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Patrick Schoenmaker

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Lawrence of Arabia

Released by Columbia Pictures - 1962

Directed by: David Lean
Written by: Robert Bolt & Michael Wilson
Produced by: Sam Spiegel

Peter O'Toole .... T.E. Lawrence
Alec Guinness .... Prince Feisal
Anthony Quinn .... Auda abu Tayi
Jack Hawkins .... General Allenby
Omar Sharif .... Sherif Ali Ibn El Kharish


Few directors, if any, of the modern cinema have been able to accomplish what David Lean did in the deserts of Egypt in the early sixties when he filmed what is arguably the greatest cinematic epic ever constructed, Lawrence of Arabia. The entire production was a battle of wills between director Lean and the elements themselves.

Quinn, O'Toole & Sharif.

Sandstorms abounded in the deserts outside of Cairo, the film literally melted in the cameras at times, and when a take was ruined, the act of having to sweep away all the fresh footprints for miles on all sides to restore the "virgin sand" for the next take was grueling. However, David Lean survived it all with the fervor of a zealot and created a film that has stood the test of time. With dynamic performances from Peter O'Toole (as Lawrence), Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, and Claude Raines, the story of Lawrence comes to life with boundless energy, passion, and grandeur.

The story, for the three of you out there who may have not seen the film, is simply (and yet not so simply) the story of T.E. Lawrence. A British officer in Cairo during the World War I, Lawrence is sent on a mission into the deserts of Arabia to find the Prince Feisal. His journey becomes much more as he braves harsh deserts, militant Turks, and the instability of the Arab tribes. What started as a search and find task quickly becomes an organized guerilla campaign against the Turkish army and Lawrence's obsession with uniting the tribes of Arabia.

Put simply, the film is brilliant and it is a miracle that it was ever made. Nothing of its ilk will ever be accomplished again without the digital trickery at our disposal today. That is the film's prime mastery, the fact that every shot and scene is one hundred percent real, without any optical effects or digital illusions.

It is well known that Lawrence of Arabia is arguably Steven Spielberg's favorite film, especially considering that he was instrumental in its restoration in the late 1980s. Much of the film's grandeur and tone found its way into the frames of the Indiana Jones films. The most obvious influence Lawrence had on the series was in the grandiose vistas of the landscapes. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, there are many beautiful vistas that mimic Lawrence of Arabia, most notably the wide shot of Indy and the diggers at sunset over the Well of Souls. There are shots very similar to this one, tonally and compositionally, in Lawrence of Arabia.

It is also important to observe that when Indy is dressed as an Egyptian worker during the Map Room scenes, he looks very much like Lawrence after the Arabs give him Bedouin clothes out of gratitude.

An epic cinema moment.

In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the trek through the jungle with the elephants is very reminiscent of David Lean's treatment of "trek scenes" with the heroic wide shots of the jungle and rivers reflections of Lawrence's own initial trek to find Feisal.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade continues the tradition of sweeping landscapes in the desert, but it also makes a direct homage to Lawrence. Indy's pistol in the film is no longer the Smith and Wesson, but oddly enough, a massive Webley MKVI revolver, the exact same pistol carried by Lawrence throughout his war in the desert.

A film you must watch in
Widescreen, not like this!

Lawrence of Arabia was a heavy influence on the Indiana Jones series in tone and composition, providing adventure and quests through dangerous landscapes with a sense of heroism and nobility. The Indiana Jones films certainly have their share of such ideas, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade especially. If you have not seen this film, I highly encourages you to go rent it and see it immediately. If you love Indiana Jones, you will not be able to take your eyes off this masterpiece.

David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia limited edition DVD has hours of fascinating extra material and even an interview with Steven Spielberg about the virtues of this extraordinary film. (MF)


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