My father originally refused to let me see Lawrence of Arabia when it was shown on TV. He said, if you can’t experience the grandeur of this movie, there’s no point in seeing it. Only on the big screen can you really notice how a little speck on the shimmering horizon of the desert slowly becomes a man on a camel. If you’ve seen the movie, you will understand why he said that, I am sure.
Ebert’s wonderful great movies essay on Lawrence quotes Omar Shariff as saying:
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?
I did end up watching the movie on TV, but I still long for the day when someone, somewhere will screen it in a movie hall. Maybe as part of a retrospective on O’toole or David Lean. Or maybe because some guy who owns a movie hall still remembers what that scene felt like and wishes to provide that experience to a few more people.
Hey, people wish for world peace and no powerpoint and other impossibilities all the time. This is all I ask for.
The scenes I shall speak of here have less to do with the grandeur of the movie and more to do with Lawrence’s character – the way he first understands the mindset of the people he works with, then assimilates it.
A wonderful exchange in the movie is between Lawrence and Auda Abu Tayi, played by Anthony Quinn. Lawrence is there to persuade Auda to fight alongside him and drive out the Turks, but Auda is so far unmoved by his pleas. His final masterstroke comes in the following exchange:
Lawrence: My friends, we have been foolish. Auda will not come to Aqaba. Not for money…
Lawrence: …for Faisal…
Lawrence: …nor to drive away the Turks. He will come… because it is his pleasure.
Auda: Thy mother mated with a scorpion.
The grudging admiration in Quinn’s voice when he utters that last line is one of the movie’s small pleasures.
Aside: There’s a lovely retrospective of Anthony Quinn’s work in Ratnakar’s blog. Check it out.
The other exchange that stood out for me is when Lawrence tells General Allenby about a couple of people he killed.
Lawrence: I killed two people. One was… yesterday? He was just a boy and I led him into quicksand. The other was… well, before Aqaba. I had to execute him with my pistol, and there was something about it that I didn’t like.
Allenby: That’s to be expected.
Lawrence: No, something else.
Allenby: Well, then let it be a lesson.
Lawrence: No… something else.
Allenby: What then?
Lawrence: I enjoyed it.
Observe the look in O’Toole’s eyes when he says this. How the hell did this man miss out on an Oscar?