Monday, December 10, 2012

Of Sand and Sun

I've heard it said that movie theaters promoted drinks more heavily than food when "Lawrence of Arabia" was showing.

Their logic was that all that sand and sun would make patrons thirsty. Pretty sound reasoning, don't you think? I've never looked up any figures on concession sales at movie theaters — I don't even know if it is possible to acquire that kind of data, anyway — but "Lawrence of Arabia" premiered 50 years ago today — smack dab in the middle of the Christmas season, which can be quite cold in most locations in the continental U.S. (and Alaska, too, which had been a state for a couple of years by that time).

If the combination of desert scenery and promotions for drinks drove cold drink sales up at that time of year, that was quite a trick.

Of course, that was in the days before multi–screen theaters. In those days, when a theater got ahold of a box–office hit, it stayed there indefinitely, so it is quite possible that such promotions were more successful a few months later.

Well, whatever the influence on drink sales may have been, "Lawrence of Arabia" made more money than any other movie released in 1962, and there were several greats — "Dr. No," "To Kill a Mockingbird," "How the West Was Won."

David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" outdid them all, making more than twice as much money as its nearest competitor, "The Longest Day."

The American Film Institute ranked it among the Top 10 movies of all time in 2007.

The beginning of the movie may have been a bit unsettling for some moviegoers, but it really was no different from the beginnings of other biopics, like "Gandhi" or "Amadeus" two decades later.

It started at the end of the story, when T.E. Lawrence died in a motorcycle accident in 1935, then flashed back to Lawrence's time in the Middle East, where he aided the Arabs in their rebellion against the Turks.

In the role that established him as an actor, Peter O'Toole brought the enigmatic British officer to life.

"Sweeping" is a word that is often used to describe the sprawling kind of film that "Lawrence of Arabia" really was. It isn't always appropriate, but, in this case it was, especially with Maurice Jarre's Oscar–winning score that really did sweep over the audience.

O'Toole was helped considerably by being surrounded with an all–star cast. For modern moviegoers, Alec Guinness will be virtually unrecognizable in his role as Prince Feisal — but he gave his usual stellar performance.

Omar Sharif made his film debut in "Lawrence of Arabia" and cemented his reputation in the movie community a few years later with his performance in "Doctor Zhivago."

Yes, it was a great cast. But it was O'Toole's performance in the title role — which was nominated for but did not receive the Best Actor Oscar — who truly made the picture the classic that it was.

It was, without question, a great role. And a challenging role, too. The same character that called himself "an ordinary man" also successfully encouraged others to fight, imploring them to "[Take] no prisoners!"

It took a special acting talent to make that work on the screen.