Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here today to recall how 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia came to screen life from T.E. Lawrence’s 1926 book — Seven Pillars of Wisdom — and emerged as one of the most widely heralded Hollywood epics of the last half century.
It may come as something of a surprise to many of us that director David Lean’s movie — costarring Peter O’Toole (who won a best actor Oscar as the title character), Omar Sharif (who won a best supporting actor Oscar), Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy and Jose Ferrer — is not universally loved despite winning seven Academy Awards.
We were, for example, surprised by the view of British Author-critic David Thomson that the movie is moronic history based on a tidy conception of character analysis that horribly glamorizes a legend. We don’t agree, despite our respect for Thomson’s view. At least he gives Lean some credit: as a purveyor of international movie packages, he has no equal.
But back to the book-to-movie aspect. Seven Pillars of Wisdom, a densely-written military adventure covering the Arab rebellion against the Turks from Lawrence’s perspective, is by no means an easy read. But our Books2Movies maven Larry Michie pored over the work (for the second time, at least), and loved doing so. (He also loves the movie, so there David Thomson.)
Writes Larry: I have re-read the seven hundred pages of Seven Pillars of Wisdom with some care, and enjoyed it even more than when I first read it many years ago. Although I still gush over what a great movie Lawrence of Arabia is, it is striking how Seven Pillars of Wisdom jolts us with a challenging story every bit comparable with the political drama in the Middle East today.
The book has more tales of derring-do than could be crammed into a dozen movies.
Among the movie’s many excellent aspects is the casting. It is truly startling to see, in the book’s illustrations, the drawings and a bust of T.E. Lawrence because…. They look exactly like Peter O’Toole! (note photo above and one below.– ok, ok, the noses are a BIT different)
In addition, the book illustrations would indicate that (physically) Alec Guinness is perfect as Prince Feisel (the Arab revolutionary leader), and Omar Sharif and Anthony Quinn ain’t exactly chopped liver. (Confession: we are not in complete agreement with Larry on that point. Casting even the most accomplished British or Hollywood actors in major roles as Arabs would raise questions, rightly or wrongly, today.)
Also bear in mind, T.E. Lawrence was a an Oxford man, and before the war he spent considerable time in Syria. His language skills were excellent.
Okay, a couple of movie changes (from the book):
When on the march toward Akaba, a man was left behind in the baking desert and Lawrence risked his life to go back for him. (It is visually one of the most stunning and suspenseful scenes in the movie.) Nothing like that happened in the book.
As Lawrence and crew headed into Akaba, there were haunting, fluttering cheers from the natives on the cliffs. Not in the book.
When Lawrence took a youngster with him, and they arrived at the Suez Canal, the smokestack scene was spectacular. Great scene; never happened.
(P.S.) T.E. Lawrence eventually abridged The Seven Pillars of Wisdom to Revolt in the Desert, and some of it was serialized in the Daily Telegraph.
(P.P.S.) The author donned Arab robes because Feisal asked him to wear them. Lawrence agreed at once as the army clothes were stifling. Soon after, Feisel gave Lawrence an excellent riding camel, which died on the way to Akaba.
Thanks, Larry. Tomorrow, we’ll tackle the subject of Lawrence’s sexuality. So, stay tuned.