Movie Project #48: Lawrence of Arabia [1962]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Lawrence of Arabia [1962]

Lawrence of Arabia [1962]
Director: David Lean
Writers: T.E. Lawrence (writings), Robert Bolt, Michael Wilson
Genre: Adventure/Biography/Drama
Starring: Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn and Omar Sharif
Running Time: 216 minutes

The word “epic” is thrown around a lot these days, especially when it comes to film. Just this year alone, Cloud Atlas, The Hobbit and The Dark Knight Rises were recipients of this buzz word. But if there were one film to truly deserve the “epic” moniker, it would be Lawrence of Arabia.

Arguably the most intimidating entry in my project — largely due to its nearly four hour running time — I waited until just the right time to finally see the film. Thanks to this year being the 50th anniversary of its release, a fully restored version has been making its way around select theaters nationwide. As such, I spent my Christmas evening at my favorite cinema, the Music Box Theatre, taking in Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen as it was meant to be seen.

Lawrence of Arabia [1962]

The film tells the story of T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole), a man who I knew little about beforehand. Set during World War I, we follow along as Lawrence rises from being an eccentric British Army lieutenant to an improbable leader of the Arab revolt against the Turks. The journey there is anything but conventional.

Lawrence befriends a number of desert leaders along the way, including Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) and Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness). He earns their trust and respect thanks to his noble actions. In one pivotal moment, the Arab group notices a man has fallen off his horse quite a ways back. While the general consensus is that it is too risky to go back for him, Lawrence takes matters into his own hands and rides back alone. He emerges, a small blip in the seering desert horizon, no longer alone, but with the man clinging to his back. This response cements Lawrence’s status as a leader, and soon the Arabs become even more accepting of him.

Lawrence of Arabia [1962]

The fact that Lawrence is able to emerge as a crucial figure in the Arab revolt is nothing short of fascinating. He is anything but a traditional military hero, and it’s easy to see why director David Lean wanted to film his story. Peter O’Toole, in his first leading role, delivers an unprecedented performance as Lawrence, bringing about an unusual form of charisma. He is enigmatic, a rebellious figure who is also a bit effeminate. He’s a man of action, and some of his behavior near the end of the revolt is startling.

The supporting cast is phenomenal as well. Omar Sharif plays a key role as Lawrence’s main compatriot in the desert, with Alec Guinness and Anthony Quinn also performing admirably as important Arab leaders. On the British side of the spectrum, Donald Wolfit and the always reliable Claude Rains play military and political leaders, respectively. Arthur Kennedy makes an appearance as an American war correspondent, looking to make Lawrence out to be a hero. Special mention should be made of José Ferrer, who is only in the film for five minutes but is a driving force in one of the most memorable scenes.

Lawrence of Arabia [1962]

Perhaps the most important figure in Lawrence of Arabia is the desert itself. The cinematography by F.A. Young is simply amazing, and the landscape is used to maximum efficiency. Several scenes show the sun beaming down on those below, with long, sweeping shots that show just how minuscule humans are in the grand scheme of things. An especially memorable moment happens when Sherif Ali is introduced. At first, we see a tiny dot in the distance. In the hazy heat, it’s difficult to tell if there is actually something there or if it is an illusion. Slowly but surely, the small dot grows bigger, and it isn’t too long before Ali enters the scene. What happens next is unexpected, but this moment perfectly encapsulates just how daunting these massive deserts truly are. I can’t recall another film that so effectively uses Earth’s own natural beauty.

Lawrence of Arabia was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning seven of them (including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Cinematography). It’s one of the most widely recognized films of all time, with unanimous praise from most. The accolades are more than deserved, as this is a near flawless work of art. As of this writing, the film is still being shown in a handful of theaters. If it’s playing anywhere near you, this is a cinematic viewing experience you must not miss.

10/10

Movie Project #14: To Kill a Mockingbird [1962]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

To Kill a Mockingbird [1962]

To Kill a Mockingbird [1962]
Director: Robert Mulligan
Genre: Crime/Drama/Mystery
Starring: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Phillip Alford, Brock Peters
Runtime: 129 minutes

Way back in high school, in one of my English classes, I was assigned to read Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Already tired of reading less-than-desirable books (in my teenage eyes) such as ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’, I opted to stick to Cliff Notes for that particular classic. Looking back now, many years later, I wish I had read Lee’s famed novel, especially after finally viewing the 1962 film adaptation.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a snapshot of the 1930s Deep South as seen through the eyes of a six year old named Scout (Mary Badham). Our young protagonist and her brother Jem (Phillip Alford) enjoy life in their small rural town, playing around and making new friends, but they are also wary of this shady character named Boo Radley (Robert Duvall) who lives down the street. Legend has it that Boo is chained to a bed and only comes out at night. He’s also six and a half feet tall, and boasts a diet of raw squirrels and “all the cats he can catch.” Gotta love kids and their wild imaginations.

To Kill a Mockingbird [1962]

While the first act of the film focuses on the playful nature of the kids and their rural upbringing, the film takes a stunning turn once their father, town lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck), is assigned a new case. Atticus is selected to represent a black man, Tom Robinson (the terrific Brock Peters), who has been accused of raping a young white woman. Racism is running rampant during this time period, so naturally Tom doesn’t have much of a fighting chance despite there being an extraordinary amount of evidence to prove he is innocent.

During the actual trial, we are shown an absolutely incredible scene where Atticus delivers a powerful speech that any sane, non-bigoted person would believe and approve of. This is where Gregory Peck is at his finest. He delivers this speech with a sense of conviction in a way that makes everyone in the courtroom (viewers included) give him their full attention. It’s a shame that this moment is wasted shortly after when the jury finds Tom to be guilty anyway.

After the trial, life changes quickly for Atticus and his children. Many of the locals are irate over Atticus defending a black man, regardless of whether he was innocent or not. This hatred is defined by the movie’s villain, Bob Ewell (James K Anderson), the victim’s father and her true assailant. In a drunken stupor, he attacks Scout and Jem, only for them to be saved by the same man they were once scared of, Boo Radley. Funny how that works out.

To Kill a Mockingbird [1962]

To Kill a Mockingbird is an intriguing film that carefully tackles the issue of racism while also providing a nostalgic look at childhood. If I have any reservations, it is that the transition from playfulness to a serious court trial is a bit jarring, as it almost feels like two separate movies were merged together as one. Still, there’s no denying the film’s importance in history, and not enough can be said about Gregory Peck’s unforgettable performance.

While researching this, I learned that the film also had a lasting impression on its cast members. Gregory Peck received the pocketwatch of Harper Lee’s father, became the surrogate father to Mary Badham, and Brock Peters delivered Peck’s eulogy after his death in 2003. If that doesn’t show the lasting importance of this film, I don’t know what would.

9/10