Lawrence of Arabia: Hi-Def, Small Screen

DATELINE: Whatever Happened to Michel Ray & John Dimech

Michel ray & o'toole O’Toole with Michel Ray

Impossible, you might say, to watch the biggest, grandest, most spectacular epic film ever made on the small screen?

High Definition is the response, and TV screens are not exactly tiny nowadays. Not since its premiere in 1963 have we seen such a gorgeous print of David Lean’s masterpiece. Though we have seen the four-hour epic a dozen times or more since it first appeared, we were not prepared for the sharpness, clarity, and beauty, that stunned us in the restored version in HD.

It was like seeing it again for the first time.

The story of T.E. Lawrence, WWI hero who became a god to the Arab tribes he led against the Turks for the British, is more complex than you might expect. The film flows from spectacular set-up to another. You have the majesty of riding camels in the desert, to Lawrence’s moment to join the Arab cause with his two teenage boyfriends. There are the scenes of rescuing Gassim from the Nefud desert to the walk atop the derailed train he blew up while the crowds of soldiers cheer him on.

Peter O’Toole was not discovered for this role, nor just introduced. He had made several films, but the role of Lawrence catapulted him into legendary fame. He amazes in every scene. And the music swells in tandem.

Nearly every star (Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle, Arthur Kennedy, Claude Rains, Jack Hawkins) is gone now, leaving us their juicy performances. None is more delightful than to see the final film of Michel Ray. He quit movies after this to become a billionaire businessman. Not a bad decision. And, his partner John Dimech also disappeared from films after several more appearances.

The two played the Arab boys who adored Lawrence. Sal Mineo was bounced from one of the roles because Arab countries objected to his role in Exodus as a Jew.  Michel Ray went to Harvard and married well. Dimech went into art on Malta.

Stories behind David Lean’s spectacular film abound, yet the film itself stands then and now as the greatest ever made. Yes, we never say such things lightly. We had not seen it in 20 years—and it left us breathless once again.

Prepare to commit yourself to an experience unparalleled.