Lawrence of Arabia / The Boys From Syracuse: London Film Festival

The London Film Festival is always a showcase for the best in new cinema, but for me the Classics/Treasures strand is the highlight.

The David Lean film of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, about the life of T.E. Lawrence, is now fifty years old, and has been restored with in high definition, building on the 1988 ‘director’s cut’, which restored several minutes of footage. The film itself has been criticized for historical inaccuracies as well as creating fictional composites of real-life characters (notably Sherif Ali and Mr Dryden). However, it is beautifully shot and played, and well deserves to be described as one of the greatest films of the past fifty years.

Omar Sharif was in attendance at the film, and although he stated that David Lean wanted Ali to be played by an actor who was Arab/pass for Arab, Alain Delon had a successful screen test for the part and only dropped out because he didn’t want to wear brown contact lenses. As for the part of Lawrence himself, Albert Finney was first choice, with others being considered before Peter O’Toole was cast in his first film role.

Aside from O’Toole and Sharif, who were catapulted to international stardom following their appearances in this film, ‘Lawrence’ also boasts Alec Guinness as the Arab Prince Faisal; Anthony Quinn as Auda abi Tayi, a volatile Arab leader; Claude Rains as Mr Dryden, a government official; and a brief but memorable role from José Ferrer as the sadistic Turkish Bey. There are no female speaking roles, and much of the film is dominated by the beautiful score (by Maurice Jarre), and the huge desert vistas photographed by Freddie Young. The editor was Anne Coates, who was also at this screening, declaring the production was ‘fun’ to work on.

This restoration of ‘Lawrence’ is highly recommended and runs at the BFI Southbank for several weeks following the close of the festival.

The 1940 Mayfair production of Rodgers and Hart’s musical ‘The Boys From Syracuse’ runs 75 minutes in contrast to ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and its 222 minutes. Starring Allan Jones, Irene Hervey, Rosemary Lane, Joe Penner, Martha Raye, and Charles Butterworth, the original source (Shakespeare’s ‘The Comedy of Errors’) is moved to ancient Greece, with a 1940s vibe and a large dose of comedy.

The songs ‘Sing for Your Supper’, ‘Who Are You?’, ‘Falling in Love With Love’, ‘This Can’t Be Love’, and ‘He and She’ are typical Rodgers and Hart, funny, romantic, and memorable. Martha Raye as Luce is all pep and energy, while Joe Penner’s schtick, although dated, fits the new Dromios. Allan Jones and Irene Hervey, real-life spouses, play the stuffy Antipholos of Ephesus and his wife Adriana; while Jones doubles as Antipholos of Syracuse, an altogether more relaxed character, who pursues Lane’s Phyllis, sister to Adriana. Butterworth’s dour Duke (whose guard have a running gag habit of playing a trumpet fanfare whenever he passes through a door) is fun, while Alan Mowbray and the peerless Eric Blore play quarrelling, comic tailors who need money to keep themselves out of jail.