Four original featurettes: "Wind, Sand and Star: The Making of a Classic", "Maan, Jordan: The Camels Are Cast", "In Search of Lawrence" and "Romance of Arabia"
Exclusive documentary: The Making of Lawrence of Arabia"
A conversation with Steven Spielberg
Original newsreel footage
New York premiere
Lawrence of Arabia
Roger Ebert / Jan 1, 1962
What a bold, mad act of genius it was, to make ''Lawrence of Arabia,'' or even think that it could be made. In the words years later of one of its stars, Omar Sharif: ''If you are the man with the money and somebody comes to you and says he wants to make a film that's four hours long, with no stars, and no women, and no love story, and not much action either, and he wants to spend a huge amount of money to go film it in the desert--what would you say?''
The impulse to make this movie was based, above all, on imagination. The story of ''Lawrence'' is not founded on violent battle scenes or cheap melodrama, but on David Lean's ability to imagine what it would look like to see a speck appear on the horizon of the desert, and slowly grow into a human being. He had to know how that would feel before he could convince himself that the project had a chance of being successful.
There is a moment in the film when the hero, the British eccentric soldier and author T.E. Lawrence, has survived a suicidal trek across the desert and is within reach of shelter and water--and he turns around and goes back, to find a friend who has fallen behind. This sequence builds up to the shot in which the shimmering heat of the desert reluctantly yields the speck that becomes a man--a shot that is held for a long time before we can even begin to see the tiny figure. On television, this shot doesn't work at all--nothing can be seen. In a movie theater, looking at the stark clarity of a 70mm print, we lean forward and strain to bring a detail out of the waves of heat, and for a moment we experience some of the actual vastness of the desert, and its unforgiving harshness.
By being able to imagine that sequence, Lean was able to imagine why the movie would work. ''Lawrence of Arabia'' is not a simple biography or an adventure movie--although it contains both elements--but a movie that uses the desert as a stage for the flamboyance of a driven, quirky man. Although it is true that Lawrence was instrumental in enlisting the desert tribes on the British side in the 1914-17 campaign against the Turks, the movie suggests that he acted less out of patriotism than out of a need to reject conventional British society, choosing to identify with the wildness and theatricality of the Arabs. There was also a sexual component, involving his masochism.
T.E. Lawrence must be the strangest hero ever to stand at the center of an epic. To play him, Lean cast one of the strangest of actors, Peter O'Toole, a lanky, almost clumsy man with a beautiful sculptured face and a speaking manner that hesitates between amusement and insolence. O'Toole's assignment was a delicate one. Although it was widely believed that Lawrence was a homosexual, a multimillion-dollar epic filmed in 1962 could not be frank about that. And yet Lean and his writer, Robert Bolt, didn't simply cave in and rewrite Lawrence into a routine action hero. Everything is here for those willing to look for it.
Using O'Toole's peculiar speech and manner as their instrument, they created a character who combined charisma and craziness, who was so different from conventional military heroes that he could inspire the Arabs to follow him in a mad march across the desert. There is a moment in the movie when O'Toole, dressed in the flowing white robes of a desert sheik, does a victory dance on top of a captured Turkish train, and he almost seems to be posing for fashion photos. This is a curious scene because it seems to flaunt gay stereotypes, and yet none of the other characters in the movie seem to notice--nor do they take much notice of the two young desert urchins that Lawrence takes under his protection.
What Lean, Bolt and O'Toole create is a sexually and socially unconventional man who is simply presented as what he is, without labels or comment. Could such a man rally the splintered desert tribes and win a war against the Turks? Lawrence did. But he did it partially with mirrors, the movie suggests; one of the key characters is an American journalist (Arthur Kennedy), obviously inspired by Lowell Thomas, who single-handedly laundered and retailed the Lawrence myth to the English-language press. The journalist admits he is looking for a hero to write about. Lawrence is happy to play the role. And only role-playing would have done the job; an ordinary military hero would have been too small for this canvas.
For a movie that runs 216 minutes, plus intermission, ''Law-rence of Arabia'' is not dense with plot details. It is a spare movie in clean, uncluttered lines, and there is never a moment when we're in doubt about the logistical details of the various campaigns. Law-rence is able to unite various desert factions, the movie argues, because (1) he is so obviously an outsider that he cannot even understand, let alone take sides with, the various ancient rivalries; and (2) because he is able to show the Arabs that it is in their own self-interest to join the war against the Turks. Along the way he makes allies of such desert leaders as Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif), Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness) and Auda Abu Tayi (Anthony Quinn), both by winning their respect and by appealing to their logic. The dialogue in these scenes is not complex, and sometimes Bolt makes it so spare it sounds like poetry.
