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Classic films in focus: 'Lawrence of Arabia' (1962)

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Lawrence of Arabia (1962)


Like its protagonist, “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962) has become the stuff of legend, a film so critically acclaimed and celebrated that it is difficult to come to the picture itself without preconceived notions. It won seven Oscars in 1963, including Best Picture and Best Director for David Lean, with ten nominations in all to attest to its immediate success.

Peter O’Toole takes center stage as the legendary T.E. Lawrence, a British officer stationed in Arabia during World War I. Lawrence sets out on an impossible quest to unite the Arab tribes against the Ottoman Empire, and he eventually becomes the leader of a surprisingly effective Arab army. His feats attract the notice of many powerful men, including Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness), General Allenby (Jack Hawkins), and the American journalist Jackson Bentley (Arthur Kennedy). Lawrence, however, struggles with the bloody experience of war and his own fame and suffers many painful losses during his time in the desert.

Come for the splendid scenery, by all means, but stay for the story. The truth about T.H. Lawrence might be shrouded in myth and rumor, as it was even in his own lifetime, but he was beyond doubt an extraordinary man, just as “Lawrence of Arabia” is an extraordinary film.

For more of David Lean’s most memorable pictures, try “Brief Encounter” (1945), “Great Expectations” (1946), and “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957). See Peter O’Toole in “The Lion in Winter” (1968) and “The Ruling Class” (1972). Omar Sharif also stars in Lean’s Oscar-winning drama, “Doctor Zhivago” (1965).

The National Classic Movies Examiner posts new content regularly. Subscribe to this column by clicking the "subscribe" button at the top of this article and get automatic updates when new articles appear. You can also follow Jennifer Garlen on Twitter as @garlengirl.