A Film Dedicated to Lillian and Dorothy Gish : La Nuit Américaine (François Truffaut, 1973)

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La Nuit américaine (Day for Night) is one of those films I watched during the first years of my cinematic exploration. I remember liking back then but when I saw it for the second time years after, at the Outremont Theatre in Montreal, my reaction to it was completely different. I the right way. I can now definitely say it’s one of my most favourite French films. And it was directed by François Truffaut. So, in any way, it’s a MUST. I saw Thoughts All Sorts‘s Non-English Language Blogathon as a good occasion to tell you more about the awesomeness of this film.

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This 1973’s film is actually about the making of a film, Je vous présente Pamela (Meet Pamela), which tells the story of a newlywed couple whose bride eventually falls in love with her step-father and vice-versa. But Meet Pamela itself isn’t so relevant. What’s important about La Nuit américaine is to see the work of the cast and crew on the film. It’s something fascinating to witness and does make you want work on a film, despite the lot of problems that comes with that. Interestingly, the director, Ferrand, is played by Truffaut himself. The rest of the cast is as fascinating, but we’ll come back to it.

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The title, La Nuit américaine, refers to this process of putting a dark filter in front of the camera to simulate a night scene, but during the day. The name of this process in English is called day for night. It’s a film about the glory of cinema. The thought of it is omnipresent in the characters’ minds from the beginning until the end. They live for it. Simple as that. And Joëlle (Natalie Baye) says it:

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François Truffaut was an important figure of the French New-Wave with movies such as Les 400 Coups or Jules & Jim, but can we talk about New Wave in La Nuit américaine‘s case. Je ne pense pas. The thing is, we mostly associate this movement with the late 50s and the 60s. There are echoes to the New Wave style in La Nuit américaine, but it wouldn’t be the best representation of the movement either. I think the celebration of cinema actually could be what we associate the most with the French New Wave in this case. After all, the Truffauts and Godards of this world were all convinced cinephiles. La Nuit américaine, as it is indicated in an article by Le Cinéma Avec un Grand A might have been more influenced by Hollywood and Italian cinema. Also, if you compare it to Jean-Luc Goddard Le Mépris (Contempt) another film about the making of a film, an example that truly belongs to the French New Wave era, well, there’s no comparison. Besides, when La Nuit américaine, Jean-Luc Godard, who apparently hated the movie, sent a letter to Truffaut criticizing the way the movie industry is depicted and calling him a liar. He also reproached him a too mainstream approach. Truffaut was not pleased at all with Godard’s snobbism and, unfortunately, this led to the end their long life friendship, which Godard regretted, especially after Truffaut’s death. He died quite young, in 1984 at the age of 52. If you want to learn more about that, I suggest you watch the numerous Criterion DVD supplements. There are a lot of interesting stories.

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But despite Goddard’s criticism, La Nuit américaine was well-received and won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, and Truffaut was even nominated for Best Director. The film was even called “the most beloved film ever made about filmmaking”. And I won’t deny it. It’s an intelligent film, but also an accessible one that everybody can enjoy. There’s something very agreeable in it. There’s a bit of everything: comedy and drama. Just the beginning makes you realize you’re about to watch something intriguing. It starts with a man (Jean-Pierre Léaud) coming out from a subway station. He then walks toward an older man (Jean Pierre Aumont) and slaps him. Immediately after, director Ferrand (Truffaut) shots “Cut!” The camera then shows us the film crew and we understand these are only two actors, Alphonse and Alexandre (we never know their last names), and that a film is being shot. I think it would be great to see this film for the first time without knowing anything about it. The surprise effect in this scene would be truly significant.

A good element of Truffaut’s film is the variety of the casting.

Once again, François Truffaut cast Jean-Pierre Léaud, who had starred in his first important film, Les 400 Coups, as Antoine Doinel. Léaud would star in a total of seven movies directed by Truffaut. Playing the role of the tragic Alphonse (who is cast as the groom in Meet Pamela), the young actor plays with an admirable easiness. There’s a lot of innocence in his character, but he’s also one that doesn’t like to be fooled. The mix of it is delicious. He knows perfectly how to play the diva because, yes, Alphonse is one!

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British actress Jacqueline Bisset was cast in the role of Julie Baker (who plays Pamela in Meet Pamela). The beautiful actress is an absolute wonder in this film. There’s a true softness in her acting and it fits perfectly her character. Her accent adds a touch of authenticity to her character which is truly appreciated. Jacqueline Bisset is an admirable actress.

