Hardly a day goes by in which I don’t come across a new book that interests me, and the nightstands in my bedroom are a testament to my losing battle to read everything I’d like to. This past weekend, perusing The New York Times Book Review, I read the review of Scott Anderson’s new book, Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East. On to the wish list it went.
Perhaps inevitably, my mind then turned to David Lean’s 1962 epic, Lawrence of Arabia, which, among many other things, introduced the world to the glories of Peter O’Toole. (After seeing the film, Noël Coward is reported to have said to O’Toole, “If you’d been any prettier, it would have been Florence of Arabia“).
My favorite moments in the movie come after Lawrence and the Arabs have attacked a Turkish train and blown it off its tracks. An American journalist named Jackson Bentley (inspired by the real-life Lowell Thomas) is on hand taking photographs. After Auda Abu Tayi (Anthony Quinn) destroys one his cameras, Bentley asks Lawrence if he can take his picture and Lawrence complies…with élan. He strolls along the train as the Arabs cheer and chant his name. Invigorated by their enthusiasm, he climbs on top of the toppled train and walks on its roof, white robes blowing. For a few seconds (1:35-1:42), we see not him, but rather his shadow on the sand: I love this. At 1:44, he is silhouetted against the blazing desert sun; he turns in a circle, right arm raised, then continues to walk–strut!–along the roof as the soundtrack swells, underscoring his sense of glory. Thrilling stuff.
Bonus: Another wonderful moment, at the beginning of the movie, is the ‘match transition’ between the scenes in this clip. Mr. Dryden is played by Claude Rains, of Casablanca (“Round up the usual suspects” and “I’m shocked–shocked!”) fame.