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Lawrence of Arabia

(1962, Lean)

"Lawrence, only two kinds of creatures get fun in the desert: Bedouins and gods, and you're neither."

Shortly after being sent deep into the Arab desert, Lieutenant T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) receives the above warning from his superior, Mr. Dryden (Claude Rains). Bedouins (desert dwellers) and gods are the only ones who would enjoy their time or feel comfortable in the harsh conditions of the desert. With time, it can be said that Lawrence became both.

Lawrence of Arabia follows the life of Lawrence as he joins the Arab forces of Prince Faisal (Alec Guinness) in order to provide help in their fight against the Turks. As he goes deeper and deeper into the desert, and into the Arab culture of his companions, Lawrence rises in power and becomes a key figure in what came to be known as the Arab Revolt. The film focuses greatly on Lawrence's infatuation with this power, and the cult-like following that surrounded him during his time in the desert.

This is only the second David Lean film I've seen, both within the last few months, and it might be one of the most visually striking films I've seen. Lean uses frequent panoramic and wide shots that showcase the vast landscape against which our "hero" has to fight. This "burning, fiery furnace", as Dryden puts it, that dwarfs most men that live in it. But not Lawrence. From the beginning, the film makes an effort not to portray him to be the typical "strong leader", but rather as a mild-mannered, ordinary man that uses his sensibilities and his ability to empathize with his companions and their culture to become one of them, and eventually become the central figure of their rebellion.

O'Toole's portrayal is great as he moves almost seamlessly between charming naivete and dangerous egotism. However, the rest of the cast isn't far behind with most of them having great performances. From Guinness' subtle turn as the manipulative Prince Faisal, to Omar Sharif's blunt but loyal companion. Anthony Quinn, who I also saw recently in Barabbas, has another great performance as the leader of one of the main tribes (and has probably my favorite line of the film), and my fellow Puerto Rican JosÚ Ferrer has a very brief, but great moment as a Turkish officer.

I'm pretty sure somebody here, or in another forum, once told me to see this film "widescreen and in the biggest TV you can". After seeing it, I can see why. Even if the story doesn't resonate with you, the film is worth seeing only for Lean's magnificent direction. Fortunately, he has a good story and great performers to match it.