By Megan Bianco
A while ago I saw a post on how long movie running times can be a turn-off to some modern audiences. Back in the mid-20th century most long movies had intermissions, as plays traditionally do. But as time went on, the intermission was removed and movies generally got a bit shorter and tighter in pacing. Two epically long film classics that are successful, acclaimed and relevant, yet sometimes reluctantly received by first time viewers, are Gone with the Wind (1939) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962).
The former is the biggest money making motion picture of all time and a huge influence on big-budget costume dramas, the latter has arguably the most influential direction of any cinematic epic. Wind would win ten Oscars and Lawrence would win seven, both including Best Picture. The leads of each film, Vivien Leigh and Peter O’Toole, became superstars overnight and were nominated for Best Actress and Best Actor (Leigh won, while O’Toole lost to Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird).
Yes, both are nearly four hours long, but how have these films held up? Well, let’s take a look at the plots first. Gone with the Wind is based on Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling epic novel of the same name, about young Antebellum socialite Scarlett O’Hara’s (Leigh) love triangle between betrothed Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) and rebellious Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) in the midst of Civil War set Georgia. Lawrence of Arabia is based on the writings of real-life English officer T.E. Lawrence (O’Toole) as he set out to the Middle East during World War I to be a liaison for the British and Arabs against the Turks, only to befriend Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) and rebel against his superior’s orders.
The timeless qualities of Victor Fleming’s adaptation of the Southern tale are the performances by Leigh, Gable and Olivia de Havilland, Max Steiner’s sweeping music score, and Walter Plunkett’s costumes. Everything aesthetically comes together from Fleming’s direction, the cinematography and art direction through David O. Selznick’s passionate production. What hasn’t aged as well are the ‘”black accents” used by actors Butterfly McQueen and Oscar-winner Hattie McDaniel that now seem goofy and outdated.
Filmmaker David Lean’s direction of T.E. Lawrence’s journey has inspired generations of directors like Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan. O’Toole and Sharif give the performances of their careers alongside Maurice Jarre’s score and F.A. Young’s beautiful cinematography. The one bad thing is the fact that at a whopping 222 minutes, there are absolutely no female characters in any speaking roles, and acting legend Alec Guinness unfortunately appears in brownface as Prince Faisal in a handful of scenes.
And, of course, both films have been accused of biased narratives toward the wars they portray. When I first watched Arabia in high school for a film class, it did feel kind of like a chore because of the male emphasis, but over time I have appreciated how much of a masterpiece the film is technically. Wind is my grandmother’s favorite movie, and I experienced a few viewings of the classic growing up. Now I consider it one of my own favorites. And as for the runtimes, the pacing of each movie isn’t particularly slow, so I guess it would probably depend on whether you’re invested more in Scarlett’s story or Lawrence’s.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.
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