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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Director: David Lean
Cinematography: Freddie Young
Cast: Peter O'Toole (Lawrence), Omar Sharif (Ali), Alec Guinness (Prince Faisal), Anthony Quinn (Auda Abu Tayi)

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
EPIC, EPIC, EPIC, EPIC, EPIC...the most accomplished cinematic wonder, with each and every aspect of moving making captured like never before.

Lawrence of Arabia is a 3hrs 39mins of awesome British saga based on the life of T. E. Lawrence.

Film is set around World War I and begins in 1935. Lawrence, the civilian, is riding near his home Cloud Hills and dies while attempting to avoid a collision with some boys who were on the wrong side. Then there is a short memorial service, with some ingenious humor, where reporters try to find out more about the legend from his clueless and equally awestruck military colleagues.

Now the classic epic begins with a flashback to Cairo and ends with Lawrence of Arabia returning to Britain as a conqueror of Arab hearts.
In-between, there is a story of a lifetime and a daring adventure that involves Lawrence's encounter with destiny and what not!

Due to his knowledge of Bedouin (Arab Nomadic) ways he is sent to meet prince Faisal who has allied with the British in revolt against the Turks. French are financially backing British for political reasons. On way Lawrence's guide is killed by Sharif Ali (Omar Sharif) over drinking from a well without permission. Refusing Ali's aid he now travels alone, singing and echoing all the way through surrounding cliffs.

Soon he meets his superior colonel Brighton who tells him to keep his mouth shut in front of the prince and leave ASAP. But, the ever so insolent, Lawrence does the completely opposite and proposes the unthinkable. Impressed, prince sees the opportunity and solidity of Lawrence's self-belief and provides him 50 men to conquer Aqaba --a port city from landward side. (If you have played Age Of Empire then you will be really surprised by the striking similarities that Microsoft has included in their game!!).

They cross the impassable Nefud desert where Lawrence impresses the doubtful Ali as well, by going back to the desert for a lost companion (Gasim) considered dead. The brave act fetches him the finest Arab attire as a gift from Ali and Lawrence walks the Arabian terrain as a caped crusader. This was the first step in transformation of T. E. Lawrence to beloved Lawrence of Arabia.

For conquering his destination, Lawrence forges an alliance with local Howeitat tribe leader Auda using Aqaba's gold as a tempting bait. This alliance almost fell apart due to a blood feud that results in Ali's man killing one of Auda's. Lawrence intervenes and kills the guilty himself but this killing also disturbs him a lot because the victim was the same Gasim he had saved earlier. Lawrence believes nothing is written/destined and one can make his own destiny but Gasim's death crops a few doubts in his mind. However, Ali consoles him and tells him that he gave the life and he took it--nothing was written/destined. The scene is very strong and sets a dual tone for the movie; one has a confident, victorious Lawrence and other has an unsure, slightly frustrated one.

Turkish in Aqaba are easily overrun, though Auda is left infuriated as there is no gold. Lawrence promises him in written to get gold from Britain and leaves for Cairo to inform General Allenby of his vicory. To reach Cairo he crosses the Sinai desert with two of his beloved servants. One of them Daud, slips into quicksand and dies, this further disturbs Lawrence's mindset.

Allenby promotes Lawrence to Major, which he initially refuses to, as he considered himself responsible for two unnecessary deaths. Though Allenby finally convinces him. Here Lawrence asks the General if Britain have any plans to colonize Arab as well. Allenby tells him he's is no politician, and later to have Lawrence in his confidence, says British have no such ambition.

Now the next mission is to conquer the sophisticated and modernized Damascus. Before that Lawrence, with the help of Ali and Auda, hampers the Turkish progress by blowing off and looting their trains.
In the meantime, an American journalist Bentley makes him world famous by publishing his dare devil victorious spree. In a train raid Lawrence's servant Farraj is badly injured and he shoots him to avoid torture by Turks.

With the arrival of winter most of his men leave for home. He is left with Auda and his 20 men.
Lawrence is captured by Turks while roaming around in the city of Daraa as an Arab (overlooking the fact that his skin might give him away because he wants to be as much as an Arab as anyone).
Here he is ogled-at by the Turk superior Bey, severely tortured, and finally thrown out in a very pathetic mental state. It's not shown explicitly but the scene has enough abstract information that implies the Turk superior might have raped him as well.

Down and broken he reaches Jerusalem where Allenby counsels him and successfully prods him for the final frontier--Damascus.

Lawrence again recruits an army most of which consists of devoted Arabs who fight for the Arabic cause and consider Lawrence as some sort of prophet. But there are a few immoral sinners driven by money as well though Lawrence ignores slight protest by Ali and Auda.
On the way they come across a brutally demolished village of one of the sinner. Filled with rage they shout "No prisoners" and slaughter whole of the culprit Turkish legion. This massacre leaves Lawrence in a state of pondering.

He reaches Damascus before Allenby and conquers it. Under his administration Arabs set up a national council to run the city. Allenby reaches Damascus and asks his army to sit out and wait. The well known British shrewdness comes to the fore and general's experience and foresightedness sees the oncoming unseen. Without the British technical and medical assistance, soon the city's administration falls apart.
The nomadic desert people find it very strange to handle all the waterworks, electricity, telephones, medicines etc and soon start throwing kitchen sinks at each other. Arabs finally abandon the crumbling city and British move in without any protest. This leaves Lawrence, promoted to colonel now, momentarily dejected and he laughs at his predicament.

In the end prince Faisal is negotiating some political deals with British and French authorities in a room. The young guns of military, finding the situation incomprehensible leave and Lawrence is driven away in a car.

Some Trivia:
This classic brought a relatively unknown Peter O' toole to a never fading glory and immortalized him. Omar Sharif--unknown to the west then--was originally to play the role of Lawrence's murdered guide but later got the Ali role as no other actors were found suitable. The makeup work of the movie was really commendable. Many people actually mistook Alec Guinness as real Prince Faisal while shooting!

And Anthony Quinn was so much into his role that he himself applied makeup using Auda's real picture!

Highly Recommended! It is said nothing is perfect so going by that, a:

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