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Jean-Pierre Aumont, who plays Alexandre, is cast as Pamela’s step-father in the film they are making. The charisma that surrounds this actor is magic. And we notice a great teamwork with co-actress Valentina Cortese. A charming actor, Jean-Pierre Aumont is hard to miss when he’s in a room. His acting is very natural and easily appreciable. No extravagance, sometimes is the best thing.

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Severine, who plays the role of Pamela’s step-mother, was portrayed by the one and only Valentina Cortese. Her acting is more eccentric but it fits her character perfectly. So, we’re OK with that! What’s not to love about her? Her dynamism, her passion, and her devotion to the role are contagious. The Italian actress received her only Oscar nomination but lost it to Ingrid Bergman for Murder On the Orient Express (which also stars Jacqueline Bisset). The Swedish actress herself was in great admiration with her performance.

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Winner of Four Césars, Nathalie Baye is now known as one of the most important actresses of the French movie industry. Bu,  in 1973, she was only at her third role. Interestingly, her role of script girl was modeled on Truffaut’s own script girl Suzanne Schiffman. Billy Wilder even asked Truffaut if he used his own script girl for the film. When she heard about it, Natalie Baye felt a bit insulted, but she later saw it as a huge compliment. The role she plays, Joëlle, might be my favourite one in the film. The script girl would do anything to make sure the problems during the shooting are solved even if this means not sleeping at night. Natalie Baye acting is admirable and convincing. She was on the right track to win these numerous Cesars.

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Who could think of a better person than the director of THE film to play the director of A film? François Truffaut’s acting is very humble, so he reminds convincing, even if acting was not his first vocation. It’s interesting how he sort of had to direct La Nuit américaine, but also the film within the film: Je vous présente Pamela.

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I cannot talk about all the actors but I’ll conclude with Bernard Ménez who plays the prop man. A funny one! I like the way his role is highlighted which makes us realize the importance of a good prop. His part is secondary but, somehow, he seems to always be there. I like the way his character works on the film and how he dares saying what he thinks.

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The rest of the actors were all brilliant and also deserved their praising: the Canadian Alexandra Stewart, the English David Markham (by the way, I just learnt he was born the same day as me. Interesting!), the French Dani, Jean Champion, Nike Arrighi, Jean-François Stévenin, Xavier Saint-Macary, and even author Graham Greene in an uncredited role!

La Nuit américaine offers a screenplay that, as I said, celebrates the art of film. Not only with discussions about cinema but also with the simple choice of great and well-researched lines. Each one of them is perfectly associated with the characters’ personality. This is important because what they say is as significant as what they do. Truffaut is one of those directors who understood that everything is relevant to a film. Narratively, La Nuit américaine could be used as a TO-DO example. This screenplay and the various lines inspire a devotion to the cinema but also reflect all its sides, the good and bad ones.

Here are a few examples of what I considered to be the best lines of the film and this, for various reasons:

1- Ferrand: “The Godfather” is showing all over Nice. It’s wiping out every other movie.

2- Ferrand: Making a film is like a stagecoach ride in the old west. When you start, you are hoping for a pleasent trip. By the half way, you just hope to survive.

3- Alphonse: [after being dumped by his girlfriend] I need money to go to a whorehouse.

4- Alphonse: I’m sure Ferrand is wrong. Life is more important than films.

5- Alphonse: Are women magic?

6- Ferrand: What is a film director? A man who’s asked questions about everything.

7- Ferrand: We’ll shoot the scene when you find a cat that can act!

8- Madame Lajoie: What is this – filmmaking? You call that a business? You’ve no morals. Everybody sleeps with everyone! What is it but a dirty lie. You call that normal? Filthy cinema- you’re a plague on the world! You smell of filth! You’ll pay for your sins! I despise you!

9- Alexandre: Remember when we first met in Hollywood?

Séverine: No dates! Never mention numbers! Or I’ll tell everyone you had a facelift!

Alexandre: Not yet. It’s coming! [Séverine laughs]

10- Alphonse: In your opinion, are women magic?

Alexandre: Some are, yes. Others, no!

11- Alphonse: Bernard, are women magic?

Bernard: Not women, their legs! That’s why they wear skirts.

12- Joelle: Everyone’s nuts on this movie!

13- Julie: I’m sick of disguises. I’m quitting movies. I know that life is rotten.

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George Deleru’s magnificent score is something we can’t miss. It was perfectly composed in function of what’s happening in the film. At the beginning of the story, when they are shooting this scene where Alphonse slaps Alexandre, we feel the music follows the movement of the cameras, the machinery, and the actors. It’s a beautiful melody that makes the film even more agreeable to watch. For more tense scenes, Delerue uses a more tense sound. One of my favourite examples is when Julie Baker arrives at Nice at the airport.

