part folklore. The writings of Lawrence served as a historical backdrop to tell the incredible story on. Many of the characters are actually based on a combination of real people involved in the events. The film also dramatized many of the battles portrayed. Still, the movie features a lot of true events within the narrative, and paints a unique portrait of Lawrence. The story is deeply dramatic, focusing on the emotional toll that the war took on Lawrence and others around him. The story also gives good insight into the minds of the decision makers behind the scenes. The dialogue in the film is wonderful, and the action really creates powerful emotion throughout the story. Overall, this movie tells an emotional story about a complex and misunderstood man.
If it wasn’t Gregory Peck’s performance in To Kill a Mockingbird, the absence of a Best Actor Oscar for O’Toole would be one of the biggest injustices in Oscar history. His performance anchors this film with his unique charm and deep emotion displayed throughout. He manages to bring a depth to the role that evolves throughout the movie. O’Toole was also fortunate to be working alongside Alec Guinness. Guinness is wonderful in his role as well. Together, the two share some wonderful scenes and create an amazing tension. The cast also benefits from great work by Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, and Omar Sharif. Each of these men seems to fit in with the story perfectly. Finally, Claude Rains does a great job with his role. When you add in all of the remaining cast, this is an impressive movie. A lot of credit should also be given to David Lean, for his ability to direct this powerful cast with such skill. The acting is wonderful, evoking powerful emotions throughout the film.
The visuals in this movie are some of the best ever captured on film. David Lean and cinematographer Freddie Young paint a beautiful picture with their work. The desert scenes find that epic expanse that the film really needed, and the more intimate moments benefit from great set decoration and design. The film also chose wonderful locations and often built structures to more accurately represent the places depicted. The use of color in this movie is splendid. I don’t think there’s another film from this era that used color so perfectly. This is the kind of film you can watch without sound, just to enjoy the visuals. Every scene seems to be perfectly planned, and wonderfully laid out.
The score for this film is equally wonderful. Composer Maurice Jarre was given six weeks to put together more than two hours of original music. The final product was performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. This was Jarre’s first Oscar nomination and his first win. He would go on to have a legendary career that included two more Oscars and six additional nominations. The score is a wonderful addition to this movie. The emotional highs and lows are accented by this dramatic music. Like many epic films, this one allows the music to be an almost invisible character. While it adds so much to the film, the music never seems to distract from the moment.
This is one of the best movies ever made. If you haven’t seen this one, you need to hunt down a copy and check it out. I would recommend this to fans of classic movies, as well as fans of history, biographical films, and war movies. This is an excellent drama where every aspect of the movie seems to play an equal part. This is also one that fans of the stars need to check out. OToole, Guinness, Sharif, and the rest of the cast are great. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars.