No Prisoners! An Inside Look Into The Making Of Lawrence Of Arabia

Released in 1962, Lawrence of Arabia is a British historical epic based on the life of T.E. Lawrence, a British writer, diplomat, archaeologist, and army officer. He is best remembered for his participation in the Arab Revolt and the Sinai and Palestine Campaign against the Ottoman Empire in World War One. Starring Peter O’Toole as Lawrence, the film was nominated for seven Academy Awards at the 35th Academy Awards, winning seven, among several other accolades. In the following years, it has been deemed one of the most influential films in cinema history for its scale, score, cinematography, and character analysis. See why this film is described as nothing short of an epic.

Director David Lean’s Style Was Influenced By John Ford

David Lean on set
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

When director David Lean was considering the aesthetic of Lawrence of Arabia, he looked to John Ford’s work, one of his personal heroes. Ford is an acclaimed Western director and is renowned for his films such as Stagecoach, The Searchers, Who Shot Liberty, The Grapes of Wrath, and more.

In total, he won four Academy Awards for Best Director and is considered one of the greatest directors of all time. Lean paid particular attention to Ford’s The Searchers and adopting Lean’s use of sweeping camera work and shooting landscapes.

Many Members Of The Production Crew Had Small Cameos In The Film

While the major actors of the film were stars in their own right, there were numerous cameos in the film that were made by members of the production team. For example, a first assistant director plays a truck driver in a minor scene.

Furthermore, a construction assistant can be seen in the film, driving a truck. Lastly, another construction assistant got his time to shine when he got a line in the movie while another assistant can be found smoking a pipe in the background.

T.E. Lawrence Wasn’t Lean’s First Choice For A Biographical Film

Picture of Gandhi
Pinterest
Pinterest

After directing the now-classic Bridge on the River Kwai, David Lean knew that he wanted to direct a biographical film. However, he didn’t necessarily know who he wanted it to be about. In fact, his first choice wasn’t T.E. Lawrence at all, but Mahatma Gandhi.

Lean had already started production on his Gandhi film, casting Alec Guinness as the lead role. Although he did a significant amount of pre-production and even scouting various areas in India to film, he eventually abandoned the project.

Anthony Quinn Gave The Film His All

Anthony Quinn in costume
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

To get his charter to look and feel as authentic as possible, actor Anthony Quinn, who played the rebel leader Auda Abu Tayi, took matters into his own hands. He dedicated hours each day to applying his own makeup to ensure that his character resembled his real-life counterpart as much as possible.

He was so successful in his dedication that according to one story, he showed up on set in his full costume and was offered his own role, as he was indistinguishable in appearance.

The Movie Was Banned In Several Countries

Omar Sharif in the film
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

The film was banned in numerous countries, specifically Arab ones, as they felt that the Arab people and many of their historical figures were misrepresented.

Actor Omar Sharif went so far as to arrange a personal viewing with President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, with the hopes of showing him that there was nothing wrong with the film. As it turns out, Nasser loved the film and allowed it to be released in Egypt, where it went on to become a hit.

O’Toole Wasn’t A Natural At Riding A Camel

O'Toole riding a vcamel.
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

The first time O’Toole sat upon a camel, it wasn’t the greatest experience for him. During his ride, blood ended up oozing from his jeans. However, he eventually mastered riding a camel after he added a layer of sponge rubber under the saddle.

This was done to help relieve his sore backside. The practice was also adopted by the Bedouin tribesmen that acted in as extras during the desert scenes. It also earned O’Toole the nickname “ab al-‘Isfanjah,” which translates to mean “father of the sponge.”

Peter O’Toole Wasn’t The First Choice To Play Lawrence

O'Toole in costume
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Although few people could imagine anyone other than Peter O’Toole mounted on a camel as T.E. Laurence, he wasn’t the first or even second choice! Initially, the role was offered to Hollywood legend Albert Finney. However, he turned it down because he thought the film would be a flop.

