What’s that speck on the horizon? In director David Lean’s magnificent and deeply curious Lawrence of Arabia, it takes two full minutes for Omar Sharif on camelback to make his entrance, transforming from a black dot shimmering in the haze into a menacing protector of his tribe’s territory. Plenty of other grand and gorgeous moments sweep through the film — a vast desert, a long trek by hundreds on camels, an assault on a coastal town. Speaking of gorgeous, there’s the high-hotness pairing of Sharif with Peter O’Toole as the sparkling, charismatic, bleached-blond Lawrence. (Noel Coward once quipped to O’Toole, “If you’d been any prettier, it would have been Florence of Arabia.”)
As Lawrence goes from envoy to fighter to prisoner of a sadist (and probable sodomizer) to failed diplomat, he becomes more and more of a cipher to us — and, the film implies, to himself. It takes a big screen to capture all this, and twice Thursday, four local movie theaters are screening a digitally restored print as part of a nationwide celebration of Lawrence’s 50th anniversary. (Go to fathomevents.com for details.) It’s four-plus hours. It has an intermission. It includes exactly zero women in speaking roles. It’s dazzling.