Lawrence of Arabia (1962)


Lawrence of Arabia is a 1962 British epic film based on the life of T. E. Lawrence. It was directed by David Lean and produced by Austrian Sam Spiegel through his British company, Horizon Pictures from a script by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson. The film stars Peter O'Toole in the title role. It is widely considered one of the greatest and most influential films in the history of cinema. The dramatic score by Maurice Jarre and the Super Panavision 70 cinematography by Freddie Young are also highly acclaimed. The film depicts Lawrence's experiences in Arabia during World War I, in particular his attacks on Aqaba and Damascus and his involvement in the Arab National Council. Its themes include Lawrence's emotional struggles with the personal violence inherent in war, his personal identity, and his divided allegiance between his native Britain and its army and his newfound comrades within the Arabian desert tribes.


Act I In 1935, Thomas Edward "T. E." Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) is speeding his motorcycle down a narrow English country lane. He crashes and dies to avoid hitting two boys who are cycling on the wrong side of the road. Later, at a memorial service held for Lawrence at St Paul's Cathedral, reporters try to gain insights into this remarkable, enigmatic man from people who knew him, with little success. Decades earlier during World War I, Lawrence, a misfit British Army lieutenant stationed in Cairo, is notable only for his insolence and knowledge of the Bedouin. Over the objections of a sceptical General Murray (Donald Wolfit), he is sent by Mr. Dryden (Claude Rains) of the Arab Bureau to assess the prospects of Prince Faisal (Alec Guinness) in his revolt against the Turks. On the journey, his Bedouin guide is killed by Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) for drinking from a well without permission. Travelling on alone, Lawrence encounters his superior officer, Colonel Brighton (Anthony Quayle), who orders him to keep quiet, make his assessment of Faisal's camp, and then leave. Lawrence promptly ignores Brighton's commands when he meets Faisal. His knowledge and outspokenness pique the prince's interest. Brighton advises the Arab leader to retreat to Yenbo after a major defeat, but Lawrence proposes an alternative, a daring attack on Aqaba. If taken, the town would provide a port from which the British could offload much-needed supplies for the rebellion. Since it is strongly defended against a naval assault by heavy artillery, Lawrence proposes a surprise attack on the lightly defended landward side. He convinces Faisal to provide fifty men on camels, led by Sherif Ali. As they prepare to leave, two teenage orphan boys, Daud (John Dimech) and Farraj (Michel Ray), attach themselves to Lawrence as his servants. They cross the Nefud Desert, considered impassable even by the Bedouins, travelling day and night on the last stage to reach water. One of the men, Gasim (I. S. Johar), succumbs to fatigue and falls off his camel unnoticed during the night. The rest make it to an oasis, but Lawrence turns back for the lost man alone, risking his own life. When he rescues Gasim, the Bedouins are very impressed, even the formerly sceptical Sherif Ali. Lawrence meets with Auda abu Tayi (Anthony Quinn), the leader of the powerful local Howeitat tribe, and persuades him to turn against the Turks by claiming there is gold in Aqaba. Lawrence's plans are almost derailed when one of Ali's men kills one of Auda's because of a blood feud. Since Howeitat retaliation would shatter the fragile alliance, Lawrence declares that he will execute the murderer himself. He is stunned to discover that the culprit is Gasim, the man he had rescued earlier, but he shoots him anyway. The next morning, the intact alliance overruns the Turkish garrison in Aqaba, but Auda is dismayed to discover that there is no gold there, only paper money. Lawrence appeases him by promising to get gold from the British. Lawrence heads to Cairo to inform Dryden and the new commanding general, General Allenby (Jack Hawkins), of his victory. During the crossing of the Sinai Desert, Daud dies when he stumbles into quicksand. Lawrence is promoted two ranks to major and given arms and money to support the Arabs. Lawrence initially refuses the promotion, revealing that he is deeply disturbed that he enjoyed executing Gasim, but the general brushes his qualms aside and Lawrence comes around. He asks Allenby whether the Arabs' suspicions that the British have designs on Arabia after the Turks are driven out have any basis. The general says at first that he's not a politician, then when pressed that they have no ambitions in Arabia. Act II Lawrence launches a guerrilla war against the Turks in Arabia, blowing up trains on the Hejaz Railway and harassing the Turks at every turn. American war correspondent Jackson Bentley (Arthur Kennedy) makes him world famous by publicising his exploits. With winter approaching, many of the tribesmen go home for the year, leaving fewer and fewer die-hard supporters to continue fighting. On one raid, Farraj is badly injured when the detonator he is carrying blows up prematurely. Unwilling to leave him for the Turks to torture, Lawrence is forced to shoot him before fleeing. Down to twenty men, Lawrence scouts the enemy-held city of Daraa with Ali, but is taken, along with several Arab residents, to the Turkish Bey (José Ferrer). Lawrence is lasciviously stripped, ogled, and prodded, and striking out at the Bey he is severely beaten and thrown out into the street. In Jerusalem, Allenby urges him to go back to the fighting to support his "big push" on Damascus, but Lawrence is a changed, tormented man and, at first, does not want to return. Finally, Lawrence relents and recruits an army, including many killers and cutthroats motivated by money, rather than the Arab cause. They come upon a column of retreating Turkish soldiers, who have just slaughtered the villagers of Tafas. One of Lawrence's men is from the village and, after seeing the carnage, he demands, "No prisoners!" When Lawrence hesitates, another man charges the Turks by himself and is killed. Lawrence takes up the dead man's cry, resulting in a massacre in which Lawrence himself participates with relish. His men then enter Damascus before Allenby's. The Arabs set up a council to administer the city, but they are desert tribesmen, ill-suited for such a task. Unable to maintain the electricity, telephones, and waterworks, and bickering constantly with each other, they soon abandon most of Damascus to the British. Lawrence is promoted to colonel and then immediately ordered home, his usefulness at an end to the real victors. The negotiations are left to Faisal and the British and French diplomats. A dejected Lawrence is driven away in a staff car.