The character of T.E. Lawrence was then pitched to the budding Marlon Brando, who turned it down too, as well as Psycho star Anthony Perkins. Little any of them know the success that the movie would see.

The Real Lawrence Of Arabia Wasn’t Nearly As Tall As He Was Portrayed

Picture of T.E. Lawrence
Keystone View Company/FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images)
Keystone View Company/FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

While acting as Lawrence of Arabia, Peter O’Toole stood an impressive six-foot-three inches, making him an incredibly dominant figure on the screen. However, in real life, T.E. Lawrence stood a mere 5 feet, five inches tall!

He was self-conscious about his height for his whole life, although it is expected to have been the result of a childhood case of the mumps. He would have been happy to see such a tall man playing him.

There Is No Female Dialogue

O'Toole and actor
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Incredibly, there is not a single line of female dialogue in the over three-hour and forty minute-long film. Of all of the conversation that takes place in the film, not a single person that speaks is female.

While this might be considered to be an outrage today, back then, few thought that such things would matter, which goes to show how much things have drastically changed in the film industry within the last several decades.

O’Toole Was Almost Trampled To Death

Filming the Aqaba scene
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Unfortunately, Peter O’Toole was almost killed during the first take of the Aqaba scene. A gun that was used to indicate the beginning of the scene prematurely went off and spooked the camel that O’Toole was riding.

This resulted in O’Toole being thrown to the ground, right as the extras on horseback began charging. Fortunately for the actor, his camel ended up standing over him, which saved him from being trampled by the extras’ horses.

The Film Invented A Special Lense

Freddie Young -1079394242
Antony Matheus Linsen/Fairfax Media via Getty Images
Antony Matheus Linsen/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

To successfully film Omar Sharif’s entrance through the mirage, legendary cinematographer Freddie Young developed a special 482mm lens that was provided to him by Panavision.

Out of honor and respect for Lean, the camera production company still has the exact lens today, and it is referred to as the “David Lean” lens. The piece of technology had been created specifically for that groundbreaking shot, and the lens has remained untouched since. Possibly because no one dares use it.

The Role Of Sherif Ali Changed Hands Several Times

Omar as Sherif
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

The role of Sherif Ali was initially intended to go to Horst Buchholz. However, he was forced to turn it down due to his commitment to Billy Wilder’s film One, Two, Three.

The second choice was Alain Delon, who tested successfully but suffered from issues with the brown contact lenses that were required for the role. Finally, Maurice Ronet was cast but was replaced with Omar Sharif after he had difficulty with his French accent and his Arab costume.

Peter O’Toole And Jack Hawkins Became Close Friends

Peter O'Toole and Jack Hopkins in costume
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Against David Lean’s approval, Peter O’Toole and Jack Hawkins became close friends on the set of the film. Lean believed that Hawkins should have distanced himself from O’Toole to help sell his role, but Hawkins “didn’t see the point.”

The two were regularly seen out drinking together after work and well after shooting had concluded. In one instance, while at a restaurant, the two were visibly drunk when O’Toole got into a confrontation with a waiter. However, he quickly backed down after the waiter pulled a knife.

T.E. Lawrence Initially Didn’t Want His Writings To Be Turned Into Film

Larence on a camel -514877110
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

As early as 1926, the real T.E. Lawrence declined Rex Ingram’s offer to have his writings turned into a film. Later, Alexander Korda tried to do his own version, directed by Lewis Milestone and starring Leslie Howard.

Over the years, other stars such as Robert Donat, Laurence Oliver, Cary Grant, Burgess Merideth, and Alan Ladd were all considered for leads. However, screenwriter Michael Wilson eventually convinced Lawrence’s brother to sell the film rights to producer Sam Spiegel, who submitted a screenplay for approval in 1960.

