remembering the overlooked and underrated

“Do you think I’m just anybody? Do you?” Lawrence of Arabia Returns

In Motion Pictures on September 4, 2012 at 9:42 pm

One of my favorite moments in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012) happens early on in the film. The android David, played by Michael Fassbender, is watching a movie and studying closely the voice and manner of the man on screen, even repeating lines until he has perfectly mimicked the actor’s delivery. Shortly thereafter, David dyes his hair blonde to look more like the man in the movie. That man is Peter O’Toole. The movie is Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw this, not because I thought it was silly, but because a) few actors besides Michael Fassbender are pretty enough to come anywhere close to looking like O’Toole, and b) it was a wonderfully sly way of hinting at the troubles to come. It’s only a hint, of course, if you’re familiar with Lawrence — in which case you know that if the android’s role model is this fictional version of T. E. Lawrence, then the android is definitely not to be trusted. But if you’re not familiar with director David Lean’s masterpiece, then I have good news for you: it isn’t too late.

I don’t mean catching it on TV or watching it on Blu-Ray. What I mean is that on October 4th, 2012, Lawrence of Arabia is returning to theaters for one day, digitally restored and ready to prove itself, yet again, as one of the best movies ever made.

Most people I talk to who are under 30 have never seen the movie. I can, to a certain degree, understand that. It was made before 1980, takes place mostly in a desert, and is nearly four hours long. But if you call yourself a film lover and have yet to experience the movie that introduced the entire world to Peter O’Toole, you owe it to yourself to set aside twenty bucks and plunk yourself down in a theater. That’s what I’m gonna do. I’ve never seen Lawrence in a theater. I first saw it while still in high school, probably around 1997. I rented it from the video store and watched it on the 18-inch TV in my bedroom. Even on such a small screen, the movie stunned me. The crisp dialogue, luscious music, dangerous landscapes…and, of course, Peter O’Toole.

O’Toole, who retired from acting this past July, was not David Lean’s first choice for the role of Lawrence. O’Toole seized the role only after it was turned down by Albert Finney (and, allegedly, by Marlon Brando). I cannot imagine anyone else in the part. There comes a moment late in the film when his blue eyes light up with rage and he unleashes an army to massacre a group of soldiers. It is a chilling moment. Other actors might be able to convey seething fury, but it’s O’Toole’s eyes that stick with you — cold, blazing, inhuman. It’s a moment I have never forgotten.

If you’re wondering if Lawrence of Arabia is coming to your town, Groggy Dundee at the film blog Nothing Is Written has found this handy link for you. And if, like me, you’re a sucker for both Peter O’Toole, Orson Welles, and Hamlet, you absolutely must check out this interview from 1963.

If you do end up seeing Lawrence (and you should — it even has Alec Guinness!)please write me. I’d love to hear about your experience. Did people dress up? Was the theater full? Did you like having an intermission? Were there historians in the audience pointing out inaccuracies and booing the screen?

But, most of all, did the film move you?

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