Picks and Pans Review: Lion of the Desert

UPDATED 04/20/1981 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 04/20/1981 at 01:00 AM EST

One of the things all those petrodollars have put the Arabs in position to buy is a new image. This film, about Italy's occupation of Libya from 1912 to 1943, is mostly a brazen propaganda paean to the courage, dignity and all-around nobility of the Bedouin. Its director, Moustapha Akkad—the Syrian-born American who was responsible for the dreadful 1977 film Mohammed, Messenger of God—here belabors for 160 minutes the point that the Fascists under Mussolini were not only evil but also incompetent. In the process Omar Mukhtar, a real-life guerrilla leader, is all but deified. Mukhtar is played by Anthony Quinn, who has spent so much time in desert movies lately (he also played Mohammed's uncle) he may never get the sand out from between his toes. He is very majestic yet very passionless. Oliver Reed, cast as the ruthless general sent by Mussolini to make the caravans run on time, does his Mr. Mean number. Yes, he slaps his riding crop into his hand in frustration. There is nonstop action, alternating between scenes of Italian atrocities and relatively clean-cut, if bloody, Arab revenge. It is a one-sided polemic of a historical situation that hardly needed one. And, ironically, it was filmed in Libya and received the logistical support of that country's government, now as foolishly predatory and adventurist as was Mussolini's Italy. (PG)

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