Destined to remain a dubious footnote in books of movie trivia, this occasionally impressive epic from 1981 was financed with a budget of $35 million by Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, who previously attempted the role of... more » movie producer with the critically roasted Mohammad: Messenger of God. This effort didn't fare much better (it grossed approximately $1 million worldwide), and although some of its wartime action sequences are intelligently filmed, it's not likely to gain much more of a reputation on home video. Under a shaggy Muslim beard, Anthony Quinn stars as Omar Mukhtar, the Arab hero and guerilla fighter who defended Libya against Benito Mussolini and Italy's attempted conquests during World War II. As straightforward biography, the movie's got an admirable epic sweep, but a cliché-ridden script and uniformly bad performances (from a cast that includes John Gielgud, Oliver Reed, and Rod Steiger) make this little more than a curiosity for those wanting to learn more about Libyan history. The DVD "special edition" presents the film in its complete 162-minute version. --Jeff Shannon« less
"When one thinks of the name Moustapha Akkad, if one thinks of it at all, the thought most likely concerns the "Halloween" franchise. After all, Akkad financed the first film and eventually took over the rest of the series. Every time you witness a new entry in the "Halloween" canon, Akkad is probably the one to blame. But few people know that Moustapha Akkad also directed epic films about Arab history in the late 1970s and early 1980s, or that these films are extraordinarily laudable cinematic pieces well worth watching today. Arab history certainly wouldn't rank high on anyone's list nowadays with the explosion in Islamic fundamentalism and the terrorist attacks of September 2001 still in the forefront of our minds. That's too bad because this picture starring Anthony Quinn, Rod Steiger, and Oliver Reed is not only immensely watchable, it also presents a different viewpoint on the relationship between the West and the Arabic world. Most importantly, this movie shows that Moustapha Akkad hasn't always sat around collecting checks from his "Halloween" projects."Lion of the Desert" opens in the year 1922 right after Benito Mussolini took control of the Italian government. As many historians know, Il Duce quickly decided one way to bolster his fascist dictatorship was to present it as a renewed Roman Empire. One of his first priorities as a conquering Augustus was to renew efforts to pacify the Bedouin tribes in the Italian colony of Libya. After ascertaining that the leader of the Bedouin resistance is a man named Omar Mukhtar, Mussolini handpicks one of his most ruthless and capable generals, Rodolfo Graziani, as the new governor of the colony. Graziani's mission is to go to Libya and smash these pesky desert nomads in any way he sees fit. The Italian presence in Libya dates back some twenty years, and Il Duce isn't about to lose the territory on his watch. His general soon sails to Libya with a few novel ideas on how to defeat the Arab resistance, and he won't let anyone stand in his way. Graziani is such a ruthless tyrant that even Omar Mukhtar recognizes his name when told the general is now the new governor. Mukhtar isn't about to just let Graziani roll over his people, while the general intends to teach Mukhtar a lesson he and his people will never forget. This movie overflows with magnificently choreographed battle sequences involving thousands of extras. Moreover, Akkad and his crew took great pains to reproduce the Italian military equipment down to the smallest details. It must have killed some of the craftsmen on the movie to watch months of painstaking labor go up in a two second explosion, something that happens on a frequent basis during the film as the Bedouins routinely destroy endless numbers of armored cars and tanks. According to the makers of "Lion of the Desert," Graziani was the first military commander to use tanks in the desert, and the movie portrays this historic battle in expansive detail. It is difficult to say which battle sequence is the best, although I would definitely lean towards the artillery barrage in the valley when Italian field cannons open up on entrenched Bedouins in the caves on the side of a mountain. The sound and fury of this encounter looks great on DVD, with the explosions of the shells literally booming out of my sound system.The performances really make this film a winner. Rod Steiger plays Benito Mussolini with all of the swagger you would expect from an actor portraying the pompous fascist dictator. Oliver Reed works wonders as the cold-hearted Graziani. The best performance in the film is definitely Anthony Quinn's turn as Omar Mukhtar. Not only does he look like the actual historical figure, as seen by photographic comparisons made in one of the extras on the DVD, he strikes just the right balance of compassion and controlled ferocity. The meeting between Mukhtar and Graziani towards the end of the film fills the screen with drama, along with several statements made by Mukhtar that would apply to any conquered peoples on the face of the earth. The 162 minute runtime insures that most of the characters receive appropriate development.Arguably, the most emotional and tense scenes in "Lion of the Desert" occur when Graziani institutes his plan to put the Bedouin population in concentration camps in order to force Mukhtar and his freedom fighters to surrender. The film ingeniously stages scenes of the concentration camps and then, without missing a beat, tacks on real film footage from the Italian occupation showing an aerial view of the prisons. Unlike Hitler with the Jews, the Italians did not gas Bedouins in these camps, but thousands of Bedouins did die from poor conditions. Moreover, Graziani ordered the fields burned and the execution by both bullet and noose of innocent civilians to avenge Italian battle casualties. For a PG rated movie, the atrocities and battle deaths are extremely bloody.The DVD looks great, with a widescreen picture transfer and a slew of extras. The making of documentary outlines a score of interesting facts about the production of the film, such as the need to build an entire city in the desert to house and feed the thousands of people used during the production. According to the trailer and a few references in the making of documentary, the film originally bore the title "Omar Mukhtar." I think the title they went with was a smart choice, however, because it makes you think about who qualifies as the real lion of the desert. Is it Graziani or is it Mukhtar? Well, it is both men as they test each other's mettle through years of combat. If you like historical epics, be sure and watch this one soon."
