16

It Says So In Your Dossier

I have been reading a biography of Lawrence of Arabia the past few days, Hero by Michael Korda, and it has directed my attention back to the magnificent film, Lawrence of Arabia (1962).  I have always thought highly of the below scene:

 

 

 

 

Veteran British actors Donald Wolfit and Claude Rains were at the top of their games.  Wolfit portrays General Archibald Murray as a military martinet.  Claude Rains is the cynical, intelligent and slightly sinister British civil functionary, Mr. Dryden, a fictional amalgamation of several historical figures.  Peter O’Toole, in his first major film role, gives the performance of his career as T.E. Lawrence, a mysterious messianic figure for the Arabs, driven more than half mad by what he experiences in the film.  Throughout his career O’Toole would specialize in characters who were close to being crazy.

The interesting thing about the scene is that Murray, clearly meant to be an unsympathetic character, says nothing but the truth.  The war against the Turks was a sideshow, and the revolt among some of the Bedouin against the Turks was  a sideshow of a sideshow, with all of it having close to zero impact on the outcome of World War I, which was decided by the fighting in France.

The scene also demonstrates the ability of film to mangle history.  Murray, rather than contemptuous of Lawrence, thought highly of him, and it was largely due to Lawrence’s reports that Murray supported the Arab Revolt.  Murray also, rather than being a military buffoon, was instrumental in amassing the forces that his successor General Edmund Allenby utilized with such smashing success.

The scene, as does the entire film,  rewards careful observation.  I have always regarded the following back and forth as wryly personally meaningful to me:

MURRAY
Now, the Arab Bureau seem to think you
would be of some use to them in Arabia.
Why? I can’t imagine! You don’t seem able
to perform your present duties properly.

LAWRENCE
I cannot fiddle, but I can make a great
state from a little city.

MURRAY
What!

LAWRENCE
Themistocles, sir. A Greek philosopher.

MURRAY
I know you’ve been well educated,
Lawrence. It says so in your dossier.

If any readers have not seen this film, they should remedy that lack as quickly as they can.

2

Never Bet Against Theodore Roosevelt in a Knife Fight

From the Deadliest Warrior television series.  I have always enjoyed absurd alternate history speculations a la “What if Napoleon had a B-52 at Waterloo?”

By the time Lawrence of Arabia arrived on the scene TR was getting fairly long in the tooth and was in ill health, however, I would not have bet against him.  He used knives for killing fairly frequently.  This letter to his kids in 1901 is typical:

 

Keystone Ranch, Colo., Jan. 14th, 1901 –

Soon we saw the lion in a treetop, with two of the dogs so high up among the branches that he was striking at them. He was more afraid of us than of the dogs, and as soon as he saw us he took a great flying leap and was off, the pack close behind. In a few hundred yards they had him up another tree. This time, after a couple of hundred yards, the dogs caught him, and a great fight followed. They could have killed him by themselves, but he bit or clawed four of them, and for fear he might kill one I ran in and stabbed him behind the shoulder, thrusting the knife right into his heart. I have always wished to kill a cougar as I did this one, with dogs and the knife. Continue Reading