Actually, this might be one of my most favourite scenes from the film for the way it’s shot. First, we see a very long shot of Julie’s plane arriving at the airport. Flashes start to appear. We’re not sure where they come from but they just announce numerous paparazzis that welcome Julie in the next shot. Delerue’s composition is what makes this scene kind of fascinating and make it looked like a brilliantly staged chaos. Unfortunately, I was not able to find a clip from this scene.

Music is also at its full glory in this scene where we only see the cast and the crew working. We don’t hear anyone speaking. Only images. The music, once again, accompanies perfectly the action. This scene is sort of presented to us like a movie clip.

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La Nuit américaine is an absolute favourite of mine now and I do believe it’s the best film about the making of a film ever made. It’s beautiful, it’s entertaining, and it’s clever. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you find the Criterion DVD (or BlueRay) and do it as soon as possible. Hoping you’ll be as fascinated by it as I am.

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A film is a story, but the making of it is also one. And who could tell us this in a better way than the legendary François Truffaut?

Many thanks to Thoughts All Sorts for hosting this blogathon. Talking about other things than classic American films is refreshing and a good change once in a while. I thought of writing this article in French. Mais bon, we’ll stick to our habits.

Click here to access the other blogathon articles!

À la prochaine!

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Source

– ” La Nuit américaine (film).” Wikipedia. 5 July 2018. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Nuit_am%C3%A9ricaine_(film). Accessed Jul 28, 2018.

– “La Nuit américaine, l’envers du décors selon François Truffaut.” Le Cinéma avec un grand A. 22 Jan 2018. https://lecinemaavecungranda.com/2018/01/22/la-nuit-americaine-lenvers-du-decor-selon-francois-truffaut/. Accessed Jul 28, 2018.

“La Nuit américaine (trivia).” IMDB. nd. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070460/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv. Accessed Jul 28, 2018.

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Ginger Rogers Grows Younger: The Major and The Minor

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The enthusiast Michaela from Love Letters to Old Hollywood and Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood are hosting together an event celebrating one of the most iconic on-screen duos to mark the history of classic films: The Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers Blogathon. This dancing duo surely deserved this accolade and to be honoured among various pieces of writing. The participants are free to write either about a film they made together or not. I went with the second option as my choice was The Major and the Minor, a comedy directed by Billy Wilder and starring Ginger Rogers. However, her male partner in this picture was not Fred Astaire, but the elegant Ray Milland.

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I saw this film for the first time last summer when I decided to do a Ray Milland movie marathon (he definitely became a favourite of mine since). As I loved the film, I saw this blogathon as a good opportunity to tell you more about my appreciation for this film. Recently, with Lawrence of Arabia and Rebel Without A Cause, I discussed more profound movies, but, even if this one is lighter, I think you’ll spend a lovely time reading my article and me, to write it.

The Major and the Minor was Billy Wilder’s break in Hollywood as a director. Indeed, this was the first film he directed on the Californian territory. But, Billy Wilder was a multitalented man and had already made his proofs in Hollywood as a screenwriter with important classics such as Ninotchka (Ernst Lubistch, 1939), Midnight (Mitchell Liesen, 1939) or Ball of Fire (Howard Hawks, 1941). The Major and the Minor was co-written with Charles Brackett but this film surely had the Wilder touch and none of those made after lost it. Billy Wilder proved to be a great master of film noir with Double Indemnity or Sunset Boulevard, but he also had the reputation to be one of the best comedy directors of the talkies era. The best example would be Some Like It Hot (which happens to be my favourite film, in case you didn’t know), but The Major and the Minor fits this category perfectly as well.

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Ginger Rogers plays Susan Applegate. After various small jobs in New York, she finally comes to the point to be a scalp massager for the Revigorous System. After a client, Albert Osborne (Robert Benchley), tries to take advantage of her, she decides to quit the city to go back home to her parents in Stevenson, Iowa. She has saved enough money for the one-way ticket. Well, that’s what she thinks. As she arrived at the station to buy her ticket, she is informed that the price augmented and there’s no way to make an exception for her. But Susan isn’t ready to give up. Inspired by a little girl next to her, she decides to transform herself into a 12 years-old child. Thus, she manages to obtain a half-price ticket. In the train, the conductors are suspicious and when they surprise her smoking, a chase in the train starts as they are definitely sure she isn’t who she pretends to be. Trying to find a place to hide, she is led to a room occupied by a handsome and charming gentleman, Major Philip Kirby (Ray Milland), who is certainly surprised to see this little girl appearing in his private room. Seeing nothing but a  frightened child and believing her story of stomach hurting, he suggests her to sleep in his room for the night. Oh, what a situation!

