Lion of the Desert Blu-ray Review
It’s 1929 and Italy, led by the maniacal Benito Mussolini, is trying to calm down a disruption in Libya. Where five previous governors have failed, Mussolini (a scenery chewing Rod Steiger) promotes General Rodolfo Graziani (Reed) to be number six. Both learn that the people of the country have rallied behind the words of a teacher, Omar Mukhtar (Quinn). What follows is an almost three hour back and forth battle of men on horseback fighting men in tanks. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth.
The second of two films dealing with the Muslim world by director Akkad (the first, now titled THE MESSAGE, gained notoriety in 1977 when it was released as MOHAMMED, MESSENGER OF GOD. The film’s release caused a radical Muslim group in Washington D.C. to take hostages and resulted in the death of a police officer and a reporter), LION OF THE DESERT is a homage to Omar Mukhtar, who led Libyan rebels during the 20 year war with Italy. In fact, the film’s original title, and it’s on this print, was OMAR MUKHTAR. Director Akkad assembled a first-rate cast but unfortunately a second rate script, one which, I imagine, had a lot of mostly empty pages with only “battle scene here” written on them.
Steiger is all clenched teeth and slamming hands as Mussolini. Because of the massive office set they give him, with only a small desk and large chair as furniture, he comes off more as Dr. Evil. In fact, the chair he sits in is so big for him that you can see his legs swinging, not touching the floor. John Gielgud also makes a couple of small appearances, apparently having just come from a production of “King Lear.” Gielgud was a great actor, with great pronunciation and pacing. Unfortunately that talent is wasted here among the screaming and shouting of the rest of the cast. Raf Vallone is actually quite good as a sympathetic officer. Reed also acquits himself in a role that could have been a caricature. Quinn comes off the best here. His Omar Mukhtar is a wise, patient man who only resorts to violence when necessary to answer violence, of which there is plenty.
The film gains some momentum during the battle sequences, though they begin to run on and on until, if there hadn’t been a few lines of dialogue in between, you may think you’re watching one continuous battle. On the positive side, director Akkad manages to stage some exciting battle scenes, enhancing the fact that man and his will can triumph over machine. The photography, by Oscar winner Jack Hildyard (THE BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI) is well done and Maurice Jarre’s score makes the enduring battle action tolerable. That being said, the film is about an hour too long. I think I would have enjoyed it more if it had a much tighter storyline. But, if you’re a fan of exploding tanks and rolling horses, you may find that three hours go by a lot faster than I did.
LION OF THE DESERT BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: Presented in a 1:78.1 aspect ratio, the picture quality starts out weak and grows as the film progresses. I’m not sure if it’s due to the quality of the print used, but early reels are muted and slightly fuzzy. However, by the end of the film the colors stand out. Even the battles on the desert sand, with the sand, tanks and Italian uniforms all basically the same color, each item stands out.
Audio: There are two English soundtracks offered here: DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM 2.0. I listened to both tracks and actually found the LPCM 2.0 to deliver a much clearer presentation.
There are no extras on this disc.