I've noticed that when people remember ''Lawrence of Arabia,'' they don't talk about the details of the plot. They get a certain look in their eye, as if they are remembering the whole experience, and have never quite been able to put it into words. Although it seems to be a traditional narrative film--like ''Bridge on the River Kwai,'' which Lean made just before it, or ''Doctor Zhivago,'' which he made just after--it actually has more in common with such essentially visual epics as Kubrick's ''2001'' or Eisenstein's ''Alexander Nevsky.'' It is spectacle and experience, and its ideas are about things you can see or feel, not things you can say. Much of its appeal is based on the fact that it does not contain a complex story with a lot of dialogue; we remember the quiet, empty passages, the sun rising across the desert, the intricate lines traced by the wind in the sand.
Although it won the Academy Award as the year's best picture in 1962, ''Lawrence of Arabia'' might have been lost if it hadn't been for the film restorers Robert A. Harris and Jim Painten. They discovered the original negative in Columbia's vaults, inside crushed and rusting film cans, and also about 35 minutes of footage that had been trimmed by distributors from Lean's final cut. They put it together again, sometimes by one crumbling frame at a time (Harris sent me one of the smashed cans as a demonstration of Hollywood's carelessness with its heritage).
To see it in a movie theater is to appreciate the subtlety of F.A. (Freddie) Young's desert cinematography--achieved despite blinding heat, and the blowing sand, which worked its way into every camera. ''Lawrence of Arabia'' was one of the last films to actually be photographed in 70mm (as opposed to being blown up to 70 from a 35mm negative). There was a hunger within filmmakers like Lean (and Kubrick, Coppola, Tarkovsky, Kurosawa and Stone) to break through the boundaries, to dare a big idea and have the effrontery to impose it on timid studio executives. The word ''epic'' in recent years has become synonymous with ''big budget B picture.'' What you realize watching ''Lawrence of Arabia'' is that the word ''epic'' refers not to the cost or the elaborate production, but to the size of the ideas and vision. Werner Herzog's ''Aguirre, the Wrath of God'' didn't cost as much as the catering in ''Pearl Harbor,'' but it is an epic, and ''Pearl Harbor'' is not.
As for ''Lawrence,'' after its glorious re-release in 70mm in 1989, it has returned again to video, where it crouches inside its box like a tall man in a low room. You can view it on video and get an idea of its story and a hint of its majesty, but to get the feeling of Lean's masterpiece you need to somehow, somewhere, see it in 70mm on a big screen. This experience is on the short list of things that must be done during the lifetime of every lover of film.
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color
John Box John Stoll Dario Simoni
Best Cinematography, Color
Best Film Editing
Anne V. Coates
Best Music, Score - Substantially Original
John Cox (Shepperton SSD)
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium
Robert Bolt Michael Wilson The nomination for Wilson was granted on 26 September 1995 by the Academy Board of Directors, after research at the WGA found that the then blacklisted writer shared the screenwriting credit with Bolt.
Director David Lean originally wanted Albert Finney for the title role. Katharine Hepburn urged producer Sam Spiegel to cast 'Peter O'Toole (I)' .
After deciding to cast an unknown actor in the role of Lawrence, David Lean arranged a screen test for Albert Finney shortly before the release of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), which made Finney a star. The extensive screen test involved costumes, sets and included actors Ferdy Mayne and Laurence Payne, and was shot over four days at a cost of £100,000. In addition to Lean, the test was attended by cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, assistant director Gerry O'Hara, editor Anne V. Coates, producer Sam Spiegel and Anthony Nutting, an expert on Arabian history. It was unanimously agreed that the screen test was excellent, and Finney was offered the part of Lawrence but turned it down, as he did not want to be committed to the long-term contract he would have been required to sign.
Although 216 minutes long, this film has no women in speaking roles.
The 1989 version was restored by Robert A. Harris, who produced a new 65mm preservation interpositive from the original camera negative (including outtakes and alternate shots) and color separations. The camera negative was in its final months of usability.
Marlon Brando was also considered for the lead role.
Director Cameo: [David Lean] the voice of the motorcyclist who yells, "Who are you?" across the Suez Canal (he is not, however, the actual motorcyclist).
The train wreck sequences were filmed in Spain.
Almost all movement in the film goes from left to right. David Lean said he did this to emphasize that the film was a journey.
