- Movie Rating -

Lion of the Desert (1981)

| April 17, 1981

Given the difficult history of the Middle East through Western eyes it is difficult to approach a film like Lion of the Desert and not be clouded by the hostage crisis, terrorist threats, the tragedy at Munich or any measure of terrible events.  The film wants us to see Libya’s plight under the threat of the facist yolk of Benito Mussolini whose stormtroopers rolled into a country to which they had no territorial claim and feel for a land whose destiny was to become a dictatorship.  How am I to approach an empathy for a place that didn’t move very far beyond the plight of Mussolini’s restrictive regime.

To understand this period in history I had to take a step back, away from the headlines and the history and just see it as a film on its own.  I tried to see it in the same vein that I saw Lawrence of Arabia, a film that takes place within specific borders and does not ask for a western point of view.

With that I had to remove myself from the actual history and without that veil of current events, I found a superior action film that had a brain in its head.  I found the story of a tyrannical dictator bearing down on tribes of Bedouins that he finds to be inferior but ultimately finds not to be weak or passive.  In that, the movie is very straight forward.  It lacks the passionate forward momentum of someone like David Lean an focuses squarely on the events as they happen Moustapha Akkad is not quite the filmmaker that Lean is.  This film states the obvious without having to be interpreted.

From this comes a narrative that is very clean, but perhaps for many looking for a larger intellectual game, a bit too clean.  Something the rides a very thin line between history and histrionics.  He proves himself to be a superior action director but not necessarily an intellectual one.  His characters are flesh and blood and feel grounded, particularly a terrific performance by Anthony Quinn as the Bedouin leader who wants Mussolini and has fascist thugs out of his country.  During a time in which Quinn starred in many films that were beneath him, it is refreshing to be reminded of what make him an international star in the first place.

The Lion of the Desert is not a great film.  It is a fine film, one that offers what the viewer is looking for if one is not looking for a history lesson.  It offers just enough challenge to open a debate but one that might offers a debate about what the film is lacking.  Still, this is a good movie, one worth searching for.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1981) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized