Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Adventure film 5: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Something a little different - biopic, history, politics - with David Lean's cinema classic, Lawrence of Arabia, starring Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Anthonies Quinn and Quayle, and Jack Hawkins. Click the image below to listen to the podcast (30.5 MB, 1 hour 24 mins).

Recorded Sunday 17 July 2011, edited by Murray Ewing.

Notes & Errata: Just to confirm two facts I mentioned but felt unsure about - I was correct that the Prime Minister was David Lloyd George when Lawrence was an advisor to Churchill (in 1921), and the US did indeed enter WWI in 1917.

Purchase the DVD from Amazon UK: Lawrence of Arabia (1962).


  1. Thanks for adding Lawrence, Garen. I've grown a new appreciation for the film. I've too have seen bits and pieces, as you both have, over the years. The first time I saw it was a VHS pan and scan versions in the early 1980s, before seeing the fully restored version on TCM, and now, on DVD.

    Actually, I didn't know anything about the real Lawrence. He wasn't part of the US history books I had in school or much about him in our library, so I was always a bit confused on who he was. Your podcast helped in that. It's not good to have poor history taught, as you pointed out here. So I would really love to see a well researched documentary on Lawrence. It would make a good companion piece with this film.

    So I mainly see Lawrence of Arabia, as a film story in itself, and not as fact, but mixture of fact and fiction, created for entertainment. But as a film, it is a stunner.

    I guess I see it as a study of the man, in the backdrop of the war. You covered some of the favorite scenes (Example the well and I love the bar scene too. Such a contrast to the last time he was there, stumbling into tables, but this time, entering with purpose, and against the class system.)

    Other scenes I love is where you can watch the character think. There was a several minute scene, after Lawrence left Feisal's tent, when he walked into the desert, and throughout the night thinking on what to do. Farraj and Daud both followed him. One of them tosses a stone that rolls down the sand onto this back. Lawrence felt it. He calmly grabbed the stone and tossed it in his hand, thinking all the time, until dawn. When dawned arrived, it 'dawned' on him, to attack Aqaba from behind. This was still at the time, Ali was testing Lawrence. Lawrence wasn't fully accepted yet.

    I think Lawrence interest in studying other cultures, was away to escape his own. One of the telling scenes in the film for me, about Lawrence, was at the camp, after Lawrence saved Gasim from the Nefud. Ali was asking about Lawrence's family and he learned Lawrence wasn't his father's name, but his mother's last name, as Lawrence's father never married his mother. (His father name was Sir Chapman, as I recall.)

    After learning this, I really felt that is when Ali fully took Lawrence under his wing, as Ali burned Lawrence's British uniform and transformed him into on of them. I just felt Ali was still seeing him as a British officer, to this point. For Lawrence part, maybe the first time he felt accepted, as an equal. Something that back in Britain wouldn't have happened, because of his family background (at least that is some of the thought I take from it).

    His education, was what was most valuable to the military (the reason he got sent into the desert to find Prince Feisal. The British Military didn't take him seriously, until Aqaba, but were using him too), but it was Ali and the tribes people who made him feel like a leader, for the first time.

    Though rare these days, I really love to see this film in it's fully restored, 70MM film showing, at a real theatre. This film was met to be seen on the big screen. It is a beautifully created film, and people interested in film should see it.

    (Just a note, but I really thought Peter O'Toole's hair was white, in the scene at the quicksand. Don't know it that was a result of being in the hot sun all those months or the makeup people did that. And the mirage was spot on. As a kid, riding in the car across the desert, I always thought those were lakes in the distance, but they never got closer, just hug the horizon.)

  2. Thanks again for an insightful comment, Linda. I agree with you that I think 'Lawrence of Arabia' should be enjoyed as a story first and history second, but it certainly adds texture to be aware of the truth behind it. Lawrence didn't form part of my history lessons at school either - at least I don't think so, I can hardly remember anything about history at school! It's a subject I've become fascinated by in subsequent years. They can't teach everything, of course :-)

  3. Over Christmas I saw a film called Tracks. It reminded me about this film, with the desert scenes and camels. Based on a real person too, it is about a woman name Robyn Davidson, who decides to cross the Australia desert by camel, alone, with her dog. At least, that was her plan. It shows how she prepared for the trip and the events during the track. Scenes were shot on the locations where the 1970s trip took place. I do believe Robyn's book is better, but it does gave a feeling of the adventure. It's hard to find an adventure film with the woman being the lead character for the story, so thought I pass on, if you haven't seen it. Cheers! :-)

  4. I think I saw a trailer for this film recently. It made me think of Walkabout, Nicolas Roeg's film, another film about being lost in an Australian desert. The main character there is played by Jenny Agutter, so another adventure (ish) film centring on a female lead, set in the Australian desert... Which makes me think of Picnic at Hanging Rock, about some young women who disappear in the Australian desert... What is it about Australia?

  5. I have no idea. I recall hearing the name 'Walkabout' but never watched it. I'll have to look those two up. I did like the camel part in Tracks. I didn't know too much about the wild camel population there.

  6. I remember about this film having few women. Recently saw a film called 'Cry Havoc.' Made in 1943, the film is about women nurses during World War II and has very few men players. Can't think of another film about WWII, that features mainly women.