The real T.E. Lawrence was actually riding from the Bovington Army Camp to his cottage in Cloud Hill when his tragic accident occurred. The scenes where Lawrence was tortured and assaulted by the Turks was actually from the book "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom," the supplementary material of "Revolt in The Desert." Due to the humiliation which he suffered, Lawrence refused to publish "The Seven Pillars," his life's work, but did publish it exclusively for 120 people only. The 120 people who read the book were delighted with it, and the book was published sometime after Lawrence died.
For the 1989 re-release, many scenes of dialogue were missing. As a result David Lean actually had actor 'Peter O'Toole (I)' return and re-record some of his dialogue from more than 20 years previously.
While filming, Peter O'Toole referred to co-star Omar Sharif as "Fred," stating that "no one in the world is called Omar Sharif. Your name must be Fred."
T.E. Lawrence declined invitations to film his writings as early as 1926, when Rex Ingram suggested the idea. Later, Alexander Korda tried to launch a version starring Leslie Howard, written by John Monk Saunders and directed by Lewis Milestone. Over the years, such stars as Robert Donat, Laurence Olivier, Cary Grant, Burgess Meredith, and Alan Ladd were all promoted as leads. Screenwriter Michael Wilson finally convinced Lawrence's brother to sell the film rights to Sam Spiegel by submitting his screenplay for approval in 1960.
David Lean never saw any dailies while filming. He only missed one day of work, though the production endured many illnesses.
Many parts of the movie were true to fact and some of the actors actually looked like the real people they portrayed.
Production was halted to move to Spain, but filming did not resume for three months because writer Robert Bolt had been jailed for participating in a nuclear disarmament demonstration. He was released only after Sam Spiegel persuaded him to sign an agreement of good behavior.
The film credits list Sir Adrian Boult as the conductor. According to the liner notes on the Varese Sarabande (VSD 5263) release of the original soundtrack, composer Maurice Jarre actually conducted every note of this recording with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Sir Adrian's name was listed for contractual reasons, apparently because he was the chief conductor of the orchestra at that time.
To film Omar Sharif's entrance through a mirage, Freddie Young used a special 482mm lens from Panavision. Panavision still has this lens, and it is known among cinematographers as the "David Lean lens".
The 35mm master interpositive produced by Technicolor in 1966 had reel 2A flipped so that left and right became reversed on screen in all prints, including initial video releases. During the Harris restoration, David Lean himself pointed out this error and it was corrected.
Charles Gray re-voiced some of the vocal performance of Jack Hawkins for the 1989 restored edition
Gamil Ratib was dubbed by Robert Rietty.
Was voted the 18th Greatest Film of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
The character of Jackson Bentley is based on the real-life journalist and travel expert Lowell Thomas, whose writings first brought Lawrence to public attention.
During an appearance on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (1962) in the 1970s, Peter O'Toole was describing just how long the movie took to make by referring to the scene when Lawrence and Gen. Allenby, after their meeting, continue talking while walking down a staircase. According to O'Toole, part of the scene had to be reshot much later, "so in the final print, when I get to the bottom of the stairs, I'm a year older than I was when I started walking down them."
Arthur Kennedy was an 11th-hour casting choice, replacing Edmond O'Brien who had become ill and had dropped out after rehearsals.
'Dileep Kumar' was offered the role of Sherif Ali but declined.
Peter O'Toole finally mastered his camel-riding technique by adding a layer of sponge rubber under the saddle to ease his bruised backside...a practical innovation quickly adopted by the actual Bedouin tribesmen acting as extras during the desert location filming.
Peter O'Toole claims he never viewed the completed film until nearly two decades after its original release, by which time he was highly impressed.
Factual errors: At several points in the movie, Turkish soldiers are shown using Browning Model 1919A6 .30 caliber air-cooled machine guns. The Turks would have been using German Maxim machine guns. At other times, they are shown using Short-Magazine Lee-Enfield rifles which were standard issue to the British Empire forces. The Turks would, in all likelihood, have been carrying German Mausers.
Continuity: When Lawrence is showing off in his new Arab dress, the shadows are initially long, but in the next shot have suddenly shortened.
Revealing mistakes: When Lawrence is showing off his new Arab dress, his robes are blowing in the wind. Yet the bushes in the background are completely still.
Anachronisms: When Lawrence arrives at the Suez Canal, the ship which comes into focus is a late-'50s Blue Funnel Line ship.
