Lawrence of Arabia 1962 Directed by David Lean. An epic depiction of T.E. Lawrence’s exploits in The Ottoman Empire during WWI, in particular his attacks on Aquaba and Damascus and involvement in the Arab National Council, as well as a portrait of the idiosyncratic man himself. Wonderfully directed and acted. Seven Academy Awards. The sterling cast includes, in part, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Anthony Quinn, Omar Shariff, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy. Watch with something to drink.
Though some scenes were heavily fictionalized, most of the film’s characters are based on actual people – with Hollywood manifestation. Lawrence was 5’5”, O’Toole 6’2”. Written as an egotist, it’s unclear whether the man was this self-aggrandizing. Journalist Lowell Thomas commented that he “had a genius for backing into the limelight.” The film shows Lawrence spoke and read Arabic, could quote the Quran, and was knowledgeable about the region. It eschews archaeological travels from 1911-1914 and ignores espionage work. After the war, Lawrence assumed serial aliases, presumably to be left alone. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Lord Jim 1965 Based on the novel by Joseph Conrad. Directed by Richard Brooks. A no-holds barred adventure yarn that received less than positive reviews on its treatment of the hero’s psychological trials. The character seems spacey when remembering the past which is unnecessarily shown (directorial issue), but inhabiting fear when it possesses him is palpable.
Jim (Peter O’Toole) is a promising young English merchant seaman who quickly rises in the ranks. Injured, he leaves his ship to recuperate then signs on to the S.S. Patna, first one out from Java. When the ship takes on water during a storm, Jim imagines the worst (alas shown) and with a few irresponsible crew members abandons hundreds of Muslims on pilgrimage to Mecca. Contrary to their belief the Patna doesn’t sink and is, in fact, rescued. Everyone who shared the lifeboat disappears except Jim who admits guilt, is brought up on charges, and stripped of his sailing papers.
Drifting from ship to boat in lowly positions, he’s one day confronted by purposeful arson while delivering weapons and gun powder. Instead of jumping to safety, he manages to put the fire out. This is witnessed by importer, Mr. Stein (Paul Lukas) who offers the dangerous job of taking firepower to an out of the way village so that natives can rise against an occupying War Lord (badly cast Eli Wallach).
Despite more attempted sabotage, capture, torture (we don’t see it), and another parentheses of petrifaction from fear, he manages the delivery and to lead the populous in tactical battle. Peace doesn’t last long, however…Eventually Jim himself insists on facing his demons.
With excellent bad guys James Mason, Curd Jurgens and Akim Tamiroff. O’Toole said, “The three months we spent in Cambodia were dreadful. Sheer hell. A nightmare. There we were, all of us, knee deep in lizards and all kinds of horrible insects. And everyone hating us. Awful.” Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Ruling Class 1972 Adapted from Peter Barnes stage play. Directed by Peter Meda. A seriously black comedy with wildly imaginative scenes. When Ralph Gurney, the 13th Earl of Gurney accidentally dies during a sexual escapade, paranoid schizophrenic Jack Gurney (Peter O’Toole) is sprung from an asylum to assume the mantle. Much to his relatives chagrin, Jack thinks he’s Jesus Christ and approaches their rarefied world with love and charity. (A giant upright cross is erected in the main hall for his vertical rest.) Jack also gleefully breaks into song and dance routines at inopportune moments.
In hopes of producing an heir and shutting Jack away again, Uncle, Sir Charles (William Mervyn), insists Jack marry Charles’ mistress Grace (Carolyn Seymour). Unpredictably, the young woman falls in love with the pixelated Earl. Also on Jack’s side are Charles’ wife Lady Clare (Coral Browne) who hates her spouse. “Curing” the new Peer is like climbing a glass mountain. Electroshock therapy seems to work until the once gentle soul starts to think he’s Jack the Ripper, becoming murderous. This does nothing to stop success in The House of Lords.
O’Toole held the rights to the play but repeatedly refused production until the director and he went on an after-hours pub crawl. “ It didn’t matter if it was after closing hour because he would knock on the door and just say ‘Peter’s here,’ and every door opened for him,” Medak recalled. “Later on, at O’Toole’s apartment, the deeply inebriated actor phoned his manager and said, “I’m with the crazy Hungarian and I know I’m drunk but I give you 24 hours to set this movie up.” Free with Trial of Shout.
