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Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia

Hello MoFos! It is time again for another edition with At the Theater with The Gunslinger45. I have not done a review recently because the summer movie season is coming to an end. Mad Max and the MCU movies have come and gone, and I look now to the horizon of the award movie season and the return of Star Wars. In the meantime, September is proving to be a rich month for me when it comes to classic cinema being rereleased in the theaters. I have already preordered several tickets for this month, and I got to see the first of which this weekend. Now this is a film I have already seen. Though I admit my first viewing was rather lacking. The last time I saw this film I gave it an… average rating. Now many factors went into that rating. I watched this a few years ago when I was still stationed at Fort Hood with the Army. I saw it on a Friday evening after one of those weeks where not even a Red Bull could keep me awake. So I was nodding in and out during certain scenes. But the biggest issue with my viewing experience came from the fact I was watching in on my 12.5” by 7” screen laptop. Needless to say, this is far too small a screen to view a film such as this on. So I gave the film a 2.5 out of 5. A score I give to films I usually feel are mediocre. But a movie such as this does not get the praise it does by being mediocre. I also assign 2.5 ratings to films I feel deserve a rewatch, and this score is an interim rating until I can see it again. And I knew for me to get the best possible viewing experience I must watch the film on the big screen. Well the day finally came. You all have heard me prattle on about how much I enjoy the cinematic experience and how I feel it is necessary for certain films. I have spoken of how seeing films like Ben-Hur, Blade Runner, and 2001: A Space Odyssey propelled films I have already loved higher up on my list of all time favorites, and how when I saw my favorite film Taxi Driver on the big screen it was a sublime and almost otherworldly experience. And walking into this film I was hoping that I would have a far more positive viewing experience on a screen measured in stories versus one measured in inches. And guess what? I most certainly did.

Lawrence of Arabia is a film based off the real life British officer TE Lawrence. Colonel Lawrence gained quite the notoriety during World War I as the man who united the tribes of Bedouin Arabs into a single Army. He led these Arab fighters to victory after victory against the Turks of the Ottoman Empire, eventually leading to their defeat and an Allied victory. The film is one part historical drama, but it is also a look at the man himself. While watching the film I could not help but see some similarities to another famous military officer, General George S. Patton; at least similarities in their portrayal in their respective films. Both men are renowned military minds; both are celebrated heroes in their respected wars; both are men of great ambition; of unique character; and both were very successful on the battle field. But they were certainly not carbon copies. Patton was feared by the Germans, because he was the best. And he was the best because he loved battle. George C. Scott’s famous speech in the beginning of Patton where he talks of “killing the Hun bastards and using their living guts to grease the treads of his tanks” shows that well enough. Patton was also very direct. He could outmaneuver anyone on the battlefield, even the Desert Fox Rommel. He was also a man who fought for his own ego and glory. Feeling it was his destiny to be the best soldier who ever lived. Patton knew what he was and wore it on his sleeve.

Lawrence is portrayed as a different sort. Lawrence in the film is far more conflicted. Lawrence is British Officer and a man of war. All be it a bit more eccentric then his compatriots, but still he is a fighting man. But during the final scene before the intermission when describing to his superior officer about the two men he killed, and the Turks killed in the taking of Aqaba, he confesses he enjoyed it. But Lawrence is far more conflicted about it. In fact he comes to loathe bloodshed. After this Lawrence even goes a different way. He tries to be far more merciful. He fights and kills yes, but also takes more prisoners. Even rising up to halt the firing of belt fed machine guns on a Turkish train. Key word being try. Lawrence was also much more a master of surprise. He travels through the Nefud Desert to take Aqaba (a task though to be impossible), and he does quick strikes against the Turkish railroad system in several ambush / sabotage missions. His is further conflicted in loyalty. Patton fought for glory, and so does Lawrence at first. Lawrence also fights for the Allies but also becomes conflicted when he tries to fight for Arab independence and trying to secure a free nation for them. Lawrence is a man caught between two worlds. Caught between English duty to King and Country, but also between the Arabs he has come to endear himself too. In fact he is constantly shown not quite fitting in to either world at one point. Too much an Arab for other English Officers, but still not an true Arab to the Bedouins since he is English. Making this not only a epic historical piece, but also a fantastic character study.

This film is blessed with a fantastic cast. Lawrence is brought to life by one of the greatest actors ever to live, Peter O' Toole. Whose piercing blue eyes were able to show Lawrence’s fear, his struggles, but also his confidence, and burning ambition. Supporting him is Omar Sharif as Ali, Alec Guinness as Prince Faisal, Anthony Quinn played Auda adu Tayi, and Jack Hawkins portrayed General Allenby. Many more great British actors are in the film as well, but these are the big name players. Each one gives a powerhouse performance. But what I really want to talk about is the cinematography and scenery. WOW! Being able to see this on the big screen where it belongs was amazing! So much was lost on my initial viewing due to the tiny scale of my laptop. But at the cinema these same scenes become legendary experiences. The scene where you watch the sun rise as Lawrence is first shown in the deserts of Arabia is breathtaking and iconic. Before the taking of Aqaba when they must cross the Nefud Desert is enthralling and still suspenseful even though I know the outcome. To feel the seats rumble beneath me during the raid at Aqaba and several other battle scenes is thrilling. And finally during one quiet moment when Lawrence is starring up at the Arab sky to see the many stars sparkle at the night sky is simply beautiful. And the way Lean was able to show such grand scale in far away shots, close ups, and even shots that mixed the two together was superb. These were scenes I had forgotten when I was watching them on my laptop. But at the cinema, these rich images are forever burned into my mind forever.

I was very fortunate to see this film on the big screen. I am glad I was patient enough to wait and see this movie in its proper format. Now I can truly say this is a cinematic masterpiece. There is no other way to describe it. And I can safely say THIS is my favorite English film. Sorry Odd Man Out.