Reel Good Arabs
Jedidiah Palosaari | Fes, Morocco | 07/22/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
""If we defeated the Bedouin, why are we still hanging them? Why do I have to pour troops into a victory I have already won?" So the movie begins as the Italian leader questions events, questions which sound eerily familiar as the guerrilla war now escalates in Iraq today.
This movie is valuable on two fronts. It is one of those rare movies giving a positive view of Arabs, one of maybe 50 movies in cinematic history (out of 900 presenting Arabs). It is indeed strange, to see Arabs as the good guys, and Europeans as the bad ones- but a very positive strange. And they are not just the good guys, but the very heroic, deep, philosophical, and loving good guys. Produced by Lybia's Qaddafi, there certainly is a bias in this film; but it's pleasant to see a bias on the other side for once. There are many very Arab nuances- how they naturally show honor and hospitality to their neighbors, things the Italians lack. Children learning the Qur'an by rote, as well as the wisdom of the Qur'an. Women coming together around the well. Men and women working in the fields of Lybia. These are not just the blind enemy followers of America, but a real people, in all their wondrous uniqueness. One can learn more about this movie, and the other 850 anti-Semitic portrayals of Arabs, in Shaheen's Reel Bad Arabs.
The other extremely valuable aspect of this movie is the ammunition it provides against the myth of redemptive violence. The movie itself is too violent and has too much gore at times- though it is history, it is not necessary to portray it so realistically. But it also argues persuasively against imperialism, and violence itself. "The Lion" tells his people to not shoot prisoners, for "We will not let our enemy be our teachers." Omar here is certainly a heroic figure. And it is truly so hard to do this, to not be taught by our enemies, for we so naturally become that which we hate.
Lion has moving portrayals by Quinn, and the cinematographic ploy of interspersing real black-and-white footage from the Italian ethnic cleansing is very effective, for feeling the pain of what the Lybians went through under Italian oppression. But it is also helpful for showing us a generally unknown freedom fighter, and that when we forget history, we repeat it. The Italians become bogged down in guerrilla warfare in the mountains, as the Arabs hide in caves. A great and powerful nation tried to control a Middle Eastern people, and stayed too long. And so Omar tells a French soldier to return to his headquarters, with the remains of his flag, saying "It does not belong here." It's not that it's a bad flag. It's just that it's in the wrong place."
An Epic Masterpiece!!
Samy S El Semman | 05/07/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Lion of the Desert" tells the story of a school-teacher turned guerrilla fighter, trying to put a stop to Italian invasion and colonization of his country, Libya. This movie is excellently filmed, and the scenery and action are spell-binding. Most critics in America disliked this movie simply because it's about Libya, and an important episode of its history. But if you view this movie with an open mind, you'll see that not only is it well made, but it's also inspirational. The characters and conflicts portrayed are real, and I find the movie a fine tribute to the courage and tenacity of the Libyan patriots who fought and died against Fascist Italy, long-before Mussolini's forays into Abyssinia, Civil War Spain, and the Second World War. These people were fighting for their freedom and independence, and their heroic example should inspire all of us."
Essential viewing - a masterpiece with riveting performances
Nirmal Ghosh | Thailand | 02/10/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"''Destined to remain a dubious footnote in books of movie trivia'' ?? Reviewer Jeff Shannon, who I would bet would not warrant a footnote in any directory of influential film critics (thank God for that!) sounds like he would do well as a Bush policy advisor. This movie is amazing, with riveting performances from the entire caste. It is not only extremely well made with very convincing battlefield scenes and clinically dispassionate portrayals of brutality, and with a simple but telling script, it is also an all too rare look at the world from a different but necessary perspective. Omar Mukhtar was a real person, not a Hollywood hero. He was and remains an Arab nationalist hero. It is almost eerie how the film, even after more than 12 years, mirrors the logic of what is going on in Palestine and Iraq today. The more people see a film like this and are touched by it, the better they would understand the nuances of nationalism, spirituality, culture and geopolitics."
25th Anniversary set is a Disappointing repackaging of film
Joe NY | 02/07/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"You may want to hold on to your non-anamorphic original DVD release of this film epic. While the new 2 disk set offers both the Arabic and English versions of film, along with a new commentary by director, Moustapha Akkad, it does not include the still galleries or trailers found on the original disk. Also the framining on the new disk is incorrect. The original features a correct 2:35 image, while the new is 1:77:1, thereby removing some picture information on the left and right of the frame. The image is also soft and grainey in many spots, almost like a poor VHS transfer. The new set does carry over the 38 minutes making of featurette included with the original DVD release. I would have expected this 25th anniversary DVD to be an improvement over the original, but it is not. A disappointment."