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The train has to stop due to flooding on the tracks. But they are not far from the Military school where the Major works and live. His fiancée, Pamela (Rita Johnson) is here to welcome him back with her father, Philip’s commanding officer. But when they discover he is not alone in his compartment (and with a woman of all things!) panic ensues. However, after a few explanations and realizing she is just an innocent 12 years old child, Susan (known by them as Su-su) is welcomed to their place before her mother can come from Stevenson to take her home. Susu is to share a room with Pamela’s younger sister, Lucy (Diana Lynn) who happens to be very brilliant and is not fooled by Susan’s masquerade. She is a brilliant girl, passionate by sciences. If she first confront’s Susan and seems cold towards her, it doesn’t take long for the two ladies to become good friends despite their age gap.

All seems to go for the best but what would be a film without some problems. Well, the major (!) one is that Susan has fallen in love with Philip. Only, he thinks she’s only 12 and he’s engaged. Oh, poor Susan. What a situation! And things don’t get easier when she has to spend days with young boys from the military school and constantly play a role. But, she hasn’t said her last word…

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When she starred in The Major in the Minor, Ginger Rogers already had won an Oscar (for Kitty Foyle) and, at 31, she was an established star. Beautifully wearing darker hair, the actress his introduced to us in the film as a woman with confidence and produces an enormous aura around her. You know she is that type of person everybody notices in a room of 100 people. She shows an impressive assurance but also adds the necessary touch of vulnerability when transformed as Susu. Her acting reminds simple in the right way and fits a movie that doesn’t need any extravagances. As reported on IMDB, Rogers herself appreciated the simplicity of the plot and accepted to play a character with whom she could connect. She herself, as a young woman, once had to pretend she was a young girl in order to obtain a cheaper train ticket. Ginger also saw Billy Wilder’s potential as a director and, therefore, the man who was to become one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed directors made his American directional debuts with an already highly celebrated star. I haven’t seen a ton of Ginger Roger movies but I’ve seen enough to say that she definitely is one of my favourite actresses. Her energic performance in The Major and the Minor helped to build this admiration. We also have the chance to see Ginger execute a few tap dance steps in a scene of the film. She hadn’t lost her swing! Actually, that’s what really makes her looks younger, more than the costumes!

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Fun fact: Susan’s mother in the film was played by Ginger Roger’s own mother, Lela Rogers!

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And Ray Milland

Ah, Ray… After I did this movie marathon I mentioned previously, I became obsessed with him. What an actor! In The Major and the Minor, he is both charming and funny. We understand perfectly how Ginger Roger’s character can’t resist his charm! It’s very easy to like him. Ray’s chemistry with Ginger Rogers in this film is a lovely and believable one. A few years later, he starred in another Wilder movie, The Lost Weekend, for which he won the Best Actor Oscar.

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A feminist film?

This is not the type of things I often write about on my blog, but I couldn’t help myself making a few interesting observations while I was watching the film. Despite a plot where the woman plays the role of a child so, therefore, has to obey a certain authority, The Major and the Minor has a lot to teach us about the evolution of female characters in classic films. First, the main character, Susan Applegate, is a woman who is presented to us as a leader instead of a follower or a damsel in distress. From her first on-screen appearance in the film, we can’t help noticing Ginger Rogers assurance and independence in the way she talks and behave. She, therefore, enters in the same league of the strong female characters portrayed by the Dietrichs and the Stanwycks of this world. She’s not fooled by the men who flirt with her in an impolite way (her customer Mr. Osborne and the elevator guy at Osborne’s apartment), and win the battle by breaking an egg on both their heads. Also, by playing the role of a young girl in order to obtain a cheap train ticket, she is shown as a woman who has a strong mind telling her not to give up. [SPOILER] She will even go further by disguising herself as her own mother and this is all part of her plan to obtain what she wants: the man she loves. [END OF SPOILER]

Another character who is presented to us as a fairly interesting young woman is Pamela’s younger sister, Lucy, played by Diana Lynn. She is clever, loves science and isn’t afraid to do what she judges best even if it’s to defy authority. She also is lovely looking and isn’t presented to us as the caricatural nerd girl, which proves us that women can be both beautiful and clever! Susan and Lucy make a terrific and winning duo.

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The Wilder touch

“The Wilder message is don’t bore–don’t bore people.” (Billy Wilder)

And he was never boring! The Major and the Minor is both clever and entertaining as any of Wilder’s films are.

