having read mark jenkin’s critique of Lawrence of Arabia in the film-clips section, I’m just now getting around to addressing his comments. I’m a retired English and film appreciation teacher, which admittedly doesn’t make me an expert, but it does give me a different perspective. I saw Lawrence in 1963, not long after it was released, and little of my opinion has changed since then. I continue to find Peter O’Toole’s performance fascinating—but only up to a point. Ultimately, it’s a little too histrionic. Brando may or may not have been better in the role. Also, for me, there are one too many musical crescendos, and I had already gotten weary of many of Arthur Kennedy’s somewhat ham-fisted Everyman performances.
That said, the movie is unquestionably much more than a camel opera. There is an eloquence in nearly every shot and sequence by the great cinematographer Freddie Young, conveying the grandeur of the Arabian desert and, equally important, Lawrence’s magnificent obsession. His probable latent homosexuality is subtly, rather than blatantly, suggested. And yes, there may be a good case for a parallel to the gospels, but considering Lawrence’s obvious egomania, I think that makes sense.
The feeling that all this takes place as a fascinating sidebar to Britain’s World War I campaign in the Middle East is also very convincing. Most of the supporting cast is superb, particularly, Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins as General Allenby, and Claude Rains in a wonderfully understated portrayal of Mr. Dryden, a civilian statesman working with Allenby.
One brilliant sequence that incorporates all of the aforementioned occurs just before Lawrence goes into the Arabian desert to find Prince Faisal. He says to Mr. Dryden, “This is going to be fun,” as he lights up a match, then rolls up his sleeve as if to put it out with his fingers, but instead he blows it out. There is an immediate cut from this to the sun rising in the desert where Lawrence is arriving. This series of images at once conveys the unrelenting heat and Lawrence’s capacity to overcome pain in order to achieve a goal.
Falls Church, Va.