The Film Made A King

King waiving
DAVE CHAN/AFP via Getty Images
DAVE CHAN/AFP via Getty Images

During the production of the film, King Hussein of Jordan was so excited about the idea that he personally gifted Lean an entire legion of soldiers to act as extras. During his extensive time on set, he also managed to fall in love with a young secretary named Antoinette Gardiner.

The two became so enamored with one another that they had a child named Abdulla II. He turned out to ascend the throne of Jordan in 1999.

It Took A Very Long Time To Film

Walking down stairs
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Although considering the scale of the film most people might assume it took an extensive amount of time to shoot, Peter O’Toole provided an anecdote. During an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in the 1970s, O’Toole explained just how long it took to make.

He described the scene when after their meeting, T.E. Lawrence and General Allenby continue talking while walking down a staircase. According to O’Toole, that scene had to be reshot later, “So in the final print, when I got to the bottom of the stairs, I’m a year older than when I started walking down them.”

Some Of The Dialogue Had To Be Re-Recorded Over 20 Years Later

Actors on camels
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

When doing the reconstruction and restoration of the film in 1989, unfortunately, many clips of dialogue somehow went missing. Because you can’t just remove pieces of dialogue from a film, Peter O’Toole and several other living cast members had to come in and re-record the scenes that the dialogue had disappeared from.

For those who had died since the film had been made, such as Jack Hawkins, actors that sounded similar helped fill in the lines.

Water Was An Issue In More Ways Than One

Actors looking in the distance
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

When filming in Jordan, every drop of water on the set had to be brought in by a truck from the nearest well, which was over one hundred and fifty miles away. On top of that, initially, production used white plastic cups for its drinking water.

However, the wind would pick up so frequently that it would blow them into the desert. After having countless shots ruined by the flying plastic cups, David Lean banned them from the set and made ceramic cups mandatory.

Filming At Night Was Impossible

O'Toole walking in the desert
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Considering the technology at the time, filming in complete darkness wasn’t even an option. So, to compensate for this, the night scenes were filmed during the day using specialized night lenses.

This is also the reason that you can see the shadows of the camels and people when it’s supposed to be dark outside. Nevertheless, few people noticed this small detail about the film, most likely assuming it was a powerful moon, and still praised it for its ingenuity and all the other reasons that made it a great film.

Some People Were Horrified By The Film

O'Toole as Lawrence
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Many people who had personally known T.E. Lawrence and other historical figures brought to life in the film were disturbed by their portrayal. A Lawrence biographer, Basil Liddell Hart, wrote to many of Lawrence’s friends that they would be shocked at Lawrence’s battle with sadistic tendencies in the film.

At one point, Lady Allenby, the wife of General Allenby, wrote to the London Times that “Is there any way in which a film company can be stopped from portraying a character so inaccurately as that of the late Field Marshal Allenby in Larence of Arabia? What can one do? What is the remedy? Is there one?

An Exit Visa Was Provided For The Movie

Picture of Omar
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Omar Sharif was already a major star in his native country of Egypt when he received a call asking him to meet producer Sam Spiegel in a hotel in Cairo. When Sharif agreed to meet for a screen test, Speigel made the plans necessary to get him to Jordan.

In his autobiography, Sharif would go on to explain how astonished he was that a Jewish man from Hollywood managed to get him an exit visa, something that Sharif had been trying to obtain for years,

Missing A Nomination

GettyImages-528397973
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

When you already have Oscar nominations, an 11th seems like nothing. Lawrence of Arabia missed out on an extra nomination because of a silly mistake they probably wished they could take back.

Lawrence of Arabia would have received that 11th nomination for Best Costume Design but someone forgot a crucial step. Somebody didn’t submit Phyllis Dalton’s name for consideration. Snagging that extra award probably didn’t mean much to some people, but maybe it did for Dalton.

Left To Right

GettyImages-180969573
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

If you pay close attention to the film, you will notice something if you focus on it. You see, directors like to add in their own incognito themes and creative ideas.