When we watch this movie, we can easily realize how “Wilderian” it is. One particular scene that reflects perfectly Billy Wilder touch is when Susan, back home, is seen lying in an hammock on her balcony. She looks at butterflies bumping into a lamp. Lost in her thoughts, she’s thinking about what the Major told her when he saw the little boys from the military school flirting with her. That a woman is like this lightbulb and the boys are like these crazy butterflies who are attracted by her. Touches of nostalgia, simplicity, and subtle humour like this one can be found in other Wilder movies such as Sabrina or Love in the Afternoon.

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The Wilder touch also resides in the dialogues. Well, I don’t know who between Wilder and Bracket wrote which line, but they worked as a team more than once after all. Some of the best examples would be the following ones:

1- Conductor #1: You’re from Swedish stock, eh?

Susan Applegate: Yes sir.

Conductor #2: If you’re people are Swedish, suppose you say something in Swedish.

Susan Applegate: I vant to be alone.

This is, of course, a reference to Swedish actress Greta Garbo’s famous line in Grand Hotel (Edmund Goulding, 1932), “I want (vant) to be alone”. Billy Wilder brilliantly used the reference!

2- Mr. Osborne: Really, Miss Applegate, you shouldn’t be so business like. First, we’re going to have a little drinkie-poo, then a little bitie-poo, and a little rumba-poo.

I think the use of this particular vocabulary is very Wilderian. Spontaneous and straight to the point!

3- Major Kirby: Call me Uncle Philip. Do you have a nightie with you?

Susan Applegate: Yes, Uncle Philip.

Major Kirby: Well, then, suppose you go in there and get changed.

Susan Applegate: You really think so?

Major Kirby: Why, sure! And just sing out if you have any trouble with your buttons.

Susan Applegate: Oh, I haven’t had any button trouble in a long, long time.

4- Major Kirby: Oh, if Miss Parrot could only see me now!

Susan Applegate: Miss who?

Major Kirby: Miss Jean Parrot, my dancing teacher. I was 12 and she was 40. I had a terrific crush on her.

Susan Applegate: That’s an awkward situation.

Major Kirby: Ah, the poetry in Miss Parrot’s feet demonstrating the tango.

Did you say tango?!

5- Major Kirby: You know Su-Su, you’re a very peculiar child.

Susan Applegate: You bet I am.

And of course, there’s the idea of transformation or role changing. The Major and the Minor isn’t the only movie where a character adopts a new role, a new identity or a new personality in order to go forward. We can think of Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis who become girl musicians in Some Like It Hot in order to hide from a gang of gangsters. There’s also Audrey Hepburn in Love in the Afternoon who pretends she has a ton of lovers. There’s Jack Lemmon who becomes an English gentleman at night in Irma La Douce. Oh, and without revealing anything, there’s also THE SPY in Stalag 17. And these aren’t the only examples.

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If you haven’t seen The Major and the Minor, don’t miss it. It might not be Wilder’s most discussed film, but that only makes it a good enough reason to discover it. We don’t see the time passing when watching it as its humour, fun acting and pep captivate us.

A huge thanks to Crystal and Michaela for hosting this blogathon. Don’t miss the other entries here.

See you!

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Blue Eyes in the Desert: Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962)

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Ah, Lawrence of Arabia… An illustrious man and the subject of one of movie history’s best films. It is British movie director David Lean who created this masterpiece. With movies like Lawrence of Arabia (of course), Great Expectations The Bridge on the River Kwai, Doctor Zhivago and Brief Encounter, he is considered to be one of England’s best filmmakers. So, that’s not without any reason that Maddy from Maddy Loves Her Classic Films has decided to host a blogathon in his honour. And I agree, it was about time! Lawrence of Arabia is without any doubt my favourite Lean film. So, why not take the occasion to visit the many wonders that compose this epic historical drama?

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Released in 1962, Lawrence of Arabia is based on the life of Lieutenant T.E Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) and tells his exploits in the Arabian territory during the First World War. His first mission is to find Prince Faisal and take note of the situation of the revolt against the Turks. Lawrence, who wants to help the Prince and the Arab people take the lead of an expedition to Aqaba, a Turkish territory. His plan is to do a surprise attack by passing by the Nefud Desert. The Turkish guns in Aqaba are facing the water because they don’t expect anybody to be able to cross the desert. But for Lawrence of Arabia, nothing is impossible.

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Of course, in this almost four hours movie, a lot more happens but it would be too long to tell. But keep in mind that Lawrence of Arabia is a man who doesn’t give up, or almost not. That expedition to Aqaba is not the only one, but perhaps the most impressive one in the film.

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Where do we start with Lawrence of Arabia? You see, this film was brilliantly directed by David Lean and everything about it is sensational. No wonder it won seven Oscars and was nominated for three others.