Factual errors: When Lawrence is being escorted across the desert on his way to Faisal's camp, his Bedu guide offers to share his food with him. Lawrence is somewhat reluctant but is anxious to show that, unlike other Brits, he is at one with the desert people. He reaches into the guide's proffered dish and takes a morsel - but with his left hand, and he does it twice. The Bedu shows no reaction, but he should: among the desert Bedouin tribes, who eat by hand, the left is kept away from the food as it is the hand with which they clean themselves after defecating. It could be that the guide is observing another Bedouin custom, that of warm hospitality and unstinting generosity to strangers, and is too polite to mention the gaffe (he would probably be aware that many outsiders do not know of the taboo), but it is more likely that it is a genuine error. Peter O'Toole is left-handed, and though he goes to great lengths throughout the rest of the movie to do things right-handedly (Lawrence was right-handed), this was probably a momentary lapse that no one noticed, or thought to mention.
Continuity: When Lawrence is crossing the desert with the prince's 50 men he starts to drift off. He is seen looking at his own shadow on the right side of the camel, but in the next shot the shadow is right under the camel. (See also Revealing Mistake)
Revealing mistakes: Further to the change of the shadow position during the "drifting" scene, this shot is of an apparent evening/dusk period where the shadow is almost directly under the camel, revealing it to be a "day-for-night" shot which must therefore have taken place near noon.
Continuity: When Col. Brighton and Lawrence are having a discussion after just having destroyed the train carrying some horses, the shadow on Col. Brighton's face changes from covering his entire face when both speakers are shown and the sun is behind him, to appearing only beneath the collar of his shirt when he is the only person in the frame.
Continuity: When traveling north to Damacus, Lawrence and Ali look to their right to see the artillery at night. The British forces were to their west, which would have been their left.
Anachronisms: When Allenby and Lawrence visit the officers' bar in Cairo, immediately after Allenby says "Shall we go outside?", a modern-day motorized vehicle is briefly visible driving by the distant window in the right-middle portion of the frame.
Revealing mistakes: When Gasim is walking through the sun's anvil after falling off his camel, he begins to shed various items. During a reverse tracking shot, the dolly tracks are clearly visible in the sand.
Anachronisms: Contrail over Damascus when Allenby in discussing the Arab Council on his balcony.
Continuity: In two consecutive shots of Bentley passing by the fountain in Jerusalem, the shadows are completely different.
Movie Filming Locations
Almería, Andalucía, Spain
Aït Benhaddou, Morocco
Cobham, Surrey, England, UK
(where Lawrence falls off motorcycle)
El Jafr, Jordan
Jebel Tubeiq, Jordan
Merthyr Mawr, Bridgend, Wales, UK
Sevilla, Andalucía, Spain
Shepperton Studios, Shepperton, Surrey, England, UK
Wadi Rum, Jordan
Originally released at 222 minutes. Shortly after premiere which took place in London in December 1962, 20 minutes were deleted from the film. The film was re-released in 1971 when a further 15 minutes were deleted. In 1989 the restored version was released at 216 minutes.
There are (or were) three versions, the original release version, the cut version that replaced the original release several months into its initial run, and the current "restored" version. (The additional cuts in 1971 are not enumerated here.) Although the restored version is close to the original, there are several differences. The whole beginning was heavily cut in version 2. Cuts included the shot of goggles on the tree, Brighton's "remarkable man" line to the priest, early shots of the drafting room scene, the whole officer's mess sequence where he's called a clown and upsets water on someone, and some dialogue between the General and Dryden. All of these scenes are back in version 3, with one small exception. When Lawrence leaves his drafting table to see the general, the shot originally continued. One of his companions picks up the note that Lawrence left and says, "He has, too." "Has what?," says the other. "Gone to see the General." In version 3 you can still see the fellow reaching for the note at the end of the shot. Some dialogue between Lawrence and Feisal just before Lawrence starts across the desert was cut in version 2 and has been restored in version 3. In the original, when Abu Tai says, at the water hole, "Come and visit me," there was a direct cut to a long pan in his tent that starts with the face of a small girl. In version 2 there was, unaccountably, a new shot added, that tracks forward over the rocks of a cliff to reveal Tai's tent village below. This shot had music that was not in the original print, and was the only thing ADDED to the short version. The next shot was the same pan as the original, only shortened, starting after the face of the small girl. (The new shot adds nothing to the continuity and why it was