Lawrence of Arabia: A few facts and dialogues

David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia can be easily be termed one of the greatest and most influential films in the history of cinema. The film’s power is not only in being a vehicle to depict the exploits of Lawrence but also the ambiguity, cruelty, indecisiveness and the vested interests that are an inalienable part of history.

There have been many issues with the historical accuracy of the film, and particularly its portrayal of Lawrence himself, has been called into question by numerous scholars. This is open to debate but it must be remembered that there is poetic licence to interpret history as one likes, so long the version is not claimed to be the definitive version.

I have watched this film several times and  some dialogues have stayed in my consciousness. In fact, this post owes its existence to one of them suddenly coming to my mind as I suddenly woke at 0620 hours on November 5 in this annus horibilis.

One more piece of trivia about the film. The desert scenes were shot in Jordan and Morocco, as well as Almería and Doñana in Spain. The film was originally to be filmed entirely in Jordan and the government of King Hussein was extremely helpful in providing logistical assistance, location scouting, transportation, and extras. Hussein himself visited the set several times during production and maintained cordial relationships with cast and crew.
Ironically, Jordan (among many other Arab countries) would ban the film for what they felt to be a disrespectful portrayal of Arab culture. Egypt (the home of Omar Sharif)  who played  was only Arab country to give the film a wide release, where it became a success through the endorsement of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who appreciated the film’s depiction of Arab nationalism. 

This also raises the point that Sharif, who played the role of Sherif Ali ibn el Kharish, got the role after some of the leading contenders turned it down. Horst Buchholz was the first choice, but had already signed on for another film. Alain Delon had a successful screen test, but ultimately declined due to the brown contact lenses he would have had to wear. Maurice Ronet and Dilip Kumar were also considered. Sharif, who was already a major star in the Middle East, was originally cast as Lawrence’s guide Tafas, but when the above actors proved unsuitable, Sharif was shifted to the part of Ali, a made-up character — a combination of numerous Arab leaders, particularly Sharif Nassir — Feisal’s cousin — who led the Harith forces involved in the attack on Aqaba. The character was created largely because Lawrence did not serve with any one Arab leader (aside from Auda) throughout the majority of the war; most such leaders were amalgamated in Ali’s character. This character was, however, almost certainly named after Sharif Ali ibn Hussein, a young leader in the Harith tribe, who played a part in the Arab Revolt.

The film also had a subcontinent component. I.S. Johar played Gasim – one of the men, who succumbs to fatigue and falls off his camel unnoticed during the night while the band is crossing the Nefud Desert, on way to attack Aqaba from the land. The rest make it to an oasis, but Lawrence turns back for the lost man alone, risking his own life. However, Lawrence’s plans are almost derailed when one of Ali’s men kills one of Auda’s because of a blood feud. Since no Howeitat can retaliate without angering Ali’s followers and sparking further bloodshed, Lawrence declares that he will execute the murderer himself. He is stunned to discover that the culprit is Gasim, the man he had rescued earlier, but he shoots him regardless.
Zia Mohyeddin played Tafas, Lawrence’s Bedouin guide to Prince Feisal, who is shot dead by Sherif Ali for drinking from a well without permission.

However, returning to the dialogues. Here are some examples of my personal favourites.

Murray: If you’re insubordinate with me, Lawrence, I shall have you put under arrest.
Lawrence: It’s my manner, sir.
Murray: Your what?
Lawrence: My manner, sir; it looks insubordinate but it isn’t, really.
Murray: You know, I can’t make out whether you’re bloody bad-mannered or just half-witted.
Lawrence: I have the same problem, sir.

Dryden: Lawrence, only two kinds of creature get fun in the desert: Bedouins and gods, and you’re neither. Take it from me, for ordinary men, it’s a burning, fiery furnace.
Lawrence: No, Dryden, it’s going to be fun.
Dryden: It is recognized that you have a funny sense of fun.

Feisal: In the Arab city of Cordova, there were two miles of public lighting in the streets when London was a village…
Lawrence: Yes, you were great.
Feisal: ..nine centuries ago…
Lawrence: Time to be great again, my Lord.
Feisal: …which is why my father made this war upon the Turks. My father, Mr. Lawrence, not the English. Now my father is old. And I, I long for the vanished gardens of Cordova. However, before the gardens must come fighting.

Bentley: I heard in Cairo that Major Lawrence has a horror of bloodshed.
Feisal: That is exactly so. With Major Lawrence, mercy is a passion. With me, it is merely good manners. You may judge which motive is the more reliable.

Allenby: I thought I was a hard man, sir.
Feisal: You are merely a general. I must be a king.

Brighton: [as Damascus falls and burns] Look, sir, we can’t just do nothing.
Allenby: Why not? It’s usually best.

And the best one…….

Prince Feisal: Young men make wars, and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men: courage, and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace, and the vices of peace are the vices of old men: mistrust and caution.

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