Wins:

  • Best Picture (Sam Spiegel)
  • Best Director (David Lean)
  • Best Original Score (Maurice Jarre)
  • Best Cinematography (Frederick A. Young)
  • Best Art Direction (John Box, John Stoll and Dario Simoni)
  • Best Film Editing (Anne V. Coates)
  • Best Sound (John Cox)

Nominations:

  • Best Actor (Peter O’Toole)
  • Best Supporting Actor (Omar Sharif)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay (Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson)
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David Lean with his Oscar

Lawrence of Arabia was based on the autobiographical book Seven Pillars of Wisdom written by Thomas Edward Lawrence and published in December 1926. Despite being based on a true story, the film takes some liberties and some events or characters depicted are fictionalized. For example, Sherif Ali played by Omar Sharif is a combination of various Arab leaders. American Journalist Jackson Bentley played by Arthur Kennedy was based on American journalist Lowell Thomas who built fame around Lawrence of Arabia. Some scenes in the film are highly fictionnalized as well, such as the Battle of Aqaba.

 

 

But, this didn’t prevent the film to mark history.

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Exploration

Since I went to England, Lawrence of Arabia has taken even more significance for me. First, in Oxford, I visited the beautiful Magdalene College that the British Lieutenant attended between 1910 and 1914. Also, during my trip, I was reading the first volume of Peter O’Toole’s autobiography. I also felt as if I was in the movie when I visited Seville in Spain last year. Scenes from the film were shot there, including at the majestic Plaza de España and at the Alfonso XIII hotel. That hotel is probably one of my most favourite places ever in the world. I went there, an ordinary tourist, in this very chic place just to have a coffee and read. The waiters were so nice and NOT SNUBBISH AT ALL. Ah, Spain…

Magdalene (Oxford)

 

 

Hotel Alfonso XIII (Seville)

 

 

Plaza de España (Seville)

 

 

The film was also shot in other places in Spain (Playa del Algarrobico, Cabo de Gata, Desierto de Tabernas, Genovese Beach in San José, Tabernas, Almería, and Carboneras), in Morroco (Ait Benhaddou and Desert South of Ouarzazate), in Jordan (Wadi Rum, Al Jafr, Jebel Tubeiq, and Ma’an), in UK (Chobham Common in Surrey, Merthyr Mawr, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, Englan, and Shepperton Studios), and in the USA (Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area in California).

With a lot of on-location shooting, David Lean’s film is one that makes you travel a lot. Well, after all, the characters are constantly moving from one place to another. What an adventure! We guess it was a long shooting, especially for Peter O’Toole who appears in almost all the scenes!

An image worths a thousand words:

This is something David Lean understood perfectly. Despite being a long film, Lawrence of Arabia doesn’t contain a ton of unnecessary dialogues. It’s a movie of contemplation. The director, along with his editor and cinematographer, perfectly knew how to use the power of editing or create very strong images to let us know what’s happening. For example, one of my favourite moment is when, at the beginning of the film, Lawrence blows a match and it cuts to a desert scene. It’s just one of my most favourite transitions ever.

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There are some scenes with no lines that are quite long, but so mesmerizing. I can think of the scene where Lawrence rescues Gasim. The various transition between the sun shining, Gasim walking, Daud (one of Lawrence’s servants) waiting, and Lawrence looking for Daud make us realise that there’s no time to lose.

 

 

At university, I had a class called Landscape Paintings and Films and, for my final essay, I wrote about desert landscapes and discuss Lawrence of Arabia and The Ten Commandments (interestingly, at one point in the film, Lawrence compares himself to Moses). I compared both the films to the landscape paintings of Charles-Théodore Frère (for Lawrence of Arabia) and Frederick Goodall (for The Ten Commandments). Even if David Lean’s true inspiration for the cinematography of his film was John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) it was still interesting to make the comparison.

Paintings by Charles-Théodore Frère

 

 

Scenes from Lawrence of Arabia

 

 

Scenes from The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)

 

 

I had the chance, I think it was last year, to see the film on the big screen. And this was one of my best cinematic experiences ever. For the beauty of its landscapes, the film is meant to be seen on big screen. I was in awe during the whole viewing. The majestic scenes become even more majestic, Peter O’Toole blue eyes and Omar Sharif’s dark eyes were even more beautiful, and everything became more powerful. If you ever have the chance to see this film in a movie theatre, don’t hesitate a second.

