Exotic locales! International cast of thousands! Renowned British director creating a sweeping historical panorama based on a thrilling literary masterpiece! See it all on our blog this week!

Hello, everybody.  Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here today to re-create the tone and feeling of those thundering, voice-of-God coming attractions narratives of old that we know and love. I think we’ve done a creditable job — except, of course, for that last sentence. After all, accuracy means something here.

What we are promoting today is a two-part series beginning tomorrow put together by the intrepid Larry Michie, our Books2Movies maven, who has done yeoman work for us in the past tracking the media transformations of From Here To Eternity and All Quiet on the Western Front, among other literary-to-screen titles.

This time, Larry bit off a real challenge, tracing the path of Seven Pillars of Wisdom — T.E. Lawrence’s 1926 military/adventure memoir documenting the Arab rebellion against the Turks — to director David Lean’s 1962 epic, Lawrence of Arabia, starring Peter O’Toole as Lawrence.

The cast also includes Alec Guinness (playing a royal Arab chieftain, of all things), Anthony Quinn (as a fiery Arab tribal leader, of all things), Omar Sharif, Claude Rains, Jack Hawkins, Jose Ferrer and Arthur Kennedy. 

Frank, who likes the movie a lot, once tried to read the book but gave up, complaining that Lawrence’s hyper-rich period prose style is akin to eating a seven-course meal comprised exclusively of deserts. But Larry is a huge fan, and much enjoyed comparing the book to the the movie.

What was left out? What was included? What was included but re-arranged on the big screen? Larry will provide some interesting answers.  He’ll also get into the subject of Lawrence’s sexuality both in the book and onscreen, a topic of some debate among cineastes for decades.

One of the reasons we admire the movie so is that it was produced by one of Hollywood most legendarily determined producers, Sam Spiegel.  Columbia Pictures was aghast that the director’s cut of the movie ran three hours and forty minutes, which meant the movie would be shown at least one less time daily in theatrical release.

But Spiegel fought them…and won, by intransigence and cunning, wrote Andrew Sinclair in his 1987 biography of the producer. He was like Lawrence in the film, slowly putting out a burning match with his fingers.  When asked what was the trick to make it not hurt, Lawrence replied, ‘Of course it hurts. The trick is not minding that it hurts.’

Spiegel was also renowned as one of the shadiest characters ever to negotiate the byzantine byways of producing films in Hollywood.  An Austrian Jew born in 1904, he once sought to play down his ethnic ancestry by changing his name to S.P. Eagle. His past was filled with conflicts with the law on at least two continents, runs for his life, bounced checks (although he died in 1985 a very wealthy man) and a profligate life style (mansions, yachts, Cuban cigars, etc.) whether the money was there or not.

The late novelist-screenwriter John Gregory Dunne told this anecdote:

Once, strolling on a London street with a doxy, Spiegel was allegedly kicked in the rear by a passerby. Without looking around or breaking stride, he allegedly said, ‘The check is in the mail.’

A colorful producer of a first-class movie. Please enjoy Larry’s Lawrence of Arabia blogs.

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