AFI #7: Lawrence of Arabia

lawrence-of-arabia

“The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.” — T.E. Lawrence

Let’s see, a four-hour movie set in the Arabian desert with no women in the cast and long, drawn out scenes of emptiness. Yeah, that’s good for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture. Lawrence of Arabia is nothing if not ambitious. The trick indeed is not minding that it hurts.

If I’m being honest I didn’t really like Lawrence of Arabia. I mean, I sort of liked the first few hours, but by the time I got to the three-hour mark I was done. I made it to the end, but I lost interest around the time the Arab army attacked Damascus. I get that Director David Lean was going for long and slow to simulate the vastness of the desert, but he could have easily told this story in 120 minutes instead of 227. And yes, the cinematography was wonderful but after a while it too got boring. It’s interesting to me that The Bridge on the River Kwai (also directed by Lean) was #36 on this list despite being a much better film in my humble opinion.

Alas, I was not an AFI voter so my opinion doesn’t count. I did enjoy quite a bit of Lawrence of Arabia. I thought Peter O’Toole was great, but I’m a big fan. He’s one of those actors who always seems to play Peter O’Toole in films (my favorite, for the record, was 1982’s My Favorite Year). O’Toole has this amazing way of looking both serious and like he’s up to no good at the same time, which was a key attribute of his Major T.E. Lawrence. I also thought Omar Sharif was fabulous as Sherif Ali and Anthony Quinn was brilliant as Auda Abu Tayi. Too bad I can’t say the same thing about Alec Guinness, who was miserably cast as the Arab Prince Feisal — really, you can’t find a middle eastern actor to play the role of a sheik so you cast an old white British guy? Was Omar Sharif the only middle eastern actor in Hollywood at the time?

The film also has some very classic lines, so kudos to the screenwriter and likely the real Lawrence may have had something to do with it as well given the film is based on his life and the book he wrote about it. Here’s a gem:

General Murray: I can’t make out whether you’re bloody bad-mannered or just half-witted.
T.E. Lawrence: I have the same problem, sir.

Ultimately I’d say Lawrence of Arabia was decent but too damn long. Certainly not one of the top 10 American films ever made. One of the most ambitious…sure.

Next, another behemoth: Gone With the Wind

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