Casting

Marlon Brando, Albert Finney, Anthony Perkins and Montgomery Clift were all choices for the role of T.E Lawrence. But, with all due respect (as they are all brilliant performers), I honestly think they would have been all wrong for the role. Finally, it’s the one and only Katharine Hepburn who insisted on producer Sam Spiegel to cast Peter O’Toole for the role. And she was so right! Peter O’Toole’s performance in this film is one of my favourite ever. I am always amazed by it. The way he talks, the way he moves, the way he delivers his lines are the work of a true genius. A relatively unknown actor at the time (having no major films to his credits), Peter O’Toole found his most iconic role with Lawrence of Arabia. He was 30 when the film was released.

Peter O’Toole as Thomas Edward Lawrence

 

 

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The real Thomas Edward Lawrence

Fun fact: You know that I’m a fan of David Bowie. Well, his character, Jack Celliers, in Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (Nagisa Oshima, 1983) shares resemblance to T. E Lawrence according to Nick Nobel of the Austin Film Society. And we agree! Interestingly, the film that takes place in a Japanese POW camp during the Second World War was compared to David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai.

 

 

For the role of Prince Faisal, Laurence Olivier was the original choice, but the part went to Alec Guinness instead. This was not his first film under the direction of David Lean, nor his last. He also appeared in The Bridge on the River Kwai, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, Doctor Zhivago, and A Passage to India. Guinness plays the role with a beautiful humbleness. His chemistry with some of the actors such as Peter O’Toole and Arthur Kennedy make his scenes some of the best. While he was not Arab like the real Prince Faisal, he reminded convincing for the roles and, during the shooting, he was even mistaken for the real prince by locals in Jordan!

 

 

Egyptian actor Omar Sharif had already several movies to his credits in the Egyptian movie industry, but it’s with Lawrence of Arabia that he made his big break to Hollywood. In the fictional role of Sherif Ali, he creates an amazing contrast with Peter O’Toole’s portrayal of Lawrence of Arabia. With an Oscar nomination, he was immediately noticed. He became a close friend of Peter O’Toole. His entrance in the film is pretty unforgettable. [SPOILER] ok, he kind of kills Lawrence’s Bedu guide [END OF SPOILER], but what will be the film without him? His role is considered to be one of the most difficult supporting roles in movie history. Is it due to the fact that Sherif Ali is a very ambiguous character?

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Mexican actor Anthony Quinn had already an established career in Hollywood when he made Lawrence of Arabia. His character, Auda Abu Tayi is one we don’t forget! A dynamic role that was played with a lot of cleverness.

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Arthur Kennedy was one of the rare American actors to appear in this film. His very down to Earth role (journalist Jackson Bentley) adds a lot to the film. Faithful to his amazing talent, he doesn’t need to do too much to be convincing. According to IMDB, Edmond O’Brien was initially supposed to play the role (this could have been interesting) but suffered from a heart attack. It’s Anthony Quinn who suggested to cast Kennedy in the role. As he is my favourite character actor, I obviously always wait with impatience for the Kennedy scenes in Lawrence of Arabia.

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Anthony Quayle thought his character, Colonel Harry Brighton, was a stupid one. Yes, he kind of is (well, he’s not a very optimistic one) but, being used to military roles, Quayle gave a convincing performance.

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Puerto Rican actor José Ferrer appears in a very short but unforgettable scene of the film. His acting is very calculated (in the good sense) and Peter O’Toole claimed he learned a lot from it. Ferrer wasn’t too happy his part was so small but he later recognized it was one of his best performances and said: “If I was to be judged by any one film performance, it would be my five minutes in Lawrence.”

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Claude Rains well, is Claude Rains. He can do anything, it will always be great. Just like Peter O’Toole, he had this amazing voice, very smooth and comforting. Mr. Dryden was among his last roles.

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Finally, we cannot talk about Lawrence of Arabia‘s cast without discussing the duo formed by British actor Michael Ray and John Dimech who play Farraj and Daud, Lawrence’s servants. The young friendly duo works wonder and both are among the best characters of the film. [SPOILER] Their loss create a big emptiness in the film [END OF SPOILER]

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Nothing is written…

If Lawrence of Arabia is a very visual movie, this didn’t prevent screenwriters Robert Bold and Michael Wilson to write some of the best lines of movie history. Those accentuate the film’s majesty and give us perfectly the essence of each character. Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence of Arabia is a man who speaks only if he has great things to say.

Here are some examples of my favourite lines and dialogues:

1- [Lawrence has just extinguished a match between his thumb and forefinger. William Potter surreptitiously attempts the same]

William Potter : Ooh! It damn well ‘urts!

T. E. Lawrence: Certainly it hurts.

Officer: What’s the trick then?

T.E. Lawrence: The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.

