Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

I finally saw Lawrence of Arabia, and I feel like I’ve reached a new point in my movie-watching career. This is often referred to as the epic of all epics, and there’s no hyperbole to that claim. Lawrence of Arabia truly is one of the greatest movies ever made.

Clocking in at a staggering 3 hours and 47 minutes, the film follows Lawrence and his involvement in World War I, from his time as a Lieutenant in Cairo to his final promotion to Major after Damascus. Every last minute is captivating.

There are so many reasons this movie holds up across its enormous length. First and foremost is the acting. Peter O’Toole makes his feature debut as Lawrence of Arabia, and I doubt there has ever been a better first performance. O’Toole captures a perfect image of Lawrence, combining flamboyancy, charm, arrogance, optimism, naivete, and stubbornness all across the film. You may root for him at first as he fights for Arab independence, a cause he may or may not truly believe in. You might lose faith in him after he breaks down and succumbs to base slaughter upon a Turkish village late in the film. No matter what your feelings toward him, though, you will be interested in his journey and evolution, as he finds himself some sort of Messiah to the Arab peoples of the Middle East.

The supporting cast is just as fantastic. This is my first time seeing Alec Guiness outside the Obi-Wan Kenobi role, and I yearn for more already. He is perfectly serpentine in his role as Prince Faisel. I actually wish he had been featured more, but alas, the story did not call for it and so it was not to be.

Other performances were equally enjoyable, including Anthony Quinn as a hotheaded Arab tribe leader, Omar Sherif as Sherif Ali, and Arthur Kennedy as reporter Jackson Bentley. Every supporting character is well-played and memorable, so even though there are a lot of them to take in, you’ll enjoy meeting and seeing them every step of the way.

There were tons of other things that I adored about this movie. The cinematography is always lauded, and deservedly so. Shot in spectacularly widescreen 70mm, Freddie Young composes beautiful scenic shots that you never might have thought possible in such an arid desert setting. There’s a lot of deep focus and panoramic visions going on, and all of them are a delight to take in. I’d probably enjoy this movie even if I had to watch it on mute, simply because the images are so breathtakingly awesome.

There are plenty of fantastic sequences throughout the film’s near-four hour run, but the beginning of the second act most caught my heart. From the moment they begin to assault the train all the way up to Lawrence recovering and being praised as he walks atop it, I have never been so infatuated with a single cinematic scene. It was simply mesmerizing.

One of the last things I’ll note is the film’s score. There are plenty of films with memorable music, but Lawrence of Arabia has such an elegant, majestic score whose tone matches the depth and scope of the film perfectly. I sincerely applaud Marrice Jarre on one of the greatest and most suitable film scores of all time.  The music is great enough to sit through the beginning, ending, and intermission just to hear it without pictures. I don’t think I could ever hear this score enough.

Lawrence of Arabia is truly a one of a kind film. If you haven’t seen it, there’s simply nothing to compare it to, and you are doing yourself a disservice as I have done to myself all these years. I highly recommend this movie for anyone who appreciates film, and strongly suggest you not let the runtime ward you off. It will be four hours well spent. I eagerly look forward to the next time I watch Lawrence of Arabia, one of the greatest films of all time.

Final rating: 10/10

–James A. Janisse


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