Director Sir David Lean implemented a nice metaphor that many probably missed. The majority of the movement goes from left to right in this movie. What could that symbolize, you ask? Lean said he did it to emphasize that the film was a journey.

A Close Resemblance

GettyImages-541080023
ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images
ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Had you been a local in Jordan when they filmed this movie, you might’ve been a victim of deception. Producers made Sir Alec Guinness resemble the real Faisal as much as they could, and they got it good.

While shooting in Jordan, a handful of people believed it was really Faisal. That’s some great costume work! If they were able to pull that off without CGI, imagine how great the film could be if they did it again today.

The ABC Edit

ABC-55915163
Columbia TriStar/Courtesy of Getty Images
Columbia TriStar/Courtesy of Getty Images

This one might not be that surprising, but there is a little nugget you’d probably like to know. Whenever explicit films get televised, the network always edits them and makes them TV appropriate.

When ABC got it, they had to show it in halves, two nights in a row because of the length. And despite the standard edit already in place, they edited it even more to make Lawrence’s torture a bit easier to watch.

Feigning Heart Attacks?

heart attacks-154042254
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

While shooting, Sam Speigel would get upset when things didn’t go his way. When that happened, he feigned heart attacks.

He took it to the next level one time when he had himself strapped to a stretcher and flown to the desert in a helicopter! On the stretcher, he told Lean, “Don’t worry about anything, David, not the budget, not the schedule, not my health. The picture, the picture is all that counts!”

Columbia Gets Sued

getting sued-543859978
Pierre Perrin/Sygma via Getty Images
Pierre Perrin/Sygma via Getty Images

Most people don’t like to be disrespected. That’s just the nature of human beings; treat others how you want them to treat you. The Allenby family sent out a formal complaint against Columbia Pictures due to the way they portrayed their ancestors.

Taking it a step further, Auda Abu Tayi and Sharif descendants actively sued Columbia. They weren’t going to stand for it in any way. The case dragged on for ten years before eventually getting dropped.

Two Jack Hawkins

man next to camel-180969883
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Something fascinating about this movie is that there are two actors with the same name. These two probably filled the set with confusion while shooting, but it wasn’t their fault. Whoever cast them didn’t need to do that.

The name we’re speaking about is Jack Hawkins. One Hawkins played the reporter at the beginning of the movie. The other Hawkins, who was more of a veteran, portrayed General Allenby. Perhaps, the other Hawkins wasn’t on set for very long.

Bringing In The Locomotives

tracks
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

One of the biggest scenes in the film was the attack on the Turkish railroad, which they shot in southern Spain. How did they make this movie magic come together? The producers didn’t hold back to make this part happen.

“The crew laid tracks and brought in German and Belgian locomotives from the early twentieth century rented from the Spanish national railway system,” IMDb reports. These guys really wanted to make an amazing film.

Peter Tool Gets A Contract

peter o'toole
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Signing deals is something that everyone in show business does with regularity. Sometimes people get what they want out of it and sometimes they don’t, but signing deals is just part of the industry. What kind of deal did Peter O’Toole get?

“After choosing him for the part of T.E. Lawrence, Peter O’Toole signed a contract with producer Sam Spiegel for $50,000 apiece for three movies,” IMDb mentions. “Albert Finney’s screentest alone for the same part cost £100,000.”

Getting Crafty While Shooting

far shot
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

When directors need a certain environment to get a successful shot, they make sure it happens. Needing snow when there isn’t any around makes for a tall task, but the crew figured out how to make it work.

“Because Jordan had had no snow the year before, they had to film scenes of T.E. Lawrence’s trek through the mountains in Spain’s Sierra Nevadas,” reports IMDb. “A special sled with ski-type runners was used to move the camera.”

Bright?

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Columbia TriStar/Courtesy of Getty Images
Columbia TriStar/Courtesy of Getty Images

Sir Anthony Quayle didn’t think that the character Colonel Brighton was the brightest in any way at all. In fact, he thought the Colonel was “an idiot.”