The Stunt Man 1980 Adapted from the novel by Paul Brodeur. Directed by Richard Rush. Cameron (Steve Railsback), a fugitive running from police, tries to stop a car speeding towards him by throwing a wrench into its windshield. (The car goes over a bridge into the river.) Reaching a small seaside town, he cuts off his jeans, tosses his shoes and appears to be just another tourist watching a WWI film being made on the beach. When an old woman (young leading lady Nina Franklin – Barbara Hershey – in elderly make-up) appears to be drowning, he reflexively jumps in to save her.
Manic, charismatic director Eli Cross (Peter O’Toole), who saw what happened on the bridge from a helicopter, hires Cameron as a stunt man-replacing the one who died in the car. He calls Cameron “Burt,” the dead man’s name. Stunts get increasingly dangerous. When the authorities come looking for him, Eli protects the fledgling while at the same time seeming to treat Cameron’s life as expendable. Meanwhile the volatile young man falls in love with Nina.
Is he dangerous? Will Eli kill him to get a great scene? Is Nina toying with him or sincere? Will the cops find him? Fascinating and fun. In the novel, the characters were all crazy. In the screenplay, they were instead “sane in a world gone mad.” (Paul Tatara TCM) O’Toole said he based Eli on David Lean. Pauline Kael called the comic performance “peerless.” Rent on Amazon Prime.
My Favorite Year 1982 Directed by Richard Benjamin (his debut). A hoot. Narrator Benjy Stone (Mark Linn Baker) is a junior comedy writer for Comedy Cavalcade starring Stan “King” Kaiser (Joseph Bologna), which is broadcast live. When producers guest hire has-been, alcoholic Alan Swann (Peter O’Toole) – formerly one of the great Hollywood swashbucklers – the young man is assigned to keep him in check, on time, and as abstinent as possible. Benji is an abject fan and distressed by the responsibility, but for the most part manages to “keep up.” Drunk or sober the actor is charming.
Both Benji and Swann have family issues. We meet Benji’s, as does Swann. During rehearsals for “Boss Hijack” sketches, Kaiser is threatened by corrupt union boss Karl Rojeck (Cameron Mitchell) who objects to being parodied. As the star belligerently insists on performing his skit, accidents begin to happen. Show night the gangsters barge backstage and begin to beat up Kaiser, becoming part of on camera action. Swann’s movie hero experience kicks in. Also featuring Lou Jacobi, Bill Macy, Lanie Kazan, Anne De Salvo, and Adolph Green.
Early in his career, executive producer Mel Brooks, was a writer for Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows. The character Swann, though fictional, was inspired by guest Errol Flynn, while Benjy Stone is loosely based on both Brooks and staff writer Woody Allen. Herb, the writer who whispers everything he has to say, is loosely based on Neil Simon. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Venus 2007 Directed by Roger Michell. A tender, humane, wry, dignified look at last years. O’Toole is marvelous. Everyone is. Elderly actor Maurice Russell (Peter O’Toole) and dear friend/peer Ian (Leslie Phillips) meet every morning for breakfast. When Ian’s niece sends him her teenage daughter Jessie (Jody Whittaker) as a caregiver, he anticipates a life of leisure and purchases a call bell. Jessie, however, turns out to be low class, slovenly, apathetic, and uncooperative. She empties his liquor cabinet and perpetually complains – as does Ian. We don’t learn her painful history until much later.
Maurice, who finds something special in all women, treats the girl with interest and kindness. He takes her to theater when Ian can’t use his ticket and they begin awkward companionship. Jessie aspires to be a model. Maurice gets her a job with a painting class, nudity requested. He begins to call her Venus.
Further expeditions include shopping on his dime, The National Gallery to a look at favorite painting, the Rokeby Venus, by Diego Velazquez, meals, walks, a film set (he still acts), and once her dance club. She lets him touch her hand and eventually kiss her neck. Ian is impotent, dying, and a gentleman – there’s no threat. She uses, then abuses him with the help of a punk boyfriend, but at the end…Rent on Amazon Prime.
Top photo: Cropped screenshot of Peter O’Toole from the trailer of the film Lawrence of Arabia, Columbia Pictures / Public domain