2- Sherif Ali: Truly, for some men nothing is written unless THEY write it.

3- Sherif Ali: Have you no fear, English?

T. E. Lawrence: My fear is my concern

4- T.E. Lawrence: Nothing is written

Sherif Ali: You will not be at Aqaba, English. Go back, blasphemer… but you will not be in Aqaba.

T. E. Lawrence: I shall be at Aqaba. That, IS written.

5- Jackson Bentley [To Sherif Ali]: You answered without saying anything. That’s politics.

6- Auda abu Tayi: I am a river to my people!

7- Colone Brighton: Are you badly hurt?

T.E. Lawrence: I’m not hurt at all. Didn’t you know? They can only kill me with a golden bullet.

8- Sherif Ali: What is your name?

T.E. Lawrence: My name is for my friends. None of my friends is a murderer!

9- Mr. 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.

T.E. Lawrence: No, Dryden, it’s going to be fun.

Mr. Dryden: It is recognized that you have a funny sense of fun.

10- Jackson Bentley: Never saw a man killed with a sword before.

T.E. Lawrence: [contemptuously] Why don’t you take a picture?

Jackson Bentley: Wish I had.

11- T.E. Lawrence: I know I’m not ordinary.

General Allenby: That’s not what I’m saying…

T.E. Lawrence: All right! I’m extraordinary! What of it?

12- Jackson Bentley: Ow, you rotten man… here, let me take your rotten bloody picture… for the rotten bloody newspapers.

13- T.E. Lawrence : No prisoners! No prisoners!

14- Jackson Bentley [on his interest in Lawrence and the Arab Revolt] I’m looking for a hero.

Prince Faisal: Indeed, you do not seem a romantic man.

Jackson Bentley: Oh, no! But certain influential men back home believe the time has come for America to lend her weight to the patriotic struggle against Germany… and Turkey. Now, I’ve been sent to find material that makes this war seem more…

Prince Faisal: Enjoyable?

Jackson Bentley: Oh, hardly THAT, sir. But to show it in its more… adventurous aspects.

Prince Faisal: You are looking for a figure that will draw your country towards war?

Jackson Bentley: All right, yes.

Prince Faisal: Lawrence is your man.

15- Prince Faisal: What I ow you is beyond evaluation.

16- Jackson Bentley [taking a picture of T.E. Lawrence] Yes sir, that’s my baby!

Ok, the last one sounds less “poetic”, but I personally love it!

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“I walk through a desert song” (David Bowie, The Secret Life of Arabia)

We cannot talk about Lawrence of Arabia without mentioning Maurice Jarre’s spellbinding score. The Oscar-winning music is a melody that is familiar to all. I remember, the first time I watched the film and heard it, I said: “Ah! That’s where it comes from!” The glorious notes reflect both the magic and dangerous atmosphere of the desert, of its obstacles, of T.E Lawrence’s quests, and of history itself. When images of the large desert are shown to us, the music that accompanies them is the perfect description.

 

Dressed like a prince

Lastly (but there would be many other things to discuss), what also makes the beauty of this film (aside from the cinematography, Peter O’Toole’s blue eyes, and the music) are the costumes designed by Phyllis Dalton (Island in the Sun, The World of Suzie Wong, Doctor Zhivago) and John Wilson-Apperson. The only reason why their creations weren’t nominated for an Oscar is simply because We forgot to submit their names for the competition… Silly as that. The creativity of the costumes doesn’t reside in the British officers’ uniforms but in the clothes worn by the Arabs and Lawrence in the desert. Peter O’Toole’s looks created with the white silk gown became an iconic look. The way the costumes are designed perfectly highlights the characters’ features and make this movie even richer visually. Peter O’Toole’s eyes have never been bluer and Omar Sharif’s dark iris doesn’t lack deepness, thanks to this majestic black robe.

 

 

 

 

Despite being criticized for some inaccuracies and banned in some Arab countries, Lawrence of Arabia received an important critical and financial success. And with no surprise. Interestingly, to avoid the movie to be banned in Egypt, Omar Sharif showed it to President Gamal Abdel Nasser so he could realize there was nothing wrong with it. All ended well as the president loved the film and it became a huge success in Sarif’s native country.

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Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif dancing at the premiere of the film!

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A few pictures on the set of the film because I just love them!

 

 

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Lawrence of Arabia is a complex film, both for its history, it’s creation, and the impact it created. We could talk about it for hours, but there’s nothing better than watching it to really understand its meaning.

I want to thank Maddy for hosting this awesome blogathon honouring the great David Lean! It was a pleasure to participate and FINALLY write about this iconic film.

Make sure to read the other entries here!

See you!

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