added is a mystery.) In version 3, both the shot of the tent village from the cliff and the full tent pan with the girl's face are used. In addition, there several shots of Lawrence's men arriving at Tai's tent village that were not in version 1 or 2, which is the only apparent addition of new material in version 3. When Lawrence returns to Allenby just before the intermission, there were several bits of dialogue in version 1 that were cut for version 2; also a shot of Lawrence looking up at the soldiers on the balconies. All these have been restored in version 3. The last shot before the intermission was a long shot of Allenby, Dryden and Brighton walking along a circular terrace. This shot was greatly shortened for version 2, and the full shot was not been restored in version 3. Likewise, the the beginning of the first shot after the intermission was truncated in version 2 and has not been restored in version 3. Some brief dialogue in the scene with Bentley and Feisal was cut in version 2, and has been restored. In version 2, the whole sequence with Allenby and Brighton in a British-looking living room with a coal fire was removed completely. In the restored version this scene is back, but it still isn't complete. In version 1, there was some dialogue where Allenby says of Lawrence's reports, "These aren't lies, then, they're poetry," which isn't in version 3. In the scene where Allenby tries to get Lawrence to continue fighting, there was quite a bit of dialogue cut in version 2. In part, Allenby says, "I have a little rose garden. I'm a gardening sort of general... You write poetry?" Lawrence: "Yes, not very good." Allenby: "The last poetry general we had was Wellington." Lawrence: "Me and him." This is all missing in version 2. A little later on in the sequence, Allenby says, "That's a feeble thing to say. No wonder your poetry's bad." The last line about poetry was cut in version 2. None of the dialovue cuts in this sequence was restored in version 3. When Lawrence is held in the Turkish bey's quarters, Ali waits outside all night before Lawrence is finally tossed out on the ground. As Ali waits, dogs bark, dawn begins to show down the alley. These shots were cut in version 2. (The removal of hese shots was damaging because they had indicated that considerable time passed with Lawrence in the bey's quarters.) These shots have been restored in version 3, although possibly not in the identical length and order as version 1. There's a staff meeting in a tent, where two British senior officers tell of their maneuvers, with a map. This was either severely shortened or eliminated altogether in version 2. These scenes have all been restored. However, apparently the officers voices have been dubbed, so apparently the sound track was lost.
The original 2-disc Limited Edition and later 1-disc editions featured incorrect color timing and numerous sound mix glitches. The "SuperBit" edition released in 2003 features different (and correct) color timing, much less digital artifacting, more image on the bottom portion, the fixed soundtrack, and a re-created opening title sequence due to the original optical being overly blurry. Ironically, Robert Harris, who helmed this SuperBit Edition remaster, is credited as "Robert Harns".
Rated G in 1983 on Capacitance Electronic Disc (CED), also commonly known RCA Selectavision Videodisc.
In accordance with a 1995 decision by the Writers Guild of America to give Michael Wilson a co-writing credit (based on documentary evidence that he had been a major contributor to the script), newer copies such as the DVD and the prints made for the 40th anniversary re-release feature the altered credit: "Screenplay by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson" (previously, only Bolt's name was listed).
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AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (1998) (TV)
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Full Cast and Crew
Writing credits (WGA)
T.E. Lawrence (writings)
Robert Bolt (screenplay) and
Michael Wilson (screenplay) originally uncredited
Cast (in credits order) verified as complete
Peter O'Toole .... T.E. Lawrence
Alec Guinness .... Prince Feisal
Anthony Quinn .... Auda abu Tayi
Jack Hawkins .... Gen. Lord Edmund Allenby
Omar Sharif .... Sherif Ali ibn el Kharish
José Ferrer .... Turkish Bey (as Jose Ferrer)
Anthony Quayle .... Col. Harry Brighton
Claude Rains .... Mr. Dryden
Arthur Kennedy .... Jackson Bentley
Donald Wolfit .... Gen. Sir Archibald Murray
I.S. Johar .... Gasim
Gamil Ratib .... Majid
Michel Ray .... Farraj
John Dimech .... Daud
Zia Mohyeddin .... Tafas
Howard Marion-Crawford .... Medical officer (as Howard Marion Crawford)
Jack Gwillim .... Club secretary
Hugh Miller .... RAMC colonel
rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Bruce Beeby .... (uncredited)
Fred Bennett .... Sergeant at Cairo headquarters (uncredited)
John Bennett .... (uncredited)
Robert Bolt .... Officer with pipe gazing at Lawrence (uncredited)
Peter Burton .... (uncredited)
Tim Clutterbuck .... Turkish pilot (uncredited)
Barbara Cole .... Nurse (uncredited)
Captain John Crewdson .... Turkish pilot (uncredited)