Although he felt that way, Lean suggested otherwise. It was Lean that told him that Brighton was probably the only honorable person in the whole movie. Well, we’re not saying you can’t still be an idiot while honorable, but maybe both were right.

A Hidden Fact About The Motorcycle

perplexed
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

As mentioned earlier, directors like to include subtle things throughout the film that have hidden meanings. If you remember the fatal motorcycle crash at the start, you can see the registration of the bike.

“The registration of the motorcycle laying at rest after the accident can be seen as UL 656, the registration of the actual motorcycle involved in the fatal crash was GW 2275,” IMDb reveals. “The registration UL 656, in fact, is that of another Brough Superior motorcycle T.E. Lawrence owned.”

Taking The Heat

standing in the heat
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

As you’ve already seen, the makers of this film did whatever it took to get things just right. If that meant sacrificing access to cooler temperatures than so be it. When they were in Morocco, things got scary hot.

“The crew took up residence at an old Foreign Legion encampment in Ouarzazate, with no air conditioning in one-hundred-plus degree Fahrenheit (thirty-eight-plus degrees Celsius) temperatures,” IMDb says. That’s an incredibly hot temperature to work in!

It’s Hard To Trust “Sources”

never offered -514877916
Contributor/Getty Images
Contributor/Getty Images

It’s never a great idea to believe rumors or unconfirmed matters concerning anything you aren’t personally attached to, because you don’t know the truth. That’s especially true for whatever comes out in Hollywood. The line between fiction and reality is usually thin.

“Contrary to some sources, Richard Burton was never offered the lead role, due to the financial failure of Look Back in Anger (1959), which had caused Twentieth Century Fox to release him from his contract,” reported by IMDb.

The Great Influence

Legendary -530242525
Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

One reason why families felt disrespected by this film is the inaccuracy of ethnic portrayal of the characters. Having someone from Pakistan play an Arab person isn’t the right thing to do, even if the actor is a “legend.”

“The character of Tafas (the Arab guide shot by Omar Sharif for drinking water from the wrong well) was played by Zia Mohyeddin, who is a Pakistani actor, producer, director, and television broadcaster,” IMDb reports. “He is considered to be a legend and is of great influence in literary circles.”

The Camels Got Seasick

camel problems
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

It was already difficult to find camels in the countries they filmed in, so the crew had to keep them while traveling. To get from Spain, they had to travel by boat, which wasn’t the greatest for the animals.

“The camels traveled on shipboard with their legs drawn up under them so they wouldn’t get seasick,” IMDb said. “After they got to Spain, they needed a day to recuperate from the ordeal before they could travel to the shooting locations.”

O’Toole Shows Dedication

O'Toole
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Peter O’Toole loved acting and he showed it while prepping for this film. He pulled out his bag of techniques so that he could ace his role.

“Peter O’Toole immediately set out to research T.E. Lawrence, almost memorizing Seven Pillars of Wisdom and interviewing anyone he could find who had known him,” IMDb said. “He had to move fast, as he was set to leave for the location shoot only five weeks after winning the role.”

No More Plastic

in the desert-176568111
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

When they first started production on set, they used white plastic cups for drinking water while shooting. That sounds like an okay idea until the wind gets involved.

Gusts blew these cups into the desert all the time. Eventually, it became too annoying too having random white cups pop into the scene so Lean had them banned. He replaced them with ceramic mugs, a much heavier choice that wouldn’t let the wind bully it.

No Time For Women

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Columbia TriStar/Courtesy of Getty Images
Columbia TriStar/Courtesy of Getty Images

Do you remember how long this movie is? The run time is three hours and thirty-six minutes. That’s quite a long for a film to leave out women speaking, don’t you think?

If that doesn’t make sense, let us explain. This film has no roles where women speak. Everything else about it is so fantastic that they didn’t feel the need for another gender to have any dialogue. Reportedly, this is the longest movie to exclude women from spoken conversation.