best film:  Lawrence of Arabia (1962) from David Lean found itself at #16 on the last update of the greatest films of all-time ranking making it the easy selection for Peter O’Toole as his best film. So, while his category is a considerable strength for O’Toole, the lack of competition is a little worrisome. The silver medal winner here is Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987). And from there the drop off is steep. Still, Lawrence is one of the most handsomely photographed films in cinema history. Any discussion of the best biopic (Citizen Kane and Raging Bull) or epic (perhaps Apocalypse Now or The Godfather are epics – but this is why genre definitions are not always of great value) – must include Lawrence of Arabia.


best performance:  David Lean masters the long shot in Lawrence of Arabia – perhaps only Akira Kurosawa’s Ran rivals it here – but there is also plenty of closer camera placements throughout the substantial running time to capture O’Toole’s forceful character work. This is, indeed, one of the best single acting performances of all-time – the performance has everything. O’Toole inhabits the size (O’Toole certainly liked to lean into the performance aspect of the acting profession – like a post The Godfather Part II Al Pacino) and ambition the role and character calls for – the bravado of it. It is actually shocking how much confidence O’Toole exudes with this being his first archiveable film. The film is nearly four (4) hours long and O’Toole’s Lawrence is rarely excluded from a scene.


Like Citizen KaneLawrence of Arabia starts with the titular character’s death and others, in an interview, are asked to describe him. It is a biopic – one of the best – and certainly Peter O’Toole’s work is rightly cited as one of the greatest performances in all of cinema. Lawrence is so richly complex – it is a grand scale for such a detailed character study. O’Toole’s performance is transcendent. Lawrence is mercurial – angry, vain. He has a Christ complex, an out of control ego. He does have some charisma, believable as a brilliant military strategist.  Lawrence dies a little when each of his two assistants pass away –  O’Toole carries it physically.


stylistic innovations/traits:  Peter O’Toole was born and raised in Yorkshire, England. He has an astonishingly high eight (8) Oscar nominations – and famously never won a competitive Oscar. Gregory Peck is very fine in To Kill a Mockingbird in 1962 but this is a bit of a travesty here in 1962. O’Toole has just ten (10) archiveable films. O’Toole flourished throughout his career playing men of uncontainable ego – kings in Becket and Lion in Winter, Errol Flynn in My Favorite Year (using pseudonym “Alan Swann”), Lawrence of Arabia of course, and a man with a Christ complex (The Ruling Class). The case for O’Toole being closer to the top fifty or so is the impact of Lawrence of Arabia and the fact that O’Toole is really quite a spectacular solo artist in performances two (2) through seven (7) below (that top five (5) and then add The Stunt Man and How to Steal a Million).  The knock against him is that these performances are lone ventures and most of his Oscar nominated performances are in films that stayed far away from landing in the top ten (10) of their respective years. He seemed to be always chasing the showier role rather than being a part of a greater work. He shares that with his costar Richard Burton (another magnificent talent) who duel it out in 1964’s Becket.


O’Toole played Henry II in both Becket (1964) and The Lion in Winter (here from 1968). In The Lion in Winter, he shares the screen with a very game young Anthony Hopkins and an aged, but staggeringly strong Katharine Hepburn. Watching these actors work on their own – and off each other – is the easily the most rewarding aspect of the film. Becket is much the same but O’Toole battles it out with a prime Richard Burton instead. Both actors play men of intelligence well – but they are also belching, laughing one minute and then attacking each other verbally the next. O’Toole is tremendous – just blowing up and throwing fits like an infant. It feels like he is writing his own dialogue at times with the two films.


directors worked with: David Lean (1), William Wyler (1), John Huston (1), Bernardo Bertolucci (1)


O’Toole, again, in an sumptously photographed best picture Oscar. This time, O’Toole is in support – from 1987’s The Last Emperor.


top five performances:

  1. Lawrence of Arabia
  2. The Lion in Winter
  3. The Ruling Class
  4. Becket
  5. My Favorite Year


archiveable films:

1962- Lawrence of Arabia
1964- Becket
1966- How to Steal a Million
1966- The Bible: In the Beginning…
1968- The Lion in Winter
1972- The Ruling Class
1980- The Stunt Man
1982- My Favorite Year
1987- The Last Emperor
2006- Venus