Lion of the Desert (1981)




Director: Moustapha Akkad.

Cast: Anthony Quinn (Omar Mukhtar), Oliver Reed (Gen. Rodolfo Graziani), Rod Steiger (Benito Mussolini), John Gielgud (Sharif El Gariani), Irene Papas (Mabrouka), Raf Vallone (Diodiece), Gastone Moschin (Maj. Tomelli), Stefano Patrizi (Lt. Sandrini), Sky Dumont (Prince Amadeo), Robert Brown (Al-Fadeel), Eleonora Stathopoulou (Ali's Mother), Andrew Keir (Salem), Adolfo Lastretti (Col. Sarsani), Pietro Gerlini (Barillo), George Sweeney (Capt. Biagi), Mario Feliciani (Lobitto), Claudio Gora (President of Court), Massimiliano Baratta (Capture Captain),  Franco Fantasia (Gen. Graziani's Aide).

Story of Libyan Omar Mukhtar fighting off the Italian invasion of his country, 1911-31.



Looks a bit like "Lawrence of Arabia" but not enough character study to give it the needed flair.

The movie is a long one, about two and a half hours or so.  But it covers in depth the military tactics of Omar Mukhtar and the terrible price he and his men had to pay for opposition to the Italians.  The movie gives a good presentation of Mukhtar as a very religious, deep-to-the-depths decent man who loved his Koran and was fair in his treatment of the Italian captured.  (I wish the same could have been said of the Italians  - but I must remind myself that they were a bunch of fascists at the time.)

The film also covers in painful detail the brutality of the Italians towards the Libyans held in the Italian concentration camps.  The master-mind of this brutality was the war criminal General Graziani, who only had to spend a rotten four years in prisons before the Italians released him. 

The man is well-deservedly a hero in Libya. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

1862  --  Omar Mukhtar was born in Libya.  At that time Libya was a part of the Ottoman Empire.  

Omar Mukhtar was born in a small town called Zawia Janzour of the tribe of Mnifa.

He earned a living as a teacher of the Koran.

For 20 years he was the leader of the resistance movement during the Italian military occupation of Libya.

1911 (October) – Italian battleships at Tripoli demand that the Turks surrender the city to the Italians. Although the Turks fled, the Italians still bombarded Tripoli for three days.

1912 – Mukhtar’s resistance began following the Italian capture of Libya from the occupying Turks. The Libyan freedom fighters were referred to as the Mujahedeen.

Mukhtar led a desert guerilla against the Italians using rapid hit and run tactics. The Italians were embarrassed at being outsmarted so many times by a mere "bedouin."

1914  -- Italy’s deputy “Mazari” says they will evict the rebels to the Sahara if necessary. Boastful words considering the resistance lasted nearly 20 years.

1920s  --  General Rodolfo Graziani commanded the Italian forces in Libya.  It was he who had the job of pacifying the Senussi rebels.

To counter the success of Mukhtar the Italians instituted concentration camps where some 125,000 Libyan men, women and children were imprisoned. Two-thirds of these people subsequently died.

In battle he was wounded and captured and paraded like a prize catch. The Italians tortured the Libyan leader. His jailors were extremely impressed by his commitment to his cause. Italy tried the Arab leader in a farce of a trial

1931 (September 16) – Mukhtar was executed by hanging in a public place. In his last words he quoted from the Koran: "From God we have come, and to God we must return.

1935-36 --   during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, Graziani was the commander of the Italian army when it invaded Ethiopia.  He later became the governor of Ethiopia.

1937 (February)  --  Graziani survived an assassination attempt.  It was he who directed the bloody repression that followed, earning him the nickname of  "the Butcher of Ethiopia".

after the war  -- Graziani spent a few days in San Vittore prison in Milan.  He was later transferred to Allied control and sent to Africa in Anglo-American custody.

1946 (February)  --  Graziani was returned to prison in Italy, Procida prison. 

1950  --  a military tribunal gave him a sentence of 19 years, of which he only served a few months before being released.

1955  -- death of Graziani in Rome.


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